Orange Bowl diary: Part 1

Tony King is a former head manager for the USC football team and he kept a diary of the recent Orange Bowl trip to descibe the experiences of what he saw on the Trojans road to the national championship. Click below to read part 1 of his 5 part story.

When Garry Paskwietz asked me to keep a diary of my experiences at the Orange Bowl this year in order to turn it into an article, I was more than happy to oblige. But first, I'd like to introduce myself and my history with USC Football.

My name is Anthony King, and I have been the head manager for the USC football team the past two years. I have been a manager ever since head coach Pete Carroll's first year.

I became a USC football manager in the Spring of 2001, Coach Carroll's first semester as USC's head coach. One of my fraternity brothers was already a manager and he introduced me to some of the necessary authorities; I then went through what is called a "trying out" period that all USC managers go through. The student manager job is an entirely volunteer "occupation" with no guarantees of making "the squad." Student managers go through spring ball under close supervision by the head manager and head equipment managers, most notably Tino Dominguez. Ideally, there are 12 managers selected, including the head manager, to begin the football season. That year, due to the firing of former head coach Paul Hackett and the lackluster reception Coach Carroll received, we had nine.

Many would like to forget Coach Carroll's first year at USC. It was highlighted with a four game winning streak and a shutout of UCLA. It was marred by the Las Vegas Bowl loss to Utah. For me, I nearly quit the job when we were 1-4 and had just lost to Washington on another lost second field goal (the other game that year was against Oregon). I nearly quit again after the Notre Dame game, but my fraternity brother told me that he could feel this program turning the corner and that the team, despite the record, had a completely different vibe about it than under Hackett. How right he was. I took his word for it and was pleased to make it to the Las Vegas Bowl, since I am from Vegas. Unfortunately, it just meant that my friends and family watched us lose in person on Christmas Day.

The next year, partly due to the hit our program seemingly took from our bowl game, we still had nine managers (it eventually fell to eight). My frat bro, Dominic Boull't, became head manager that year, and in retrospect, it was subtly implied that I would be next. I, as well as many players and managers on the team, felt we had a team that could compete for the national championship, but two early, heartbreaking losses in the first five games shattered those dreams. However, Coach Carroll's emphasis on winning the conference first eventually came to fruition, especially with notable season ending blowouts of UCLA and Notre Dame. Carson Palmer won the Heisman Trophy, we went to the Orange Bowl for the first time and the rest was history.

Coming into the 2003 season, our program was riding high. We were ranked in the Top 10, won a BCS bowl, and had a Heisman Trophy winner. Believe you me…there were plenty more candidates for the manager position that year. I must have personally answered some 30+ e-mails from prospective students that spring semester inquiring about the position whereas the past couple of years, we had a difficult time finding manager prospects.

With our expectations flying high, our loss to Cal certainly shocked and rattled many of us (managers that is). I was upset, disappointed, sad, and frustrated all at the same time. And while many of you can probably say the same, not many of you had to endure cleaning up the sidelines after all the Cal fans rushed onto the field, cursing in my direction, taunting us while we organized our equipment, and attempting to steal every possible thing that belonged to us. Definitely classless in my mind, and nothing will ever change my perception of the California Bears.

Arizona State was truly the turning point of the season that year. After his 3-interception performance the previous week at California and his injury in the second quarter against the Sun Devils, Matt Leinart's status as the starting quarterback was questionable for even the second half of that game. But then, in an athletically heroic manner, Leinart sucked up the pain and, along with LenDale White's running, led our team to a blowout in a tied game at halftime.

The whole BCS ordeal that year was nuts. For me, it was a completely secondary thing since I was notified the day before the Oregon State game (the last game of our season) that my father was hospitalized. Apparently, his appendix burst on him while he was working at Caesar's Palace. Not knowing what the problem was and why he was in severe pain, my stubborn father simply took the rest of the day off work and turned a normally 20-minute car ride into a painful 2-hour nightmare. It took him about eight hours after the incident to believe that something was really wrong, and my mother then drove him to the hospital.

Not knowing what to do, nor how severe my father's situation was, I reluctantly stayed for the Oregon State game at the urging of both my mother and father. That Oregon State game, for me, was the most unfulfilling sideline experience of my life. I was so upset that Oregon State kept trying to throw the ball and stopping the clock that day. Finally, the game ended, and I went straight home, not even bothering to help the other managers do the post game cleanup and drove the 280 miles to Las Vegas, stopping immediately at the hospital.

