Those who stay will be champions*

Five years ago I sat watching Patrick Turner and Mark Sanchez kneeling on the Rose Bowl turf, silent as Texas celebrated. From my perspective in the nosebleeds of the west stands they were pretty much the last USC players visible in the throng of streamers and burnt orange. They were both remarkably still, one knee down and one hand propped on a helmet. I remember thinking: These guys are going to lead us to another national championship. You just watched the single greatest football game you’ve ever seen, and it took maybe the greatest singular performance you’ll ever see. It’ll come again.

I still believe that. I still believe that the seniors who stayed – not just the ones who were slated to start or at least contribute in a major way but also the ones who had played the support role for so long and so often thanklessly unrecognized – would be champions.

This now goes against very obvious evidence to the contrary.

I think I knew Oregon was going to win. I think I even knew it would be by several touchdowns. That’s the rational part of me. The irrational part of me, the part that makes up well over ninety-nine percent of my being… that part said that 400 miles to drive on game day is nothing compared to the victory, the glory. Both parts were correct; it’s just that one was actually correct and the other still thinks the O’Dowd-Barkley fumbled snap cost USC the game, all the while ignoring Oregon literally running around in the Coliseum swerving back and forth as the Trojan secondary listened to ominous encores of Yakety-Sax and somehow the Ducks are lining up to snap the ball again even though they’re on defense and it’s a TV timeout and my god, is this the future?

I thought that several times during the game: is this really the future? Oregon’s offense has been documented; nobody was surprised at the outcome. Still: seeing it in person was a thing of beauty and pleasure, like watching apex predators doing their thing on the Discovery Channel. Wildebeest and seals don’t have to go to Eugene next year, though. I envy their demises in a totally pathetic and self-pitying way. Stanford’s win last year was also a thing of beauty: power running, play action, everything the Cardinal did involved kicking the shit out of us on every down in a brutal, pre-1989 USSR-putting-down-insurrections-in-Eastern-Europe kind of way. Stanford did not have USC looking so lost, though. Powerless, sure. Frustrtated without a doubt. But lost? Like we were playing an entirely different game with a different set of rules? Oregon made USC’s tackling look accidental, like they were sort of running into us and saying “Hey, good job man. Nice tackle. Thought I was going for six for sure,” and all the while T.J. McDonald didn’t even know the ball had been snapped and holy fuck there they go again.

I can admire that kind of dominance, but I wonder at the implications. I did not think much of Oregon’s skill players outside of LaMichael James and maybe Kenjon Barner, but this was a faceless wheel of destruction that required faceless cogs and sprockets to run the machine, and not Home Depot cogs and sprockets because this is a recession after all but literally stuff cobbled together out of wire and twist ties and pen caps, the kind of material you expected the federal government to use to build houses post-Katrina. The realization that this offense was different from the triple option, the Fun ‘n Gun, the spread, etc. was surreal at times. Those offenses were prolific, but they did not change the fundamental principles of football: time of possession meant something, and if you could hold the ball long enough you’d have a chance. Oregon is first in the nation in scoring and something like 115th in time of possession. Let that sink in for a bit.

It’s all a bit… rude. Running that offense with players I don’t even know the name of, and I live for this shit. I don’t even know where Darron Thomas prepped. I can tell what quarter it is by the Rorschach blots at Matt Barkley’s armpits because I’ve studied, and watching Oregon was new. New is unpleasant and foul and always disconcerting in college football. New usually means you’re stuck in the stands as some other team storms the field. New means we are old, and we are. And we were direct snapping to Marc Tyler half the game.

(We were also calling for bubble toss sweeps on 3-and-6 which is so old it’s almost recursively old, like we went back to all the plays ever called by every despised coach in the history of the game and condensed it: the trips left bubble screen when you need twelve yards, the run play on third and long, the designed 4 yard hitch on 3rd-and-6. It was an act of modernist despair and post-modern ennui, and I don’t know what any of that means because I was reading elaborate porn essays by David Foster Wallace in my English classes instead of shit about modernity and post-. It was certainly a new kind of futility and in certain respects it had a satisfying circuitousness to it, sort of like that song from the Lion King except by the end everybody but the hyenas are dead of dysentery.)

(Do sub-Saharan animals get dysentery?)

This got me to thinking. Oregon is the number one team in the country so there shouldn’t be too much shame in kinda-sorta giving them 3/4 of a game. I know I certainly don’t feel shame. Instead I wondered how long it’s going to be before I can go back to relying on USC football games as a rock solid source of love and pride and giddy affection rather than the current situation, which is probably best described as being filled with queasy apprehension and is described even better by 30 Rock via Alec Baldwin as “a guaranteed disaster, like eating a burrito before sex.”

