As I spoke to my very knowledgeable friend Bill (well known on various internet boards as Bill from San Clemente) last evening on the phone, he pointed out something to me that is not trivial. SC fans and foes alike no longer can or will refer to the Football Program at the University of Southern California as "Yesterday U". That particular phrase was one of Bill Walsh's favorites when he used negative recruiting against the Trojans. Needless to say, nobody that I know was enthralled with that phrase. It just pointed out to the recruits that SC was engrossed with, and living in the PAST. Sure, the Trojans did have 8 National Champions and four Heisman Trophy Winners, but they were all during the Glory Days or even earlier, and everybody knows that those days are long gone. Most of the awards were back in the 60's and 70's but now, in the present day, USC is a has-been, unable to regain its former mystique. I hope that some, if not all, SC Diehards do a slow burn as they read this paragraph. Bill Walsh and the others continually rubbed that particular philosophy into people's head and I personally hated it with a passion. The TROUBLE WAS, there was some real truth to the assertion. Prior to the 2002 Football season, SC had, in fact, been down, way down, for the better part of 20 years. Sure, there was the occasional Rose Bowl Victory, and there was that one good run in 1988 lead by Rodney Peete, et al, but it fizzled badly at the end of the season and not much happened since then. One would sit in the Coliseum and view all the old National Championship Banners and reminisce. One might also visit Heritage Hall, view the Heisman Trophies, think about the past again, and then move on.
Fast forward to the 2001 Football Season. USC had just ended the Paul Hackett Era. The football program was at a low point. Morale was down, the talent level was not up to expectations and Mike Garrett was seemingly fumbling through the search for "the next Great Head Football Coach at USC" and fans were down in the dumps. Many names came to light, but the one that did not seem to light much of a positive fire, as is well documented, was Pete Carroll. Not to rehash what has been posted numerous times, but Pete ended up as the Head Coach and to say it has all worked out is a euphemism. Folks, this man, Pete Carroll has done what many had only hoped and dreamed about. In three short years, he and his terrific staff have transformed and re-energized USC Football to the point that other teams and programs once again fear the mighty Trojans and "Southern Cal" as it is known in many parts of the country, including in Tennessee where I live, is the talk of College Football. People come up to me and congratulate me and they talk about SC as if we had never been gone. Not one single fan in this part of the country had anything but praise for the Trojans. Every single person I spoke with feels that "Southern Cal" was the best and they got robbed. For my older friends in this part of the country, including one who played for the nationally ranked Vols in 1967, it is as if order has been restored. It is just like he, and almost every other SEC fan remembers. USC is back on top and they can beat just about anybody on any given day.
So, how good is this? In my opinion, it is unbelievable and I am not sure some realize yet just how awesome things have turned out. Better yet, just as Coach Carroll has said, perhaps this really is just the beginning. Most of the time, up till recently, when I spoke with friends about great USC teams and Heisman Winners, we spoke about the 1972 team, the 1978 team--the former "last champion" and of course, Marcus Allen. I have no problem paying homage to all of them. However, they are, in fact, the past. Now when I talk about great accomplishments at USC, I talk about the 2002 and 2003 teams. And why not--those two teams were very good and great, respectively, and they have proven it on the field and in the polls. Not even the 1978 team ended the regular season rated number one in both polls. No prior USC team in history had better offenses than the prior two editions. When, ever, even in the Glory Days, did USC have a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback and then have him be replaced by the new kid on the block who proceeded to match and even surpass his performance, at least in some respects? To my way of thinking, the answer, is simple--NEVER. That's right folks. Despite all the great accomplishments in the amazing past, never before has USC brought two more accomplished quarterbacks to the tables in consecutive years. More amazing is the fact that a sophomore quarterback and a team filled with freshmen and sophomore skilled players on offense, just won the National Championship and with a little luck, they are going to be in a position to be near or at the top again. The purpose of this opinion is not to individually critique the current squad, player by player. On the other hand, how can anyone not just gleam when thinking of a returning team with Big Mike Williams, the premier receiver in college football, Matt Leinart, amongst the best quarterbacks in America--yep, I did say that, LenDale White, a superb tailback, Steve-smooth as silk--Smith, a guy who will just get better and better, Whitney Lewis, the kid who has waited his turn and the phenomenal Reggie Bush? Just ask Notre Dame what they think about him. Of course, there are dozens of other names, some of which have not yet proven themselves, but I just wanted to name a few. And heaven forbid, that I forget to pay special homage to the man that I think has proven himself to be the greatest left tackle in the history of USC modern day football. Others may have ended up being more famous or made a bigger professional name than Jacob Rogers will. But when has there ever been a left tackle who made first team All American, played for a national Championship team and who never allowed a single sack of his quarterback for an entire season?? Some will immediately disagree and bring up better known names such as Munoz, Mosebar, Yary, Fitzpatrick and the like, but look it over and you will see that not one surpassed or matched Jacob's accomplisments.
