10 AM – Ah…the day is finally here. I am excited. Not only have I had some fourteen hours of sleep, but this is the day I have been waiting for since I decided to come back for one more semester. Winning today is the main reason why I came back for one more football season.
Breakfast was particularly satisfying today since I did not have to rush. I sat down and read the newspaper, smirking to myself when the game breakdown gave the running back and wide receiver edge to Oklahoma. If they only knew…
2:30 PM – All the other managers leave for the stadium early. Courtney Hamilton and I stay behind to help with the team walk-thrus at the hotel.
3:08 PM – I head down to the 2nd floor where the team walk-thrus will be conducted. Steve Smith grabs the football I have with me and starts playing with it. I ask him if he's going to play well today. He simply replies, "Yeah."
3:30 PM – Our team walks into one of the hotel's conference rooms and we go about our normal special teams walk-thru situation. We go through substitution situations and the like. We then split up into offense and defense and do our walk-thru of our scripted plays.
3:50 PM – We have our pre-game meal. This meal is always silent, with the clanking and clattering of forks and knives on plates literally being the only sound made. The players are focusing on the game while the coaches may be whispering quietly amongst themselves.
4:30 PM – I return to my room and watch TV. Normally in situations like these, I would just watch another college football game. Looks like I won't be able to do that today…
5:20 PM – I head down for our final thing before we leave: clap session.
5:30 PM – Clap session begins.
5:40 PM – Coach Chow and I are the last ones to exit the hotel. As we're going down the escalators, he says to me "Tony, when we win the National Championship, I want you to do something for me. Can you get me a hat this time? I didn't get one two years ago."
I reassure him that I will get it to him.
As the buses leave, I get on Bus 1 and sit next to Desmond Reed who has his headphones on, like 80% of the players on the bus. John Drake is sitting to my left rear and he can be heard throughout the trip to the stadium sporadically shouting out lyrics to hype himself up. Ryan Kalil and Travis Watkins are sitting in the back, arms around one another, looking down as if they're praying. Fred Matua is sitting two seats ahead of Drake, bobbing his head violently up and down, obviously psyching himself up as well.
As the bus leaves, I cannot help but think about how far our team has come since I first started working with the team. I actually shed some tears thinking about it, knowing the struggles and hardship our team has gone through for the past four years both on and off the field. I cry for the players who helped get us here but could not be a part of it, and I cry remembering various moments of my life for the past four years, most notably what happened to my family only thirteen months ago. Emotion overcomes me at this moment, for reasons I still don't fully know why, though these words are probably the best explanation that I can come up with.
5:55 PM – The police escort definitely went a round about way to get to the stadium, presumably to stay away from the heavy traffic and gain some time to clear it up. As far as the eye can see, there are just blinking lights and sirens; I don't think we've ever had a police escort this extravagant. I then wonder what would happen if our escort and Oklahoma's converged at the same time. What would happen then?
I also kick myself for forgetting to do something before I left. I end up using the bus restroom before we arrive.
About 6:15 PM – We arrive at Pro Player Stadium and our players start getting ready. Before we pull into the parking lot, Fred Matua spreads the word to the players to start shaking the bus back and forth when we stop because we did it two years ago against Iowa. Being on the 2nd bus two years ago (the 2nd bus is always the one with all of the defensive players), I did not know that we did that.
Upon stopping, the majority of the players fill the tiny bus aisle and begin rocking the bus back and forth, causing it to shake uncontrollably. There I am, sandwiched between Fred Matua and John Drake, both weighing at least twice my size and trying to shake the bejesus out of the bus. As the bus rocks back and forth (and I'm trying to shake it too!) the players are screaming, "Don't Start No Shit! Won't Be No Shit!" something that has been a sort of joke around the team. But this was totally serious. Adrenaline was riding high and the second we walked out of the bus, cameras galore were right in our face.
I quickly change and get out to the field. For the first time ever for a game, I turn my cell phone off and leave it in my bag. I don't know what compelled me to do this, but it was the first (and last!) time I've ever done this. I guess I just wanted to be focused on the game and nothing else.
Out on the field, everything is all set and ready. Players slowly sift out and warm up on the field without pads.
I simply cannot wait for the game.