Watching USC play has become a bit complicated for me.* My favorite game at the Coliseum was USC’s 70-17 win over Arkansas in 2005. That game had it all, and by all I mean utter destruction of the opponent. I am not one for tearful remembrances of close calls and hard fought wins unless they involve higher than normal levels of schadenfreude. A perfect game would be an eclipse of Georgia Tech’s 94-year old 222-0 victory over Cumberland, which was probably some kind of beauty school. I love 49-0 games. They make me happy in ways I would rather not diagnose. I’d like that back, consistently, and with vigor and anger and just a little bit of vanity. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, but I also know it’s hard to do. USC’s 21 point loss to Oregon is a very clear indication that my team is far away. Now the NCAA gets to crack its knuckles and decide whether it wants to add to my spiritual despair in the form of rejecting or accepting USC’s appeals. I must now face the knowledge that though redemption is just one Arizona State win away, it is in fact not really there at all until forces beyond my control – NCAA, the immediate senility of Chip Kelly and all his assistants – say so, and if history is any indication I will be shit faced drunk on New Year’s day, wondering what might have been. (Obviously.)

But it gets even more complicated, because the groundswell of the press and the people say it is so. Apparently the mystique of the Coliseum is gone. Besides the fact that Arash Markazi is viewed – however unfair it might be – as a Judas by the USC faithful, this article is extremely confused. The mystique of the Coliseum wasn’t the perceived invincibility of the Trojans on their own field, it was how the hell USC fans managed to get over their collective yawning for a few years and turn the place into a semblance of home field advantage. In that respect the mystique is gone: attendance figures are falling and will continue to fall until USC is ranked in the top ten with consistency. But then there’s this: that was the loudest Coliseum crowd I’ve heard in a long time. Ignoring the epic failures of the spirit squad’s contemptible mouse squeaks for chanting, it was a pretty good night crowd-wise. When USC exploded at the beginning of the second half and took the lead I overcame my usual attempts at civility and screamed “Choke! Choke!” at the Oregon fans behind me, then pointed at the silent away crowd in the southeastern end of the Coliseum and screamed, “It’s OK, they’re choking too!” This is very rare, and like all prodigies it foreshadowed events of great happenstance and stature, i.e. silent, glowering hatred and despair when the Ducks decided they were dangerously close to seriously messing up their points per game. Still, I was proud of the 88,000 or so fans who managed to show up and, even more surprisingly, wear red. There is still some shard of that pride left. And it was pretty cool to see the student section forget its apathy and rock out, even if it was to the way overplayed instrumental of Seven Nation Army.

None of that’s enough, though. This senior class will not have a national championship ring and it makes me sad. More often than I’d like to admit I think about scenarios where Reggie Bush comes back and redeems himself by mopping hallways and working at soup kitchens and holding PATs and then torching the rest of the Pac-10, but those are fantasy in more ways than just the obvious ones. Reggie Bush didn’t just leave, and he didn’t just transfer or declare early. He turned his back on us.

I wanted so badly for Stanley Havili to touch the crystal football, and then cradle it and stiff arm Rick Neuheisel. He deserved that. I’m not sure what kind of coda this season will have, and what it will mean to a guy like Havili. I know it isn’t the ending I wished for him, and that was with all my heart for a guy who stayed despite it all. I wished that for D.J. Shoemate, Havili’s former backup, even after he transferred to Connecticut. I wish the same for everyone who has a 2004 national championship ring: that they’ll never have to hear it wasn’t real. They know it was. I know it was. And I know it’ll come again.*

Patrick Turner had a solid but unremarkable career at USC. Mark Sanchez made my head dizzy with possibilities; he’s now the starting QB for the Jets and I don’t hold it against him. I think about what would have been had he remained for his senior year. Would it have stemmed the tide? Sanctions were coming no matter what. That 2009 defense was going to get exposed. Pete Carroll would’ve left anyway (right?), but losing his senior All-America quarterback instead of having a freshman All-America quarterback returning wouldn’t have helped. #1 and #6 played well and when they didn’t play well they played for USC, which means that so long as your name is not R. Jay Soward I will love you despite your drops, picks and false starts. #1 and #6 are still kneeling somewhere in the Arroyo Seco representing so much potential and promise and now all of that is memories and dreams, and that’s all they get to do now that my tangible connection to them is gone. Still, it’s a beautiful picture. I think about it idly, when my day turns to in-between moments and it makes me oddly happy, thinking about a 22-year old me thinking about the future.

I’ve always loved Bo Schembechler’s “Those Who Stay Will Be Champions.” It was such a Big Ten, 1960s steely-eyed thing to say. It was arrogant, too. Had Michigan succumbed to mediocrity Bo would’ve been fired to headlines reading, “Those Who Leave Will Make Us Champions”, which is the same thing but a lot more mean spirited. History loves a winner, though. I don’t know when I’ll again have that feeling in the Coliseum watching my team run up and down the field, dictating to my Oregon or Stanford counterpart in the southeast nosebleeds a contract for the better part of their souls as they watch their beloved heroes get absolutely dominated by USC. I definitely don’t know when we’re going to The Dance again. But I know this: I don’t have to watch Chip Kelly’s offense again for one more year, it’s four days ’til Saturday and I like our chances. If entropy powers one half of the universe, optimism powers the other.

