Reggie's intent was clear and when his name was called, his famous smile shined and his eyes beamed – this moment was worth every sacrifice.
For Matt Leinart, playing Atlas for the USC Trojans began the day he took over for Carson Palmer, aka Troy's first Heisman winner in two decades and/or "Golden Boy," take your choice, and the task was never easy. Young Matt carried his school and team through more amazing wins than any Cardinal and Gold warrior before him, and continued that charge all the way to the top of the hill and this night in New York.
So, on Heisman's night, I watched the boy become a man. There he was, like always, standing tall with a smile few men could ever find the courage to brandish, listening. And then it came, the utterance of another's name. "The winner of the 2005 Heisman Trophy…"
It was friend not foe and with that realization, gone went the world-sized weight he carried for three remarkable seasons from his shoulders. He'd done it. Leinart, Lionheart, Matt the Magnificent, take your pick, Number 11 made the ultimate handoff to Number 5 for the final Trojan score.
And as I watched the exchange, an entire season flashed through my mind, settling on the Notre Dame game – the game that won it for Carson Palmer, then Leinart, when his turn came round and now Bush. People can postulate on which game it was that told the nation Reggie was this year's most outstanding player but for me, there may not be more evidence than the Bush Push.
The irony brought a smile to my face. Not as grand as young Matt's but a smile none-the-less. You live by the sword, you die by it and surely our arch rival, Notre Dame, perished that night by delivering a stage only their national prominence could demand – a stage that, once again, was set for USC to take the final bow.
The Bush Push. That very night I called it "Immaculate Intervention," because for me, it truly was a miracle – God's finger was on Reggie's back, whose hands helped Matt to the promised land.
The greatest night in Trojan football history, that October eve in 2005, with a sea of Irish gold bleeding onto a bog-like field, all began a day ten months earlier when Matt the Magnificent stood at a podium in Heritage Hall and uttered the words that launched a season… "I'd like to announce it is my intention to come back for my senior season at the University of Southern California…"
By making that declaration it became obvious to me…if Reggie is Remarkable, then Matt truly is Magnificent.
After all, how many young men would turn away from millions of dollars to be with his friends just a while longer? And then how many would not turn away from the burden of delivering on the promise he made to those same people – to make this year better than the last? Few, if any. But there he stands among us, Angel's hat pulled down, scraggily beard his only defense, and that same smile across his now, adult face.
The thought took my breath away. Sure this wasn't war and these young men weren't soldiers but they were heroes, for sure – heroes in the game of life. Saturday after Saturday they brought victory to Troy. Never once did either give anything but their all and never once was their all not enough. That is an amazing thing to realize and is rarely witnessed in any arena. We as fans have experienced greatness. Certainly there have been faster runners and stronger passers but never have there been greater winners
A week remains for these two to wear the Cardinal and Gold – one week after so many brilliant ones. Two Heisman winners on one team, three consecutive seasons together defeating both Ucla and Notre Dame, two national championships and three BCS bowl victories, a three-time All-American. It goes on and on… and all of it are firsts in Trojan history. Celebrate their accomplishments and realize that like all the Trojans who have come before them and for all those to follow, there will never be two as equally remarkable or magnificent. Both, two entirely different versions of absolutely spectacular.