It was my first time to Florida so I didn't really know what to expect. USC was on such a high at that point, we were turning the corner as a program and it felt like we were on a high speed freeway with all that was going on like Carson winning the Heisman. What was amazing was the way we were treated by the Orange Bowl committee and the people of Miami, the city embraced us even though we weren't the Hurricanes. I felt like the President with the way we were courted.
You can't focus on football 24 hours per day so I would tell the guys making this trip to embrace it and enjoy it. At the Beach Bash I went wave running for the first time. I'm from the West Coast and so I'm used to the cold water of the Pacific Ocean but the Atlantic was room temperature. I started going out in the water and I would look down and I could see my feet, you don't see that out here. To be having a good time on the beach and to look all around and see your teammates, the guys you have worked so hard with, made it all the more special.
One of the highlights of the trip was our visit to the Smith and Wollensky restaurant. We went on December 27th and I remember that date well because I share that birthday with Carson. I had the filet mignon and that sauce was so good, I still use Smith and Wollensky steak sauce ever since that night. I remember sitting at the table with Grieg Carlson and he was playing around and we ended up with bread crumbs all over the table. Well, Grieg is a neat freak so he had to clean it up right away. Carroll predicted at dinner that night that we would be back. He told the Orange Bowl committee guys that we would be back in two years to play for the BCS title.
We stayed at the Westin Diplomat and that's the greatest place I've ever stayed in my life. To wake up every morning and look out your window to the Atlantic Ocean was unbelievable. The bathrooms had this fog glass and the doors were all glass, it was great. They had this Roman size tub and I laid in it with all my clothes on while the water was running. I just couldn't believe how luxurious this place was and because I was a senior I had my own room. Reality set in the next day when we got back to practice but for that moment when I checked into my room it was just a dream for how hard we had worked all year to get to that point. To tell you how much I loved that hotel, we had the Heavenly beds in our rooms so I ordered one and have it in my home to this day. The hotel had an Infinity pool and the area was so beautifully landscaped, I know it has been featured in some music videos. The club at the hotel, it had such a good beat coming from it at all times. The music, the energy, it was fabulous. The New Years Eve party was great, I was watching Pete Carroll and my mom on the dance floor and everyone was having a great time.
The practices and events will be paced well. Coach Carroll has his pulse on the program and his players and he knows how to get them ready for the game. Coach Carroll does a great job of directing the team in terms of when it's time to take care of business and when it's time to enjoy. You can't start preparing too soon because there is a lot of down time and that's not good for an athlete. Sometimes if you prepare too soon you can start playing the game in your head and doubt creeps in. Maybe you start reading the press clippings of your opponent too much. There's a fine line between being confident and being so prepared that you start looking for faults. What's important, and what Coach Carroll is so good at, is to focus on going to practice and getting better each day. At the start of each practice he would do a great job of emphasizing the theme of the day whether it was Competition Tuesday, Turnover Wednesday or No Repeat Thursday. He takes such a professional approach with his preparation and as players we are like dogs on his leash waiting for his command. As we got closer to facing an opponent his demeanor would change, the assistant coaches would respond to that and we would feed off them to the point that we were ready to go. The energy would just trickle down from Coach Carroll to us and it would get more and more intense with each passing day.
We were so prepared to face Iowa that during our practices Mike Pollard would be calling out the names of the service teams plays when they got to the line of scrimmage. We no longer had to worry about what they were doing because we knew how to stop their key plays. After the game the Iowa QB, Brad Banks, said it was like we had a copy of their playbook. Our guys will be prepared for this game, trust me. We had seen their tendencies so much and I know Coach Carroll will have this team just as prepared.
One of the defining moments of the trip took place at the Smith and Wollensky restaurant on the night we visited there for dinner. For some reason they had the Iowa team at the restaurant that night as well, we were upstairs and they were downstairs. Right before the whole team got ready to leave a few of us went downstairs to use the bathroom but some of the Iowa players barricaded the entrance to the bathroom. As the rest of the team came down the stairs the Iowa players parted like the red sea with offensive guys on one side and defensive guys on the other so that they formed a tunnel for our guys to walk through. As our guys started to walk by they began to heckle us and the whole room went silent to the point where you could hear a pin drop. I remember at that moment the air was so crisp and my heart started to pump with adrenaline. You knew the opponent was right there and that rage began to build up. We were having fun on the trip to that point but once we saw the opponent it was like a shark drawing blood. It was intense. If one person had gotten nudged the game would've been played right then and there. I've never experienced a moment like that. I later played in Indianapolis with Bob Sanders and Dallas Clark from that Iowa team and they both agreed a fight could've broken out that night. The one thing that incident did was it brought our team together.
Another interesting situation was the visit to one of our practices by O.J. Simpson. At that point Coach Carroll was embracing the USC tradition and one of his goals was an open door policy with former players, he wanted the alumni to come back and experience the success we were having. During one of our practices O.J. makes a cameo appearance and immediately it raised mixed emotions. A lot of players were excited because he's an SC Heisman winner and to meet him, even with everything else involved with him, was special. There was also a lot of backlash to his visit but, as players, we were oblivious to it, we never heard any of it. When we were headed on the bus to one of the press conferences Coach Carroll got up and he had a puzzled look on his face, a look that I had never seen before. He asked us how we felt about O.J. as a football player and as a man. He shared with us some of the backlash he had been receiving as a result of the appearance. It was a profound moment for those of us on that bus. It allowed us to see our coach as a man, a person, a human being. His intentions were positive, he just wanted to embrace all who wore the Cardinal and Gold, and yet things went bad. Having to deal with that kind of adversity, that kind of unnecessary distraction, I think Coach Carroll has learned from that and he deals with adversity with class and dignity.
It helped in those situations that we had a senior group. We had a lot of veterans on that team who were able to help brush off the distractions. This USC team is younger and they will soon find out that this game is something different. It's not a regular season game, it's not a trip to the BCA to play Virginia Tech, it's much more than that. Everything is magnified in this game. USC is the hot team right now and everyone wants to be a part of that. Miami, with the lure of the night life, the team needs to be disciplined. You need to take care of business first, then you can celebrate. Believe me, the night after the Orange Bowl we had a never ending party. It was like a Mardi Gras or a New Years Eve party that never dies down and it just got more exciting as the night went on. It was unbelievable.