Also, whiskey.

 

*I’d rather not explain how, when and why.

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Filed under but this one wasn't a surprise, Pac-10, USC, We lost to fucking Stanford?!

Salt

I’ve been writing this post in one form or another since the night of October 31, 2009. It’s started out a couple of different ways. One was a fanciful opening passage to the apocryphal but amusingly un-authorized biography of Pete Carroll I’ve been writing in my head since the end of the 2003 Orange Bowl. Another was a long and very unnecessary series of musings on the nature of a charmed life. It referenced thermodynamics, faeries and cold iron, seraphim, standing in front of operating microwaves, Charles Vess, glamors, and the play-within-the-play in A Midsummer’s Night Dream. I suck, though. Those openings didn’t work. They were a bit pretentious, a bit too filigreed. Maybe they’re middle bits, but they are definitely not “Call me Ishmael.” So as always, there is Vonnegut…

“And Lot’s wife, of course, was told not to look back where all those people and their homes had been. But she did look back, and I love her for that, because it was so human. So she was turned to a pillar of salt. So it goes.”

This is how I feel every day when I check ESPN.com or WeAreSC.com. If that’s overly dramatic that’s OK, but it’s true. I feel a bit like the Nick Hornby that Nick Hornby writes about in Fever Pitch: has my fandom reached the point where NCAA  sanctions, coaching abandonment and former star betrayal all make me feel like a character from the Old Testament? Is that even possible? If it is possible, is it at least to some extent a function of my very public martyrdom, which has everything to do with the fact that whenever people who know me hear about USC football they think, if only for a second, “Jon”? Is this how I feel, or is this how a fan of my fanaticism expects to feel? It’s a recursive argument. It wouldn’t exist unless I questioned my own feelings of despair, bitterness, paranoia and unmitigated lust for a 13-0 season and an AP championship to  shut everyone the hell up, but since I do question those emotions whatever genuine angst and hope I feel is now tinged with a surreal third-person over the shoulder perspective of self-doubt: have these past eight months been that bad, and if so is this the logical and, dare I say it, satisfying conclusion to my fandom? Is this where I’m supposed to be, mentally, after  joining my fate with USC football for all to see?

These are unsettling questions because they all reek of the foulest miasma a fan can know: the stench of the bandwagon. I can’t imagine a bigger insult to someone who considers himself a fanatic. Am I pretending to be hurt, or am I actually, really, honest-to-god hurt by Reggie Bush’s betrayal? I’m not sure. It could be a mixture. I can’t say I think about it every  day outside of a cursory “Wonder how the appeals process will work out?” But I do remember trying not to cry when he accepted his Heisman, talking all the while about Lamar Griffin’s role in helping him succeed in life. Like any kind of pain that’s been with you long enough, I’ve become dependent on that pain. I wish it’s raison d’etre never existed, but it’s there and  the fact that it does sometimes really hurt me means something in all of this is genuine, something is real, like holding your hand over a flame long enough to realize you’re alive.

Holy fuck this is getting melodramatic. Luckily my Facebook picture is Andrew Luck rumbling through our secondary into the endzone. There’s no need for navel gazing when Jim Harbaugh is busy rubbing salt into the guts he personally cut out and stomped into the ground, going for two and then getting seven and then ruining my whole freaking life by jettisoning that thin but definite veneer of invincibility a group of fans might manage to cobble together once every couple of decades, and suddenly I’m back at the Rose Bowl in 2006 watching my dreams fade away twice in one year, everything’s fading away beyond my control and why am I at the mercy of these huge implacable easily corrupted forces that shit on my universe so bad?

This is about the time I start to realize that even if I am just going through the steps, they’re at least the inky black hooved kind only the damned would ever follow.

***

“Peter Nietzsche McMurphy Carroll was born under the auspices of the Hanged King, a mostly ill omen considered a sign of  duress and privation unless – according to the vague but pervasive ontology slowly building through the budding 1950s counterculture – blessed by the light of a harvest moon. Well, it was a harvest moon that night. The young Marin County resident went so far as to sever his own umbilical cord using a confluence of right hand and left elbow, a move soon to be known as the double corner blitz. One day old and he was already capable of inhabiting the minds of opposing quarterbacks deep into otherwise soothing April nights when thoughts ought to be given over to other, more civilized things. But that was Carroll for you. He stuck around.”

This was the opening paragraph of the Pete Carroll bio I never wrote. It was good. In my mind, anyway. Plus it was always getting better, even when it ought to get worse (as in more negative) because that was Carroll for you. He stuck around. He deserved an opening like that, really. If I could’ve given him a leopard to ride into the frisculating sunlight, I would’ve.