So often, when talented teams had been named in the past, the 1979 team was mentioned. Personally, I believe that was the greatest, most talented team of all time, not to win a national championship. Of course, some of these names are really more famous for their professional accomplishments, but please look over this list and just think about it. Anthony Munoz, Roy Foster, Chris Foote, Brad Budde, Keith Vanhorne, Bruce Matthews, Don Mosebar, Tony Slaton, Charlie White, Marcus Allen, Paul McDonald, Chip Banks, Ronnie Lott, Dennis Smith, Joey Browner, Jeff Fisher, Riki Grey Ellison, George Achica and Raymond Butler. Folks, that feat might never, ever be repeated, and I admit that. On the other hand, as one gazes over the roster of this years team, the one that just won the Rose Bowl, and the National Championship, I can see a whole list of names that may also prove to be phenomenal. Whether or not the current SC team or future editions reach the level of fame and glory, both at the collegiate level and later in the professional ranks as the 1979 team is not the main point. The 2003 team already surpassed the 79 team in the most important category. The 2003 team won the National Championship. This current team brought back the title of Number One back to Troy. Order has been restored. As for the talent level, my personal opinion is that years from now, the 2003 team will bring back glory and wonderful memories of its own. Of course, nobody knows, but I can envision guys like Kenechi Udeze, Jacob Rogers, Mike Patterson, Shaun Cody, Winston Justice, Manual Wright, Reggie Bush, LenDale White, Mike Williams, Keary Colbert, Dominique Byrd, Will Poole, Marcel Allmond, Darnell Bing and several others also making big strides in the pros in addition to those made already or to be made at the collegiate level. The point here is not to compare teams player per player. The big point is that I am tempted to do it!!! To my way of thinking, that is simply amazing. The mood and demeanor concerning Trojan Football is so upbeat that finally, finally, many of us are engrossed in the present and are thinking of the future of SC Football. Prior to the last two years, when was the last time any of us could look in the mirror and honestly say that?
So, now as the recruiting for this season starts to wind down and we have more time to think and reflect, I want to extend a big THANK YOU to all those involved in the University of Southern California Football Program. Thanks Coach Carroll and Staff. Thanks to all those on the Administration side of the equation who helped this come about. Thanks to the thousands of fans. Whether or not it is rational, whether or not it makes any sense whatsoever, the reality is this. For countless thousands of people in Southern California and throughout the United States in general, following their team is of the utmost importance. The ultimate goal for most serious fans is to have their team called NUMBER ONE. Prior to this 2003 season it had been 25 long years since we have been able to claim that title. Well, thank heavens, it is finally here again. Whether or not it ever happens again, it did happen this year-now- in the present. I can't speak for everyone else, but I am one diehard fan who is going to sit back, smile, and enjoy every single second. It may happen again, or we may only come close, or we may not come so close. Right now, the only thing that matters is that it happened this year, and I am one happy and proud USC diehard.