Getting to the stadium itself, however, is another story. There aren't too many stadiums worse to drive to than the Rose Bowl. Even the Trojan team buses were late as the team was scheduled to arrive around noon and they didn't actually enter the stadium until close to 12:30. Pete Carroll was the first one off the bus and into the locker room with a stern look on his face. Carroll gave a brief wave to the cheers of adoring Trojan fans who had lined the walkway as the team filed past but other than that he was all business. Several of the players, including LenDale White and Shaun Cody, gave big smiles and victory signs as they walked past.
As the team got dressed in the locker room Trojan radio announcer Paul McDonald was out on the field walking the same turf he had played on 25 years ago. One can imagine the thoughts that went through McDonald's mind as he recalled the battle with Michigan in 1979 or the memorable game with Ohio State a year later. McDonald was one of the first to draw comparisons between this Trojan team and the one he led to a national title in 1978 and now this USC team had a chance to make that final piece of the comparison a reality.
Slowly the stadium started to fill with fans from both teams and it was obvious the Trojans would have a decided home field advantage as the Cardinal colored sections far outnumbered those with fans dressed in blue. The Trojan players came on the field in groups. As linebacker coach Nick Holt walked by it was obvious by the drained look in his face that he was not anywhere near 100%. Coach Carroll would later tell the media that Holt had been in the hospital until shortly before the game and Carroll didn't think Holt was going to be able to coach.
Brandon Hance and Mike Williams began warming up by tossing a ball back and forth. Keary Colbert ran some wind sprints down the sidelines. Tim Davis had his offensive line in a corner of the end zone going through some basic drills. Carroll stood in the middle of the field and took it all in. At one point he went over and said something to Michigan QB John Navarre and a smile came across his face. The Trojan coach was clearly enjoying the moment. Before the team went into the locker room for last minute preparations the players gathered in the end zone in front of the large Trojan crowd and shared in the spirit.
The USC sidelines began to fill with names from the glorious Trojan past. Ronnie Lott, Marcus Allen, Tony Boselli, Troy Polamalu. One by one they exchanged hugs and talked excitedly about the opportunity at hand. The USC Song Girls wore roses in their hair and even Traveler took a test run along the sideline with a lei of roses around his neck. As kickoff approached a stadium wide card stunt gave us a giant American flag with a trio of stealth aircraft flying overhead. It was time to play ball.
Michigan got the ball first and they looked big as they came on the field. They had some success on the opening drive and then just as quickly it stalled and the Trojans blocked a field goal attempt. That was certainly a nice way to start. Then Matt Leinart dropped back and hit Keary Colbert for a quick lead. This was more like it. The game then settled into a tight struggle for the rest of the half until Navarre threw a hurried pass off the heel of his receiver. The ball bounced into the arms of Lofa Tatupu who sprinted down the sidelines and gave the USC offense great field position which they promptly converted with a touchdown pass to White. With that the score became 14-0 and Trojan fans had the sense that this game was over. We knew very well what our defense was capable of doing to people in the 2nd half. As it turned out, the Wolverines played the game even the rest of the way but all that meant was a 14 point victory for the Trojans.
By the time Mike Williams hit Leinart with a perfect pass for a touchdown the celebration was off and running for USC fans. When the game itself finally ended it was time for the Trojan players to join in the fun. There were many hugs and lots of smiles. Lenny Vandermade wore a grin a mile wide. Players raced for the box filled with Rose Bowl champion hats and t-shirts. Williams was one of the first players leading his teammates over to the Trojan Marching Band. Carroll took the stage for the Rose Bowl trophy presentation and said "I think we just won the national championship".
It took several minutes for security to clear the field as the last interviews were being conducted. Colbert was the final Trojan on the field as he answered questions about what his team had just accomplished. Keary gave his answers and then quietly slipped into the locker room. As Colbert headed in the door Carroll was coming out to greet his family. The Trojan coach hugged his wife and his daughter and then his two sons. There was a look of pure joy on his face. His USC Trojans had just won the national championship of college football.