Move Those Chains

Normally, position battles during spring ball and fall practices are riveting, but with this kind of talent strewn about Howard Jones field, the athletic department could televise practice and run it against March Madness, 24 and American Idol simultaneously.

I want to talk about the Rose Bowl. I really do…

Living in Chicago for the entirety of the 2005 season, I was only able to make it to two Trojan games, one of which was the National Championship game against Texas. It's not often that I watch a football game and then refuse to discuss it for nearly two months. But for some reason, that game gave me a mental block. Even now, as I sit here forcing myself to put words to paper, my mind constantly draws blanks and the process is stunted. In fact, those six sentences took me just over 63 days to write, and coming up with just over one word per day isn't exactly the best way for a columnist to make a living.

And that's exactly what the Rose Bowl did to me. I'd start out summarizing the game and end up going on like Rainman after a case of Red Bull. But then I'd sit down to organize my thoughts and stutter and stammer until I was counting sentences and words and taking breaks to Google things like, "Coping with loss," "How to start a paragraph," and "Funny animal videos."

That game just doesn't reside next to my normal memories, the ones I can cue up at a moment's notice. Those four hours of my life, which were some of the most exhilarating and entertaining I've survived, are simply inaccessible when it comes time to articulate them. Maybe it had a similar, although far less serious effect as a car wreck or an abusive childhood, in terms of not being able to discuss it later. Actually, let's put it on par with Kathy Bates' hot tub scene in About Schmidt.

And now that I think about it, it took me nearly four years to admit that scene actually happened. Maybe I'll be able to ring in 2010 with a comprehensive analysis of the Rose Bowl. But for now, two months clearly isn't long enough.

Don't tell me it's just a game: A good three hours after the Rose Bowl ended and I'd reined my emotions in enough to make a phone call to my girlfriend back in Chicago, I could hear the crack in her voice, sense the tears in her eyes and feel the despondence in her heart.

This is a girl who had never seen a USC game until two years ago, but can now tell you the name and number of every Trojan Heisman winner. This is a girl who went to Northwestern, but can rattle of the starting offensive and defensive Trojan lineup before even taking a guess at who takes snaps for the Wildcats. And this is a girl who during this past season, poured every single ounce of her being into rooting for a team that now simultaneously resides nearly 2,000 miles away as well as tucked just inside both her heart and soul.

And her reaction did two things, besides make me want to put a bounty on Vince Young's head for making her cry. It moved her a little closer to joining my grandma, mom and aunts in their quest to become the most passionate, crazy and emotionally unbalanced group of female Trojan supporters in history. And it gave me my first true USC convert.

Sure, I've gotten people to throw their support behind the Trojans for a game or season, but Shayna is my first full-blown victory sign flashing, fight song learning, conquest blaring, cardinal and gold blood transplant. And sure, it was sad that we lost the Rose Bowl. But being a Trojan has never and will never be about single games or even National Championships.

It's about feeling your heart pounding and toes tingling just before the team runs out of the tunnel. It's about friends and family coming together to root for and become part of something bigger than you could ever be as an individual. And it's about passing that love, that passion, that insanity on to those closest to you, letting them help you carry that Trojan torch, from year to year, season to season, generation to generation.

Case in point: My favorite story of USC Trojan conversion belongs to my favorite USC Trojan: my grandfather. Years ago, he invited the new Rabbi at his synagogue to a USC football game, because that's the kind of guy my grandfather was. He figured there wasn't a better way to get to know someone and introduce them to Los Angeles culture than to take them to see his Trojans. Shortly after Friday night services, my grandfather spoke with Rabbi Steve, finalizing their plans for the following day.

"Now, let me show you my temple," he said.

The next day, my grandfather, grandmother and Rabbi Steve shuffled into the Coliseum and watched Anthony Davis score six touchdowns against the Irish.

And at my grandfather's funeral, when Rabbi Steve could have spoken about how religious, caring and dedicated to the Synagogue my grandfather was, it was this story that he chose to tell. A story of how every fall Saturday, USC football becomes a faith unto itself.