Instead, my hero rode off into the sunset with a middle finger upturned and his pockets full of cash and almost the entirety of USC’s football staff. In rode Lane Kiffin, a man I despised at USC, mocked at Oakland and pitied in Knoxville. How could I not? This was a guy so universally lacking in social graces he offended Norm Chow, who is as silent and mysterious as an Asian lawn gnome, a statue possessed of a preternatural understanding of the play action pass and literally nothing else and definitely not something as silly as etiquette, so it’s even more impressive to contemplate things like little backhanded  compliments and daily terseness mounting to the point of no return for football’s version of that rotund Buddha statue right next to the creepy ceramic cat in every sushi bar known to man. Oh how unenviable the task of an Andrew or Lyndon Johnson, or poor, decent Harry Truman. Say what you want about inheriting the presidency following an assassination: at least they didn’t have to deal with a bubble gum chewing ex- running around Qwest Field lofting fades when all they wanted to do was settle in and figure out how the red phone works, except I might have mixed my metaphors there. Either way, you’ll always be known as The Guy Who Came After.

Now there’s this: two years without a bowl. 30 scholarships. Shame and scarlet letters. This isn’t SMU bad, but we all knew it wouldn’t be. Reggie Bush would’ve had to skullfuck the Statue of Liberty with twin antique shotguns – blunderbusses, even – purchased for him by Eric Dickerson and Craig James, emptying the barrels to a sedate 4/4 gangsta rap penned in contracted collaboration with Snoop Dogg, Drew Rosenhaus, Maurice Clarett and Brian Bosworth circa 1986, and somewhere in the torch Noam Chomsky is taking Bush’s Sociology test and totally inviting the wrath of the NCAA and its attendant death penalty by being  an enabling douche and not even bothering to fake the B+ because Pete Carroll’s there, egging him on with whoops and high fives and exhortations about perfection being the journey and not the destination, so ace the multi-choice already, Noam. That could’ve gotten USC the death penalty, but that wasn’t what happened so no death penalty. That was a given. But this?

“Ouch” is the word you’re looking for. The sweat’s already pouring down the middle of my back, caking on my shirt in spreading fractals of dried salt and discolored cotton. We all know these sanctions are bad, and even the appealed version is bad, but are they devestating? Is the monster Pete Carroll built and nurtured for nine years doomed? We won’t know for years, maybe a decade. But once it happens it’ll be like the turning of the tide: everything flows differently from there, good or  bad.

***

An interlude from June 9, 2010:

“Not that I’m not gonna go to the games this year. There is way too much cardinal and gold nutritious stuff coursing through my veins, carrying salt and oxygen and electrolytes and whatever it is fans crave, to ever turn my back on the program now. But how much of of that real loyalty is the result of the past nine years? How much of it is tied up with the highs from 2003 to 2005? How much of it is based on the crest of those years and its attendant belief that all this was deserved for the years of mediocrity suffered through, that any fan worth his salt weathers the storm, sticks by his team and collects the  schedule poster no matter what?

To put it another way, would I be feeling the same thing now had those nine years been full of 9-4 and 8-5 seasons? Would my  zeal be the same? The only reason I ever ventured online for anything regarding college football was to rejoice with others  after USC dominated Michgan in the 2004 Rose Bowl. From thence: recruiting, blogs, message boards, expansion past the sports  section of the LA Times into the nether realms of the OC Register, the Riverside Press-Enterprise, the lowly Daily News and  the even lower likes of the Sporting News and Athlon and then, finally, like Moses coming down from Sinai all sallow and  hollow eyed from the sheer glory of what he had seen, Phil Steele. There is no doubt in my mind my fanaticism has only increased from 2001, my first year at UC Santa Barbara in which I only managed two home games, to a period in which I roamed the bars and hostels of Europe looking for anyone with reliable broadband willing to deal with ESPN 360′s ridiculousness, to a 17,000 mile, 30 state, 26 game roadtrip in 2007 to the present day, which is taking place on a train to Davis and its maddeningly intermittent access to wi-fi during the very 24-hour period when these damned sanctions are finally rolling through my life like a fat lady plowing through her low-cal lunch in the breakroom. That I am even now frantically searching for unsecured networks with which to scour the forums and boards of USC sites says something: I need to be armed with  knowledge for the firestorm awaiting my phone, my email and my life when everyone who ever took any kind of college football  related shit from me finds out USC’s getting snow plowed like a Reno hooker. This decade has upped the ante. I ate from the apple, and now my lot is midnight texts proclaiming, Dostoevesky-like, “Haha u r so fucked. Nd is gonna stomp on usc. Pete caroll was right to get the f outta dodge,” which is certainly one way to tell me there ain’t no Garden no more.

Then again it’s pretty much my fault for leaving my phone on in times like this.”

