Hollywood goes to 'Trojan War'

The "30 for 30" ESPN documentary debuts Tuesday and it connects Pete Carroll's dominant USC program to the Hollywood traditions that have always surrounded to the school.

It's not a bad story. It's well told. It will make you laugh . . . and if not cry, make you feel like you just got a punch in the gut a time or two.

It's an interesting story, ESPN's "Trojan War" that opens the third "30 for 30" season Tuesday at 6 p.m. PT. It will take you back to so many moments some of us -- many of us -- lived through. And from a different point of view.

Director Aaron Rahsaan Thomas, a Trojan alum as well as adjunct professor of film at USC and a writer and producer on series like Friday Night Lights, has made it come alive.

And as befits a university where the film program goes back to founder Douglas Fairbanks Sr., it tells the Tinseltown tale through executive producer Keyshawn Johnson's eyes.

"That was Keyshawn's idea," Thomas said after the premiere on the West Side Wednesday, "the traditional connection between USC and Hollywood."

"I wanted to tell the USC-Hollywood story back to John Wayne," Keyshawn said of the man known as Marion Morrison when he was a Trojan footballer.

The Hollywood version of the Pete Carroll Era, arguably the most intensely dominant program in modern college football and one that came up seconds short of an unprecedented Three-Pete, is a story with many elements.

But "Trojan War" doesn't exactly tell the story of how that Trojan program became so dominant so quickly. So quickly, in fact, that it wasn't, as the 77-minute documentary seems to show us, with the help of the bright lights of Hollywood.

Hollywood came to the Trojans, not the other way around. USC football became great and then Hollywood took notice. And Carroll, of course, didn't tell them to go away.

But when USC was losing at Kansas State and Washington State in 2001 before the big run, Hollywood wasn't around. Something happened between those players and coaches and then the USC fans that made the program something special. That's when Hollywood jumped on for the ride.

Sure, alum Will Ferrell, who isn't in the movie because his PR people couldn't agree on his role, was around a good bit for the big moments. But Texas fan Matthew McConnaughay, although he was a presence in the central plot point, the 2006 Rose Bowl game with his antics in Pasadena -- is not in the story either for similar reasons. His Texas bud, Lance Armstrong is, and makes a good point in his cameo about the ridiculous lifetime banishment of Reggie Bush, who is also not here.

Keyshawn tried, he said, talking maybe 40 times to Reggie over two and a half years. It wasn't to be. "We tried everything short of giving him money," Thomas said with a sly grin.

Bush's story is, of course, here and it's used to good effect with the early quote from the Heisman Trophy presentation that "forever more when people mention your name, it will be as the Heisman Trophy winner," as the camera pans all the former winners sitting there nodding. And you will be nodding too, knowing what's coming.

There's a lot of telegraphing going on here that the day-to-day Trojan fans of that era will not need. You know what's coming.

The footage of Reggie saying "they can't take those wins away from us" when that's exactly what "they" do will makes you realize that you've been there before.

And if you're wondering, those folks we know as "they" -- the NCAA -- well, "they" didn't make the cut. As producer/writer Mario Diaz noted, the film-makers just couldn't make it work in the six or seven minutes they had dedicated to that part of the story, that part that stays with USC football to this day.

"Trojan War" is pretty much agnostic about the NCAA stuff although it does seem to buy in a bit to the "high-profile players" mumbo-jumbo of the late Paul Dee.

That will have to come in another "30 for 30," Thomas says and there are folks only too ready to help out with that. Speaking of the NCAA, one of the really welcome faces and voices here is that of Todd McNair, the USC coach the NCAA made the fall guy, who gives you that inside insight.

Trojan fans might think, like this reviewer does, that there's a bit too much Petros Papadakis, who says of Pete: "He could sell ice to an Ice-kemo." And as good Trojans as Michael McDonald and Collin Ashton were, it's too bad the schedule didn't work out for NFLers like Keith Rivers,/b> and ,b>Brian Cushing.

Matt Leinart and LenDale White, in a starring role absent Reggie, handled many of the speaking lines -- and the laugh lines. Might have been a bit too much LenDale but it's hard to keep him down with a microphone around.

Definitely too much of Snoop Dogg, although he's a football guy. He just wasn't much a part of the USC story. And the couple of times he was, he -- or more correctly his security crew -- were as ridiculously out of place on the USC campus and practice field as the agents and runners who don't make it into the story much, either.

And when they do, Mike Ornstein, Reggie's "marketing adviser" with whom he interned, and Josh Luchs, the self-described "recovering sports agent" who had a tell-all about buying players in Sports Illustrated that focused on UCLA, might not have been as clearly labeled as they could have been.

One interesting choice is the continuing presence of 89-year-old legendary Hollywood producer Lawrence Turman, head of The Peter Stark Producing Program at the USC. It's a way to connect producing a football program to that of producing a film much as Turman did with his signature work -- The Graduate, that had been turned down innumerable times before it was made.

Not a football guy at all, Turman told an industry acquaintance he wasn't sure exactly why he was in "Trojan War." Well, Turman was the connection between USC and Hollywood. And that was important here.

You'll like the game footage, some of it you haven't seen, unearthed by the likes of co-producer Dylann Tharp, Shelley Smith's daughter, as the pair worked behind the scenes with Keyshawn to make this happen.

And you'll definitely like going back to those days, the bowl games, the 34-game winning streak, the intensity of all of it. But with all the foreboding building up to that 2006 Rose Bowl game, the full-blown, all-out fun and joy of that time seems somehow missing. You know how this one is going to end. And if you're a USC fan, you don't need to be reminded of it.

You can follow me on Twitter at @dweber3440 or email me at weber@uscfootball.com.


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