There were ups and downs, highs and lows, ultimately redemption tinged with questions of "what might have been."
But in the end, the redshirt senior running back and his teammates got to go out with a bang, Bradford posting 212 yards rushing as USC knocked off UCLA, 28-14, Saturday night before 71,105 at the Rose Bowl.
"I couldn't even have dreamed it, but I'm glad it happened," Bradford said. "Just to top off my career, I couldn't ask for a better game."
"He deserves it," said redshirt senior corner Shareece Wright, a high school teammate of Bradford at San Bernardino Colton. " I told him when they give you a chance, you take advantage of it every play. And he did."
After carrying the ball five times at Oregon State and not playing against Notre Dame, first-year coach Lane Kiffin made the decision on Thursday to lean on Bradford, especially with quarterback Matt Barkley limited by a high ankle sprain.
"I'm just glad he got an opportunity," offensive coordinator Kennedy Pola said of what went into that decision. "He's the only guy in my group that has that extra juice. He showed it tonight."
On Friday night, Bradford delivered a powerful address to the Trojans (8-5, 5-4 Pac-10), encouraging underclassmen not to waste opportunities as he had.
"Be relentless," center Kristofer O'Dowd said, repeating Bradford's message. "Just finish.
"It really paid off. You could tell in our running game."
Bradford backed up those words, gashing the Bruins on a 47-yard swing pass for a touchdown to effectively put the game out of ready at the start of the fourth quarter. Bradford was also highly effective on outside zone runs and other plays designed to get him to use his speed.
That's exactly what happened on his final carry of his college career, a 73-yard touchdown scamper that Bradford ended with a salute to USC fans that had so often called for him to be the feature back.
He wasn't the only senior to leave his mark. Linebacker Malcolm Smith returned a Johnathan Franklin fumble 68 yards for a score, his second in as many games against UCLA.
Those upperclassmen hoped that the fourth consecutive win over the Bruins (4-8, 2-7 Pac-10) would serve as a springboard for the program going forward.
"This is a start to next year," redshirt senior fullback Stanley Havili said. "These guys, these younger guys are going to be the start of a new generation where it's going to be a dynasty with this staff."
With the play of true freshman receiver Robert Woods, who caught three receptions for a team-high 57 yards, and cornerback Nickell Robey, who forced a fumble and intercepted UCLA quarterback Richard Brehaut once, it's not hard to see where their optimism is coming from.
"The future is bright," Smith said. "They definitely have the recipe for success. They just have to be able to win games and finish games at the end of the game.
"That's something we didn't do well this year and I think the year would have been much different if we had."
As if to emphasize those two-minute struggles, the Trojans allowed a touchdown, the last in Pac-10 history, with 23 seconds left in the game. Kiffin joked that the team was now 11 for 13 in surrendering scores at the end of the half.
But in the end the night was about Bradford.
Said O'Dowd: "My last play in college in the Rose Bowl having Allen Bradford, one of my favorite backs, one of my best friends, run for 80 yards is pretty crazy and something I'll never forget."
"I'm a Trojan for life," Bradford said after the win. (Jaime Rodriguez Photo)
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