***

Sometimes when I’m thinking about what’s gone before and the vast unknowable future heading for me, I think of the sea. I think of the almost unimaginable weight of that heaving, chaotic depth. It is a machine of chaos. If you’re around boats long  enough you start to realize the sea laughs at hulls, it’s delighted by the sultry illusions we have about control and security. At any moment the sea can rise up and blast it all into nothingness like Jehovah directing the flood. But walk out onto a beach on a sunny perfect day and all you smell is the tang, all you feel is the beautiful living salt water. The endless horizon is comforting. It doesn’t suggest entropy, or chaos. You’ve gotta look down to find that.

This is a sea change, no matter what USC fans might try to say. For seven years Pete Carroll fought the very waters of creation and succeeded despite terrible overwrought metaphors and the 85 scholarship limit. There’s no way Lane Kiffin just  forges on and continues what happened from 2002-2008. There’s no way in the same vein there was no way a washed up ex-NFL coach could bring Southern Cal glory once more, except now it’s actually true. I’ll tell you what’s gonna happen: good, sometimes great seasons, peppered with occasional mediocrity. It’s the dim, terrifying shape beneath the waters, coursing through the oceans on kraken limbs: normality. Time to come down back to earth. Bless Lane and his family and his father and everyone who’s come to USC to declare their own destinies, because I have to admire such tenacity in the face of such obvious inexorablility.

If Lane Kiffin is a sailing man he’d understand: you can’t fight the sea.

***

I’m not sure there’s such a thing as a charmed life. Insofar as my universe spanning powers of perception allow me to peek past the veil, it seems to me the ledger is usually balanced. This might have to do with thermodynamics, or it might have to do with man’s eternal fear of audits. Eventually, inevitably, deposits must equal debits. I try not to think of it as a zero  sum game because that would be depressing. A physical manifestation of QuickBooks would also be depressing but for entirely different reasons.

I do believe in the existence of charms, though, and in that sense perhaps the past nine years have been charmed. I’m thinking primarily of the charms of faeries, elves, twilight folk who are scared of cold iron and crossroads and sprigs of mistletoe, anyone who dwells under hills… that kind of nonsense. I grew up accommodating large and grossly opposing sets of  beliefs. I am, for example, a firm agnostic, but I think somewhere deep inside me I very much would like to believe that the ranks of seraphim, cherubim, principalities and the like really do exist. I have no idea how gravity works but I respect it. I love Greek myth, and perhaps more importantly I kinda sorta believe Greek myth, but not really. I long ago came to the conclusion that my mom was full of it for telling me not to stand in front of an operating microwave, and though it’s much more likely that I’ll die from cell phone-caused radiation afflictions than anything the microwave will produce I still watch from a distance, just in case.

I admire the painstaking and sometimes touching effort generations of man have put forth in cataloging the gaps in our understanding of the universe, and it would be a shame if things like the midrashes and Ouija boards and the Elysian mysteries were all for naught simply because they weren’t scientific. Rigor is – wait for it, stadiums full of stupid people  – O-ver-RA-ted. So in that sense I believe in things like charms, and their cousin the glamor.

All fey creatures possess the ability to put forth a glamor. Some use it to take on a nightmare shape. Some use it to become beautiful. All use it to deceive and charm mortals. It’s rarely wise to agree to anything under such a spell; any boon granted under these auspices usually has a catch that leaves the affable but naive shepherd with the head of an ass and two mice where there were once drafthorses, and all those gold coins he thought he had taken from a sleeping maiden in a secluded dell are now all of them acorns, leaves and whispers. There’s also probably a Charles Vess lithograph of the event, somewhere. Dealing with such creatures is useless unless you know their true names. Man was not meant to bargain with those whose hearts and veins are matters of speculation.

What I think I’m trying to say is this: Pete Carroll probably forgot that his blood tastes like iron and salt, and that tasting it at all is a very potent signal to the rest of your physiology, particularly the nervous system and attached ganglia, that something is very, very wrong. I think I can safely say Carroll is filled with red blood cells pumped from  aorta to his farthest capillaries. Only a human being filled with that precious, fragile liquid is capable of looking so  numb, hurt… defeated. He certainly looked that way to me in Eugene, against Stanford. Pissed off too but, like me, still very much in shock. Coming down is a hard thing to do, after all. Especially after nine years of charms and glamors and fooling what we both thought of as mere mortals – the rest of college football – into believing our rhymes and tricks, our  deceits and our lies: that we were something other, creatures apart from this earth and its shackles, that we were bound by different rules.

The proper thing to say at this juncture is, probably, “Well, fuck.”

***

I’m not saying Pete Carroll styled himself as an Oberon or Mercury or Odysseus. Saying so would suggest Carroll is capable of the kind of megalomania so often ascribed to him by UCLA fans. I think there was only one coach in college football capable of that, and, sadly, the very nice Brian Kelly replaced him.