You know, like tackling skills, teaching skills, weightlifting skills… Pete Carroll only likes defensive coordinators who have great skills: It's going to be very interesting to see the effect that Nick Holt has on the defense as he returns to USC after a two year absence. With yet another great defensive mind on the Trojans' staff to go along with all this great (and hopefully healthy) talent, 40 point games for the opposition should be a thing of the past.

My Idaho dynasty in NCAA '06 for Playstation 2, however, goes on. I started it in homage to Holt's head coaching opportunity, but now that Holt is back at ‘SC, I just look like an idiot. The fact that Holt wasn't able to play this game before taking over the Vandals explains a lot about his decision to return. The only school harder than Idaho to recruit for would be the University of Atlantis. But at least there you could pitch water sports.

"I think it was called, ‘The Bus That Couldn't Slow Down'": The thing that most excites me about this class of incoming freshman is their speed, especially Jamere Holland at wide receiver. It's been a few years since the Trojans have had someone who could line up wide, tell an opposing defensive back that he's going to get beat deep and then sprint straight past him.

Whether or not Holland sees any significant playing time this year is still up in the air, but it's nice to know that ability is there. Dwayne Jarrett and Steve Smith must be practically giddy at the prospect of this newfound speed. This isn't to say that Jarrett and Smith aren't speedy in their own right, but they both excel at finding space over the middle in front of the safeties.

With Holland, and even Travon Patterson, able to stretch the field deep on a regular basis, the opposing safeties should be forced to give Jarrett and Smith even more space to operate underneath and against one-on-one coverage. It's like the returning Trojan receivers just became fathers of a 10-year old and can start getting excited about Halloween again. They can send the youngsters all over the place collecting candy and defenders, while the dads get to sit home near the line of scrimmage and reap all the rewards. And as a result, this year's offense should be just as scary as last year's for opposing defenses.

"Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss": Trojan fans thinking that Stafon Johnson or another freshman is going to step into the vacated starting running back position are fooling themselves. Hershel Dennis is going to get the majority of the carries for the Trojans this year and it has very little to do with the fact that he has the experience. He's going to get the nod because he is an absolutely brilliant running back.

In 2003 as a true sophomore, Dennis went toe to toe with LenDale White and Reggie Bush, who ended up as two of the greatest running backs in USC history, and kept his starter status throughout the season. This season, as a redshirt senior with a chip the size of the Coliseum on his shoulder pads, Dennis should use his combination of speed, power and agility to continue the Trojans' ground game dominance of the past two years.

"These go to eleven": For the past month I've been looking forward to Pros vs. Joes, a new show on Spike TV pitting former professional athletes against regular people looking to get a beat down for no good reason. The day finally came and I called in sick to work, broke out the good champagne and snuggled up in my silk pajamas, only to have Petros Papadakis' voice blaring through the player introductions. If he and Steven A. Smith ever got into an argument, it would register a 38 on the Richter scale. They should really look into changing the name of the show to Skill vs. Shrill.

Pro vs. Tro-jans: This upcoming year already promises to display everything there is to love about following a college team instead of a pro team. For any professional team, replacing your starting quarterback, two best running backs and three starters along the offensive line would scream rebuilding year.

But for the Trojans, and head coach Pete Carroll, it's just another in a long line of challenges spanning over five years now. Normally, position battles during spring ball and fall practices are riveting, but with this kind of talent strewn about Howard Jones field, the athletic department could televise practice and run it against March Madness, 24 and American Idol simultaneously.

Picking a starter at some of these positions must feel like choosing the soloists for We Are the World. You know, minus Dan Aykroyd.

Amen: So while my blocked brain won't let me write about the final game of the 2005 season, my passionate personality won't let me stop thinking about this upcoming season. And that's the way it goes for Trojan fans.

Year after year, team after team, that love grows and is passed down to children, friends, significant others and anyone willing to embrace something so powerful it can be confused with religion.

Now if you'll excuse me, I've got to go start preaching to Shayna's family. It's going to be difficult enough getting them good seats at my grandfather's temple.


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