Pre-Game Walk-Thru – For those observant USC fans, I was the guy who spotted the ball during the 7 on 7 and team drills just before the game. I'm the one running out to Steve Smith or Reggie Bush or LenDale White to get the ball back before the next play. Sometimes, I cannot get it back in time and I'll be pseudo in the play and have to make sure I don't get laid out.
I look out over to the Oklahoma side of the field and pick out Adrian Peterson. To think, over a year ago, I was helping recruit that guy. Now we're playing against him. What a small world…
Moments before kickoff – Myself and a couple of other managers freak out when we see two people with Oklahoma polos on behind our sideline. One of them has some sort of electronic device. Not knowing what they are up to, I hop over one of our benches and ask them who they are and what they're doing. They claim to be from a radio station and that they're allowed to be there. I tell them that they're not allowed to be here, but they don't pay any attention to me. I go talk to some of our security and have them shooed off. One manager suggests that maybe they were trying to pick up our frequencies on our coaches' headsets. Who knows what they were doing or who they were…
Shaquille O'Neal is a MONSTER. He's huge! He's the single biggest person I've ever seen in my life. And keep in mind, I've known our football team for four years, and none of our players have ever come close to Shaq. Truly unbelievable. Unfortunately, I was only able to shake his and couldn't get a picture with him.
1st Quarter – I knew that we'd get a big gain on the first play to Reggie Bush. Unfortunately, we weren't able to capitalize on the field position and had to punt the ball away.
Nice punt by Tom "The Bomb"!
Dang it. Looks like we'll have a repeat of the previous Orange Bowl where Iowa scored first. Well, the bright side is that Oklahoma had to complete some 2-3 3rd and longs on this drive. I know they will not be able to do that consistently all night.
SPORTSCENTER! I did not even get to see Dominique Byrd's catch live because my view was blocked on the sideline, but the replay did it justice! I had to figure it was a touchdown after players on our sideline started jumping up and down. I start thinking this game is going to be a shootout.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME!? Did he really just do that? What an idiot! STUPID! Just another example of a team self-imploding against us. How many times has this happened? By the way, Tom should get acknowledgement for that forced fumble…
2nd quarter – Man, Jason White won the Heisman? How does a sixth-year senior dare throw a hail mary off his back foot? Man…Oklahoma is imploding…
Now there's a Heisman quarterback. Getting pressured by Dan Cody, Leinart just took a huge shot in the back while throwing a beautiful ball to Dwayne Jarrett. The Ocho should've caught it though.
And he makes up for it. What a bomb. Leinart hasn't looked this good since…the Rose Bowl?
Another interception. Man, Jason White is starting to look like Derek Anderson…
Touchdown Steve Smith. This is unbelievable. Never in my wildest dreams…
Looks like they have some life. Nice throw by White and an even better play by Kejuan Jones. He simply slipped through our zone and gained some nice yardage.
Adrian Peterson is not going to be able to run on us. From all the publicity Oklahoma's offensive line has gotten the past two years, I totally bought into the idea that their running game would be powerful. Especially with center Vince Carter and tackle Jammal Brown as legit All-Americans. But having watched them for a quarter and a half now, they refuse to run counters against our defense. Peterson will not run for over 100 against us.
Man, them Oklahomans sure are stubborn…
Speaking of counters, there goes Reggie Bush. Looked like he was running to the right, then jets up the left side of the field for big yardage. Fine by me if Oklahoma doesn't know what the word "adjust" means.
OH MAN! Move over Dom Byrd, Steve Smith just challenged your play! Reminds me of a certain one handed catch in the Rose Bowl last year…
Half Time – WOW. 38-10? Are you serious? This is the number 2 team in the nation? We should be in the NFL. I start yelling towards their sideline (like they can hear me) that at least Iowa made us work for a whole game for this score. Who knows what the final's going to be?
The stands are already feeling a little empty, and it's not because it's halftime. I cannot believe that we're emptying the stadium already! What a game of the century…
Ashlee Simpson just got booed. Whoop de doo people. There's a reason she lip synched on Saturday Night Live. C'mon, we've got a football game going on here…
3rd Quarter – This drive is really going to be telling. If they come out and score here, maybe the game isn't over after all.