That Sunday, BCS selection day, I will never forget my father, still in uncontrollable tears from the pain and the delusional effects of various medications, asking me why we weren't going to the Sugar Bowl, despite my excitement in telling him we were going to the Rose. Many experiences and memories will remain with me from my four-year experience, but the memory of my father, who just 48 hours ago could have died due to his ignorance of his condition and had never really been a big USC fan until I started managing, being upset about our being snubbed for the Sugar Bowl berth despite what he had gone through, will always remind me of how much he always put me ahead of himself and how much he loved me. I cannot help but cry recalling this moment and retelling it to you here.

Gradually, my father got better, and I returned to USC for my finals, then quickly returned home. After I saw that my father was well enough to walk, talk, and be himself again, I took advantage of the opportunity my father's injury presented us. Normally, my father works the day of every major holiday; many casino employees must do so. However, with a month off due to his injury, that meant my father could attend the Rose Bowl game. After much coaxing that he "would be just fine," I forced him and my mother (you normally don't have to force many people to go to the Rose Bowl!) to come out to Los Angeles and go to the game. The rest, as you all know, is history, and trust me, they were glad they did.

Our success in 2003 forced me to make a very difficult decision. Despite being technically "done" with my core credits, save for a single class, I wanted to return for 2004 because I KNEW we were going to win the national championship again, and I wanted just one more ring. I wanted to win that undisputed BCS title and have the ring to show for it. So, the football administration made some arrangements and allowed me to stay for one extra semester. Heading into the season, I became the co-head manager with long time manager Courtney Hamilton.

Not once was I scared to lose this season. I expected to win every game, and we did just that. I knew we would not be as dominant without key players such as Mike Williams, Winston Justice, and Whitney Lewis, but I had no doubt in my mind that we were always the better team no matter who lined up against us.

Going to Miami again for the Orange Bowl was very exciting. However, I was probably the least confident heading into this game than I had been for any game in over two years. We were finally playing Oklahoma for all the marbles, something that many of us (managers that is) felt we would need to do to fully establish ourselves as THE program (along with beating Miami, but that's no longer the case since they have slipped of late). After all the hubbub last year, I wanted to kill Oklahoma in this bowl game to prove that not only were we undoubtedly the best team this year (that's right Auburn…) but we were the best last year too (that's right LSU…).

In the end, I think we fully accomplished that goal and then some. In order to provide more detail as to the functions of that week, here now is my personal diary of the trip.

December 28th, 2004

5:30 AM – Ugh. I wake up and get ready to pack my last minute things along with my toiletries. Why do I have to be there at 6:15 again?

5:50 AM – Me and another manager fraternity brother leave our house and pick up a couple of other managers. It is pouring rain.

6:15 AM – All the student managers are present, before any players or any other football staff, save for the fully employed staff of equipment managers. We are shocked to see that Fox News already had a camera set up with a lady completely drenched by the rain but ready to conduct some interviews.

6:47 AM – Some of the first players' luggage starts arriving at the moving truck. We start loading it on, distinguishing between player, coach, staff, or other.

7:52 AM – Nearly everybody is loaded up and ready to go. Coach Carroll gets his luggage on the truck last and pulls a nice reverse U-turn in the middle of the street to go back to the parking lot.

8:01 AM – The four buses carrying the team, coaches, staff, and various family members leave for LAX. We have a police escort with at least five squad cars and a few motorcycles. The rain is coming down hard.

8:37 AM – We still have not reached the airport. Where are we? People are starting to gossip about what happened. Supposedly the proper airport exit was flooded? We definitely took an alternate route.

10:30 AM – The plane lifts off the ground and we're headed to Miami. Unfortunately, we are an hour and a half later than schedule. I switch seats with strength and conditioning coach Chris Carlisle so that his son can have a window seat. It doesn't matter to me, as I sleep virtually the entire way there, except for when the meal came and to watch the end of I Robot (man that movie sucks).