Carroll is confident. And very competitive. He was both these things to such an astonishing degree that he managed to do what everyone has been proclaiming would be impossible since the advent of the scholarship cap, the demise of the option, the passing of Nebraska, Miami and Florida State, the triumph of the mid-majors, etc.: he built a program everyone believed would keep winning no matter what. That it didn’t win every game wasn’t the point. The point was that, eventually, USC was  gonna get you unless it was a Thursday, or a Pac-10 road opener, or John David Booty’s thumb was broken, or your name was Vince Young. The exceptions were exceptional. The norm was getting your brains kicked in for three and a half hours on national television.

I think that might be gone, now.

Don’t get me wrong: people’s heads are gonna get kicked in still. This is a roster full of prep All-Americans. There will still be collegiate All-Americans on this roster at the end of the season. Allen Bradford is still very much more a man than anyone you know, thank you.

The illusion is gone, now. And illusion it was: this team was never unbeatable in the nine seasons Carroll was coach. Teams got beat to a pulp by talent and coaching, but they also believed it was a’comin’. Shit. Arkansas went on to win the SEC West in 2006 but after giving up 70 points (28 of which happened in two minutes) to USC in 2005 you could see the writing on the  wall: another epic loss to the Trojans and, oh yeah, by the way, we’ll take your two best hopes for the future. Not all of USC’s relationships have been that one-sided, but it was certainly a warning to others: if you’re not careful a mere loss could turn into utter devastation. At some point I expected teams to start tithing…. Here’s some bullion, Pete. Please take this silk. We have salt from the coasts of Spain. It’d be nice if you didn’t raze our villages.

This was pretty sweet. It was kinda like being in the Mafia. Even though people hated your guts for rooting for the evil empire, they still paid lip service: “Don’t take this the wrong way, but I hate your team and even though we’re probably gonna lose I hope to hell something goes wrong today.” Don’t take this the wrong way? Sweeter words have never before been spoken. I reveled in that fear. Even more intoxicating was the dull resignation; couple that with the utter certainty that no matter what kind of grave USC dug for itself, those lying, cheating, miserly Trojans would dig their way out one 4th-and-9  audible at a time, and you have a recipe for the most beautiful schadenfreude-based foodstuff since schmaltz.

***

So I don’t know what will happen. College football has changed, and not just because Nebraska, Colorado and Utah are in difference conferences. Something is in the air this season, something dangerous and palpable. But I can’t figure it. Only the elected can smell what it is, only the privileged are allowed a glimpse into the murky depths of the future. I’m just a poor pillar of salt looking back on what went before, knowing I ought not to but helpless to do anything else. It’s all still there: the people, the victories, the betrayals, the loss. Unlike Abraham, Lot’s nameless wife was incapable of that exuberant, terrible faith necessary for paradise. She looked back, and so did I, and what we saw made us both wonder whether the price of such devotions was worth it.

Not that either of us have a choice, really.

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Filed under USC

A quick word on Notre Dame

Hate.

That’s about all I got right now. The Cal weekender took it out of me. This is going to be a blessing of a bye week – Rojo and Armstead back, a weekend to enjoy college football with no part of my soul at risk, Tebow returning from the Fortress of Solitude – but in no way should any of us lose our focus: hatred.

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Filed under Notre Dame, USC

Well, at least there’s no more QB controversy

And now for some levity.

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Filed under USC, We lost to fucking Stanford?!

The case against Scott Wolf

WordPress.com’s UI is fantastic. This really is one of the better blog services out there: excellent editor, a helpful public base providing custom themes, a healthy system encouraging inter-wordpress.com-traffic, a great group of coders, etc. The only real drawback is the drawback of every single other blog provider: the ability to save drafts. This is a necessary ability, but it also forces me to stare at posts I once thought viable for years on end. Some of the titles are still pretty funny to me even now: “Texas Tech to feature all Tesla coil offense”, “Tennyson on the Orgeron”, “Ohio State AD files XBox Live restraining order against Florida AD”…. Some are confusing, like “Saban launches invasion from orbital station”.

The title of this post is a draft I’ve had saved for more than two years now. Two years, nine months and eleven days, actually. But I’ll get to that.

Scott Wolf is the Daily News’ beat writer for USC football. He has a blog. On the sidebar of this blog he’s included, probably proudly, the following description of himself:

Scott Wolf has covered USC for the Daily News since 1996. A USC graduate, he covered his first Trojan game in 1984 for the Daily Trojan. Scott is known as the “scourge of the Internet message boards,” according to radio host Petros Papadakis. Despite this moniker, there’s no truth to the rumor he takes pleasure in antagonizing the “Internet geeks.”

It’s about the only thing on his blog that doesn’t have regular typos.