Well, we now know what kind of fight Oklahoma has in them. Instead of coming out hard and tough, they punt on the first possession and we score on ours. I'm starting to wonder how much TV time I'm actually getting…
YAWN. Let's get this over already. I want to get back to the hotel and start partying.
4th Quarter – We should just bust out the champion t-shirts now. There's no way they're coming back.
And LenDale White just personally made Oklahoma look silly. Excessive celebration. Who cares? We're up by like 300…
I miss nearly the rest of the quarter as we're trying to get the t-shirts and hats situation organized. Oh well…I'd rather miss the fourth quarter because we're blowing them out than tensely watching it because the game is still in doubt!
I grab a hat for myself and one for Coach Chow. I'm not going to forget because he will never let me live it down…
Man are you serious? They got a safety? Yeah Matt, I'd be mad too…
Touchdown Sooners. That Boomer Sooner song doesn't sound nearly as cool when the touchdown is meaningless.
Game Over – AND WE ARE THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONS!
Media, reporters, Orange Bowl personnel…there are just so many people all over the field doing all sorts of random things. A huge stage is set up so quickly in the middle of the field, you could've guessed that it was there all along. The whole team and most of the staff start getting up onstage and toss oranges all over the place. Everybody's taking pictures, yelling, smiling, absorbing the moment.
Personally, I'm the last one off the back stage as they get prepared to disassemble it, standing in the middle of a nearly empty stadium, save maybe ten thousand USC fans.
We slowly clean up the field, with dozens of players still on the field, saluting the band and fans and trying to get TV time with the GameDay crew.
January 5th, 2005
Back at the Hotel – I don't really remember what time we got everything done and left the stadium, mainly because it did not matter. The moment still overwhelmed all of us on the ride back, which, coincidentally, took extraordinarily long. While the buses already took the players back, we drove our borrowed Orange Bowl cars, and with no police escort, literally hit every red light on the way back. Well, I guess not everything can go your way…
After showering, we go down to the after party and it is jampacked with fans, alumni, family members, players, coaches, and staff. Open bar dude…
About 5 AM – There are STILL tons of people partying. Unbelievable.
About 6 AM – I try to pass out for a couple of hours before we have to wake up. BUT, the fire alarm goes off for about five minutes! Absolutely ridiculous! For five minutes straight, there is just the annoying ringing of the fire alarm and nothing I can do about it.
About ten minutes after the first alarm, it goes off again, this time for a shorter period of time, but still! This is getting out of hand…
7:50 AM – I get up and start packing. We were supposed to be downstairs to help load baggage onto the trucks and buses five minutes ago…
8:20 AM – I get downstairs and we all start sorting everyone's luggage. I'm rather grumpy and tired and slightly hung over.
11:30 AM – We leave the Westin Diplomat, a half hour later than scheduled. A few of the players were a little late.
On the plane, I fall asleep. Not too difficult considering my sleep deprived state. Due to some of the players going straight home from the game, there are some empty seats on the plane. The seat between myself and Greg Bukowski is empty, and I am able to stretch out and get somewhat comfortable.
An hour or so before landing in LA – I wake up and the stewardess kindly supplies me with a meal that I missed because I was sleeping.
Shortly after I finish my meal, the biggest pillow fight that I've ever been involved in breaks out. Apparently, one of the coach's kids was playing around with one of the players; I don't know which child nor which player, but the entire player section of the plane got involved. Before you knew it, pillows and blankets were flying everywhere. There's nothing quite like 300-pound 20 year-olds tossing pillows and blankets while using seats as shields.
So there I am, in the middle of a huge pillow fight amongst the players. Envision 300-pound linemen throwing pillows at little kids and vice versa! Definitely entertaining, and definitely funny.
This ending truly personifies how our team felt after this victory…
4:30 PM (PST) – We arrive back at Heritage Hall and there are tons of fans and cameras waiting outside for the football team. Us managers quietly tip toe our way through the crowd and get out of sight out of mind.
Thus my experience as a USC football manager ends, and with it, does a chapter of my life, as I go on to the "real world."
And become a staff member of WeAreSC.com.
Tony King (r) on podium after Orange Bowl (with extra hat for Coach Chow)