Never More Proud

A Father's Perspective on the Rose Bowl

As a preface, I should disclose that I am the father of Sam Baker, #79 and offensive left tackle for the Trojans. I am also Commissioner of the Arena Football League.

For those reasons I have never before posted on this site even though I've regularly enjoyed the commentary found here as I searched for some morsel of truth about the young men in this program that I have come to respect so much. In the information age, any passing comment can find its way to a media outlet all too quickly so I am constrained to express any personal opinion that might be taken out of context or misinterpreted that could, in any way, reflect poorly, however slight that may be, on Sammy, the Trojans or the AFL.

However, I am so overwhelmed on this day that I am compelled to express to you that I have never been more proud of our coach, our players and our fans.

I am proud of Pete Carroll. In the post-game press conference, he calmly answered each question with the same positive response that has so consistently become the Pete Carroll philosophy despite being asked no less than five or six times with the same question of why he went for it on fourth and two. He didn't blame the players, get frustrated or make excuses. He never blamed the loss on an official's call. The same man who cared more about Ray Malauguau's well being than he did for his own image simply stepped up and showed again his own character by taking responsibility, crediting a worthy opponent and sharing how excited he was to see how "we' respond to this defeat.

I am proud of our players like Brian Cushing, who this time last year was thinking about the prom at Bergen Catholic High School in New Jersey. Now he is standing in front a slew of reporters in the Rose Bowl answering tough, sometimes, insane, questions that reporters have to ask, like: "how does this feel?" and "why couldn't you stop Vince Young?" Brian stood there and took it like the man he is with the same courage and character that led him to be a starter as just a true freshman in the National Championship game. In fact every statement by every USC player that I read showed the same class, the same character exhibited by our coach; no excuses, accept responsibility, acknowledge a worthy opponent and look forward with a true sense of excitement to the challenge ahead. It is truly remarkable to see how consistent our players are in buying in to the Pete Carroll philosophy.

I am proud of our fans who were loud but never abusive. Fans respected Texas' achievement even though, if the game had been 19 seconds shorter or perhaps 19 seconds more that achievement might well have been our own. I watched Trojans fans give their adversaries the respect they had earned and thought how cool it was to hear a Rose Bowl full of Longhorns fans enthusiastically sing "the eyes of Texas!" I remember how much it meant to us last year at the Orange Bowl and you could hear their joy and how much it meant to them. This is good for college football.

I am also proud of those hundreds, if not thousands, of fans who hung around hours after the game at the player tunnel to respectfully applaud Trojan players (especially our seniors) as they came out and show their appreciation for such a great run.

I am proud of Sammy, who after dropping him off, came back to my house at 3:30 a.m. in the dark of the morning disappointed, perhaps dejected, but not defeated. As I answered the door I was surprised to see that he had driven the forty miles to my house and said simply "I'm sorry Dad. We should have beaten those guys" and then magically a smile appeared and he said: "I just didn't want you to leave without telling you how excited I am about next year. I'm going to be so big, so strong and so ready, no one will stop us!" It couldn't have been more than 90 seconds and he was gone. If he wasn't twice as big and half as young, I could have thought in my slumber that Pete Carroll himself had knocked on my door in the middle of the night.

I have seen the inquiry posed on this site of why any high school player would ever want to play anywhere else than the Trojans but my question, as a parent, is why would any parent want his son to play for anyone else other than Pete Carroll?

In the last 48 hours, Trojan players have text messaged each other and filled the cellular airwaves to encourage each other and renew their commitment for next year. Some were hitting the weights the very next day.

Please, do not misinterpret my intent in this expression. This is not about being a "good loser!" We have a saying in professional sports that if it doesn't hurt when you lose, you shouldn't be in the business of winning. And losing to the Longhorns in the Championship game is a load of pain.

It's just that, while we might have fanticized otherwise, this incredible win streak was not going to go on forever. The Trojans were bound to lose sometime. And I have pondered how our players, coaches and fans would respond to such pain and disappointment.

Ironically, I think I am even MORE impressed than if we had been victorious. Instead of taking another championship trophy back to Heritage Hall, this has allowed us to witness, first hand, frustrated, the character that makes the Trojans true champions every day.

Speaking as a parent and a fan, I have never been so proud of the Trojans...and I can hardly wait until next year.


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