***

The part, above, about Wolf including that description of himself isn’t backed  by any evidence. He doesn’t run the site, so it’s possible the person or persons who do run the site included it for him. Wolf strikes me as the type who gets a hard-on writing about himself in third person. He also strikes me as the type to put quotations around the words “Internet geeks”, but not because he wishes it to be known that this term is an accusative appellation and not necessarily how he feels about college football fans who gather online; rather, Wolf is the kind of guy who likes misquoting. Did Petros call them “Internet geeks” during one of his radio shows? Is this actually Wolf’s term for such people? If so, this is a case of accurate quotation by the person who maintains his blog. Take note, Scott: it can work.

Also, the part about acknowledging a lack of evidence.

***

This is not to say he should be acknowledging a lack of evidence. Such acknowledgment ought to come in the form of not writing a mind-witheringly stupid sentence based on God-knows-what-but-whatever-it-is-it-isn’t-evidence. This is the job of the college football beat writer. It is in almost direct opposition to the job of the college football opinion columnist. I’ve never wanted to ask Bill Plaschke for his sources; I just want him to occasionally include more than one sentence in a paragraph.

Scott Wolf does commentary, by the way. It’s just hard to distinguish it from his reporting.

***

I don’t consider Scott Wolf the “scourge of the internet message boards”. The scourge of internet message boards can mainly be found on YouTube, posting racist screed using “u” in place of the second person singular and generally ruining my viewing of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze clips. Scott Wolf is not even the scourge of internet college football message boards. That honor is reserved for anyone who takes part in a debate about the Pac-10 and SEC.

USC fans do hate him, though. Many for the wrong reasons – and by now it must be apparent I feel there are right reasons – but at least their hearts are in the correct place.

I would venture to guess they hate him because he seems  overwhelmingly against everything they hope for in a season: unity, success, confidence in one’s chosen team and its staff. Frankly, I kinda like Scott Wolf because he’s a dick. (Also because he champions Matt Grootegoed whenever he gets a chance.) Anyone who has to cover Pete Carroll on a regular basis needs teflon to resist Carroll’s unending pseudo-but-sometimes-real philosophy of upbeat rainbow dappled unicorns competin’ on jacked up Competition Tuesday. Unfortunately, Wolf’s teflon happens to be his ability to throw out journalistic objectivity and write things like this:

But going your own way can be risky business: So far, none of Carroll’s disciples demonstrated they could be successful head coaches.

Holt and Ed Orgeron were abysmal failures at Idaho and Ole Miss, respectively.

Carroll’s one-time close friend and college mate, Greg Robinson, was a disaster at Syracuse.

It’s way too soon to judge Sarkisian or Kiffin (at least with Tennessee) or DeWayne Walker, the first-year coach at New Mexico State.

Waitwhat?

***

He got paid to write that, too.

***

I won’t go over how ridiculous it is to include Robinson (an obvious failure at Syracuse but also never a “disciple” of Pete Carroll – with whom Robinson did coach in New York from 1990-93, and in 1994 in Carroll’s only year as the Jets’ head coach; I don’t think the two years spent at North Carolina St. as an assistant to the then-assistant-Carroll is too relevant  – and, if he was indeed a “disciple”, he could also be described much more accurately as an “‘actual, real, using the description provided by Oxford’ disciple” of  Terry Donahue at UCLA and Mike Shanahan in Denver since Robinson spent more years on both their staffs and at more formative periods in his career, i.e. the eight years in Westwood right before Robinson’s first NFL job, during the Bruins’ most successful period ever – seven consecutive bowl wins (three of those in Pasadena), four Pac-10 titles and three ten win seasons – and the six years under Shanahan that included back-to-back Superbowl wins with a guy named Elway, all of which seems much more in line with the “disciple” talk especially when paired with names like Holt, Orgeron, Sarkisian, Kiffin and Walker, all of whom were actual disciples of Carroll in that they are known for coaching under Carroll and were awarded bigger jobs directly after their association with him due to a presumption of the distributive property’s effectiveness in football hiring processes, the above all of which Wolf vaguely acknowledges with the terms “one-time close friend and college mate” in an almost endearingly opaque attempt at transparency as if those words justify Robinson’s inclusion in a list he doesn’t belong in but is a part of because the author wishes to either extend his data set at all costs, further prove Carroll’s now tenuous reputation as a giver of gifts and leader of  men, or both… and, shit, the only one talking about Carroll’s now tenuous reputation as a giver of gifts and leader of men is Wolf himself since he’s certainly the only one who considers Greg Fucking Robinson a disciple of Pete Carroll), because, frankly, it’s beneath me.

***

I considered, many times over the past two years, making this post a blow-by-blow take down piece using every error in grammar, judgment, morality and what-have-you Scott Wolf has perpetrated on me during his tenure at the Daily News.

(I say me because I don’t care much about what he does to the others who read his stuff and reel at the ugliness of it all; too often they call him a fag, or make fun of his lisp, or change his name to Benedict Wolf or something equally asinine. This offends me, but so does Awbarn and Kal and all the other crimes against humanity committed everyday, online, at those internet message boards Scott Wolf believes he is the scourge of.)

