I've had the pleasure of knowing Don for many years, going back to the days of writing the Trojan Football Fax when Don would instruct his bailiff to bring the Fax to his office the instant it came over the fax machine on Monday mornings. As the former president of the San Diego Trojan Club, Don had invited me down to speak to his club in the past and he always provided a tremendous amount of support to our efforts.
I can recall one early morning phone call from Don during the darkest stages of the Hackett era when Don had simply had enough. The tone is his voice that morning, the sheer exasperation of what had become of our beloved Trojans, was a tonic for both of us as we struggled to come to grips with the reality of seeing USC at the bottom of the Pac-10 standings. Don is one who truly wears his passion for the team on his sleeve and he often told the story about how Duane Bickett, the former Trojan LB who serves as the MC for the San Diego Trojan Club luncheons, pulled him aside at one point to express his concern over the lengths to which Don let the state of the Trojans impact his emotional well-being.
Needless to say, the turn of events since the hiring of Pete Carroll has provided Don with many moments of ultimate joy. When Carroll was first hired he mentioned a slogan of "Bring it On" and Don quickly organized a campaign where buttons were sold with that slogan to help raise funds for the Trojan Marching Band. Don became a more frequent visitor to USC practices with his newly retired status and he truly reveled in the return to greatness that has been achieved in the Carroll era.
As with many stories in life, however, a cruel twist was thrown into the mix and Don was diagnosed earlier this year with incurable brain cancer. He has thrown himself headfirst into his recovery and hasn't let it stop him from attending the Trojans first two games this year in Hawaii and against Arkansas.
Don doesn't want this story to be about him though, instead he wants to make sure Trojan fans understand the reaction and deeds he has seen from his favorite team, especially from head coach Pete Carroll.
Last May during his annual coaches tour in San Diego, Carroll presented Don with the Marv Goux Award for his service to the university over the years. During his speech Don talked about how special it was to receive the award because of the respect he had for Coach Goux and he eventually became so overcome with emotion that he was unable to continue with his speech. At this point it was Coach Carroll who came over, embraced him, helped him back to his seat and then spent the next 30 minutes talking to him at his table.
During fall camp practices the USC athletic department broke out a new video series on their website called MattReggie.TV and in one of their first installments the video featured Leinart, Bush and Carroll giving words of encouragement to Clausen and then the whole team began a "Don Clausen/SC" chant. As I watched the video the first thought that came to my mind was that there wasn't a person on this planet who that act would mean more to than Don Clausen.
Don contacted the football department and requested the opportunity to come to a practice last week so that he could deliver his thanks in person to Carroll, Leinart, Bush and the rest of the team. When he arrived at Heritage Hall he was quickly greeted by Carroll who took him into the coaches meeting room where he was met with high fives and well wishes from the other members of the staff. Dennis Slutak invited Don into his office and Carroll joined them for a 30 minute talk and then Carroll asked Don if he was coming to practice that afternoon. Don immediately responded "You bet" and Carroll told him to grab a bite to eat at the Galen Center and then head out to the practice field. While at the Galen Center eating with his friend Ron Fletcher, a former Trojan player from the 50's, Don received a visit from Matt Leinart and Don said he couldn't believe how polite and courteous Leinart was to him.
At the end of the practice Don was brought to the center of the field and all the players circled around him with interlocked arms and started chanting his name and offering words of encouragement. Pete Carroll stepped forward and told Don "we're dedicating the first eight plays of the game to you, Don Clausen" and we all know what happened in the first eight plays of the game against Arkansas. As he sat in the stands watching it all unfold Don turned to his wife Sally and had tears in his eyes as he recalled the famous speech by Lou Gehrig where he said he considered himself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.
Don said his goal in telling this story is for people to understand what a fine person Pete Carroll is and he said it's beyond his comprehension that Carroll would do those kind of things. It's certainly great to hear stories like this about our coach and our team but it's also nice to know that we are blessed with people like Don Clausen as part of the Trojan Family. Fight On Don.