For those of you who have never flown a chartered flight with the team (which is probably most of you), we are engorged with food. Fruit, chocolate, ice cream, and cookies are constantly served. Also, the actual meals are not half bad, especially when compared to the typical airline food served. Gatorade and water are plentiful, though I haven't been able to get a free beer. I wonder why…

5:56 PM (EST) – We have arrived. An unbelievable entourage of Orange Bowl executives and committee members greet us on the tarmac along with over a dozen media members and cameras. Some nice Latin music is played in the background while two beautiful ladies dance in orange clad attire on each flank of the stairs. Four big SC designed buses are waiting directly across from the plane, detailed with pictures from our Orange Bowl victory two years ago. However, in my opinion, they seemed to have put Palmer's picture a bit too closely behind Coach Carroll's. Looks a little odd. Fire the guy who made that design…

5:58 PM – The players are quickly directed to get on the bus and hurry to the hotel to make up for lost time. As a result, the managers are standing around, waiting for the players to get going and for the plane's cargo to be ready for unload. The Orange Bowl camera guy, desperate for pictures, gets several pictures of us, a couple of which made the website. Obie, the Orange Bowl mascot, poses with us and is very friendly and receptive.

6:01 PM – I manage to snag an Orange Bowl patch from one of the Orange Bowl personnel, and I rush to one of the buses in search of offensive coordinator Norm Chow. Coach Chow had asked me on the plane if I could get him an additional Orange Bowl patch since, as he tells me, he has four kids and they only give him one of everything. I hurriedly get it to him and he just smiles at me, as if he either forgot that he requested one from me in the first place or didn't expect me to actually get one for him. I am pleased to make him happy (I certainly don't want to make him upset and maybe leave!).

About 6:10 PM – The buses leave the airport and the managers get to work. We assist the airport personnel unload all the luggage and cargo off the plane and into our two moving trucks provided by the Orange Bowl. Meanwhile, the players get to go to the hotel, change, and go to some comedy club. We all feel somewhat jealous, until later we find out from the majority of the players that the show sucked.

7:37 PM – We finish loading up the trucks and start heading out from the airport for the Nova Southeastern University practice facility. We actually have our own escort too! A single cop car…

8:03 PM – We arrive at Nova and begin unloading the necessary equipment. I must say, personally, I hate unloading players' bags more than anything else. I can push, stack, load and unload equipment trucks all day and not complain, but there is just something about players' bags that are an absolute pain in the butt. They are unbelievably heavy, awkward, stinky, or all of the above and I can think of no manager who has ever enjoyed doing them. In my opinion, it's probably the worst part of our job. It's usually why I try to make sure I do the "hard" work of pushing equipment trunks around.

8:40 PM – We finish unloading everything we need off the truck for the practice facility, and we make like a baby and "head out."

9:08 PM – We arrive at the Westin Diplomat. Ah, my home away from home. Two years ago, I remember staying here, and to this day it is still the best hotel I've ever stayed at. The beds have four comfortable pillows on them with a long, slim body pillow for variety. Nearly every room has a balcony, though half the hotel gets crooked; one half overlooks the ocean while the other half overlooks, um, well, the less than spectacular city view.

Up in room 1533, my roommate and I have a conveniently placed balcony on the side of the hotel that has a view of both the ocean and the city. The bathroom has a good sized tub with a sliding door that opens to the room so that you can watch TV while in the bathtub.

10:25 PM – Many of us head down to the 2nd floor of the hotel for what is commonly known as "snack." But believe you me, the term "snack" is unbelievably deceiving. That night, it consisted of dozens of burritos; chips with salsa, guacamole, sour cream and more; pizza, two kinds; and a grand display of ice cream with the works. Starving from not having eaten since the plane ride, we dig in.

Much to our surprise, we're the first ones there and the players haven't returned from the comedy club yet.

10:30 PM – Having finished eating, some of us partake in the multitude of entertainment facilities provided by the game room. There are 2 pinball machines, 2 pool tables, a basketball arcade machine, 5 small TVs, a couple of which have PlayStation 2 and X-Box, a foosball table, table hockey, arcade games, and one big screen TV that constantly has football (or some other sport!) on. The game room this year has just a bit more than it did two years ago.

12:47 AM – I head downstairs to the main lobby and meet with defensive line coach Ed Orgeron to do bed check. The players curfew that night is 1:00 AM.

1:07 AM – We are done with bed check and head back to our rooms for some sleep.


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