I’ve never been able to block off the five years of my life necessary to commit myself to such a task, though. And the thought of having to wade through all those… ugh. Can’t do it. Cannot do it.

***

I was sorta kidding when I said I kinda like Scott Wolf because he’s a dick. His kind of insouciance makes me waffle about hating something so obviously wrong. I firmly believe one of the most American qualities one can have is the willingness to defy authority. It gave birth to our nation, after all. But I’m not sure Wolf plays the devil’s advocate because it needs playing; assuming that means I’d have to assume he has our – as in his readership’s – best interests at heart, and that means the truth. I don’t think the truth is his goal, and that might be the worst thing someone could say to me if I worked at a newspaper.

Scott Wolf is great at reminding us of Pete Carroll’s faults, whether that be wasting a redshirt year or burning bridges with Norm Chow or not having Reggie Bush on the field during 4th-and-2. He loves bringing up USC’s shortcomings in all sorts of things like Song Girls tryout transparency or the money-grubbing nature of the athletic department (yeah, seriously: because no other athletic department in major college sports tries to milk alumni for all they’re worth). But he doesn’t do these things to keep the subjects on their toes and thus more likely to mend their ways. Nor does he do these things to remind us not to march in lockstep. He’s not even doing them to say, “Hey, Mr. Best Coach In College Football, don’t think you’ve got everyone ready to eat your pablum.”

I think Scott Wolf does these things because he is a dick. That’s the only conclusion I’ve been able to come to over two years, nine months and eleven days.

***

Sometime slightly before two years, nine months and eleven days ago Scott Wolf wrote that USC kicker Mario Danelo’s death was an “apparent suicide”. He never divulged his source(s) on this error, nor should he have. What he should’ve done is fact check. The emergency workers would be a good start. Close friends and family are next. The police assigned to the case are also viable leads.

I hope that he was simply too stupid to bother verifying the case’s designation as an “apparent suicide”, or that some of the sources he cited were in fact the ones he consulted to verify this. Certainly there were several wire reports that carried the following…

Police Lt. Paul Vernon said Sunday there “didn’t appear to be a crime involved,” and “it was fairly apparent that this was either an accident or suicide.”

… which is a reasonable assumption once you rule out foul play. Maybe Wolf was too stupid to notice the words between “apparent” and “suicide”. I actually do hope that.

The alternative is that Scott Wolf rushed off to write an attention grabbing article.

Either way I’ve never forgotten that, nor forgiven it.

***

This post is fractured out of necessity. I’m not sure why Wolf’s article about Carroll’s coaching tree set me off, but it did… and out came all the little injuries Wolf’s inflicted on my soul over the years. There are simply too many grievances to try and focus.

The obvious question is, “Why don’t you just not read him?” The obvious answer is that I read everybody, and everything, related to USC football. The less obvious answer is that Scott Wolf offends me in a way not even Skip Bayless is capable of: he continues to get paid to write, poorly, about my first love. And I feel like it’s my duty to be there when he fucks up, if only to say, “Hey. Dick. You fucked up. Stay the hell away from my baby.”

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Moron

In the first week of September last year, I wrote about a Scotsman discovering a love of college football:

…he senses there must be some central source of divinity that has left its mark on others, who in turn have passed on their share and created a whole nation of people endowed with a shard of the immutable properties of the universe, i.e. the 4th quarter comeback.

It’s true. There is a central source of divinity leaving its mark on others, who in turn passed on their share and created a whole nation of people endowed with a shard of the immutable properties of the universe, i.e. the 4th quarter comeback. That central source might be Matt Barkley’s injured right shoulder, or, if I’m epistemologically trepidatious, the force, animus, phenomenon, pantheon, thing, whatever it is, that decided to lift me off the floor where I was laying prostrate trying to sacrifice to the gods of 2nd-and-19 at your own five. I’m not too hung up on naming this thing.

There is no other game in the world that can bring you so low and then elevate you so high. I am high right now. As the very wise Nick Hornby wrote in the only book to capture what I experience every fall

The truth is this: for alarmingly large chunks of an average day, I am a moron.

For alarmingly large chunks of the next six days I will be a moron, gazing off into the distance and thinking about Joe McKnight’s redemption, Stafon Johnson’s rabbit feet, the o-line’s beautiful, beautiful sveltness and, of course, Matt Barkley’s 19-year old right arm.

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Nothing long, or verbose

I’m nervous. But not that nervous, which ought to make me more nervous. All the quotes from Barkley re: The Shoe are disconcerting, because all it takes is two short runs and an incomplete pass and Columbus becomes a shit show with USC having to claw its way out, which usually means a couple of fingernails torn off, minimum. Then again pretty much all the unit matchups favor the Trojans.

And then again, there’s this: night game in the Horseshoe against the Sweater Vest and a gazelle named Pryor.

Oh well: USC 31, Ohio State 20.

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