Category Archives: We lost to fucking Stanford?!

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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Well, at least there’s no more QB controversy

And now for some levity.

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So this is what it feels like

… to be human again.

From 2002, Pete Carroll’s second season at USC, to the 2007 Rose Bowl the Trojans lost a total of 6 games by an average margin of 3.67 points: a 7 pointer to 11-2 Kansas State in Manhattan in 2002 along with a 3 point overtime loss to 2002 Co-Pac 10 Champion Washington State in Pullman; a triple overtime shocker in Strawberry Canyon in 2003; an epic Rose Bowl loss to a guy who may turn out to be one of the greatest players of the modern era; a deflected 2-point conversion in Corvallis and a redzone interception in Pasadena in 2006.

Say what you want about Oregon State and UCLA, but at least keep in mind that both teams took USC to its limits in the 2004 title year.

And then there’s Stanford. There is simply no accounting for Stanford: at home, with a 35 game winning streak on the line, against a rookie coach who pissed off Carroll, starting a wide eyed lesbian ceramics associate professor at QB. Stanford.

So why was I standing in the bowels of Beaver Stadium – having just watched Penn State dispatch Wisconsin with ruthless ease and suffered through three updates about the USC-Arizona game (10-10, Arizona up 13-10, USC up 17-13…), all of them accompanied by wild cheering from the crowd – with a huge grin on my face? I watched the last minutes of the game on one of those TV screens they have by concession stands. I watched with a crowd who desperately wanted to see USC lose, because everyone loves an underdog. When David Buehler kicked it through the uprights I turned around and grinned maliciously at them, the kind of grin that’s less smile and more baring of fangs. I pumped a few “V”s, which probably confused everyone. And for the first time since that 2002 season, my favorite season in who knows how many years of watching football, I didn’t think about mistakes, injuries, what-ifs, polls, ramifications, anything, really, except one thing: how good it feels to win.

It’s been so long since USC’s had a realistic chance of losing to anyone except one of the traditional powerhouses of college football (Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan). This is what it felt like in 2002, but, more specifically, this is what it felt like pre-2002: anything can happen, anything will happen, and, yes, even a 7 point win over a hapless Arizona team is a miracle, a godsend, a blessing, a wonder, something worth celebrating in of itself. This was not the case with some of the wins over the past several years. I was spoiled; we all were.

I’m a fan, so naturally I have ideas about what needs to happen for USC to be in New Orleans. (Hah!). But for the first time in a long time I’m only thinking about the next game and the stated goal: to make sure Notre Dame’s only win is over UCLA, which is thoroughly acceptable to a USC fan. Whether that win’s by 3 or 30, I’ll take it.

Oddly, this seems like an evolution, or at least a personal one. I’m sure Pete Carroll doesn’t exactly agree, though according to Scott Wolf:

About the only one who seems oblivious is Carroll. He blithely said it was a “sweet game for us” and “a great day for everyone here at the Coliseum.”

I have a lot to say about Wolf, by the way, but for now: he’s the best USC beat reporter because he very often has the best information; he’s also hideously unreadable thanks in part to his inability to understand the basic tenets of grammar and objectivity. And in this case, he also misses the point – though I can’t blame him, since many others probably did, too. But not Carroll.

It was a sweet game for me, the sweetest kind of victory: any victory at all.

“You have to worry about what’s best for the team,” [Steve] Sarkisian said. “You can’t worry about (the fans).”

Ask 2002 Ohio State if any of those wins are anything less than magnificent. I’m not saying I want this to be the status quo. A five touchdown victory over Charlie and the (On Strike) Touchdown Factory would be lovely, but, again, it’s nice to be human again.

From the same Daily News article:

“People have to learn this is the way it’s going to be for a while,” Sarkisian said. “This isn’t Matt (Leinart), Reggie (Bush), LenDale (White) and Dwayne (Jarrett).

None of them are going to be easy now. We have to play tight football games. Field position is a big deal now. We never talked about that before.

We’re going to be a in a dogfight. We’re learning. We’re a different football team. The punter matters now.

The bolded portions are my own doing. They say, essentially, welcome back to reality. This is how 99% of college football teams do it. Hope you enjoyed it while it lasted, because it might be a while until it happens again – if at all. Which is something else worth reviewing: did I enjoy the past 5 years enough? I think so. I hope so. I was drunk most of the time, anyway. Not that I’ve evolved past that.

Not that I’ve evolved past reveling in the pain of others, either.

Bettering USC means a lot to the LSU Nation as evidenced by what happened when Tiger Stadium public address announcer Dan Borne announced USC’s loss to the record crowd of 92,910 just after LSU scored a touchdown to cut Florida’s lead to 17-14 midway in the fourth quarter. Players and fans went wild, and the noise was deafening.

“When they announced the USC-Stanford score, the stadium came loose,” Miles said. “We were operating to win the game, and when that happened it was like another shot of adrenaline that just said, ‘C’mon guys, let’s go play.’ It was a nice feel.” [LINK]

Guess what I did after watching PSU bludgeon Wisconsin and USC escape with a win? I watched Kentucky beat LSU, and I cheered my little ol’ schadenfreude loving heart out. Then I watched Oregon State beat Cal at home. For a good four hour period on Saturday I was back to a very familiar, very comfortable place: screw everyone that’s not dressed in cardinal and gold. That also felt a bit like an evolution.

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I think I might’ve jinxed USC

From a guide to using Simpsons quotes during bowl season [Dec. 23, 2006]…

Quote: “The two sweetest words in the English language: de-fault! De-fault! De-fault!”
Episode: Deep Space Homer” (2/24/94)
Context on the show: Homer is informed he’ll be America’s newest astronaut after leading candidate Barney Gumble lapses back into alcoholism, thus enabling a win by default.
When to use: If your team’s playing a traditionally bad program, or when your team beats a traditionally bad program. Unfortunately for you those two events don’t always come after each other.
Example: You are playing Stanford.
Notes: Using this chant before a game may jinx you. To ward off the effects of a curse simply sacrifice the nearest virgin – which, if you’re playing a traditonally bad football program and therefore a traditionally strong academic school, should be very near.

I did not actually use this chant, but in my mind I was certainly repeating it.

Also: Brian of mgoblog, on the subject of the Straight Bangin’ Award…

Last week:

During the season, the Straight Bangin’ Award is often the property of blogs covering a highly-ranked team coming off a dispiriting loss. This week Saurian Sagacity goes flapjack nuts, as mentioned, ranking UF #21.

Our top four voters in this category represent USC, Florida, Wisconsin, and USC. The winner is Jonathan Tu, who one-ups Saurian Sagacity by leaving USC completely out of his poll. Saurian Sagacity‘s own total omission of Florida from their ballot can’t compare; they narrowly finish second. I believe Tu’s winning margin of -12.46 is the highest score ever recorded in this category.

It’s kinda like having your home country/state/prefecture/etc. register the largest recorded earthquake ever. On one hand, wow!, death and devastation! On the other hand, hey!, first place!

And here’s a very vaguely related link, just because I can: Earthquake Sets Japan Back To 2147 [The Onion]

Finally: Navy 48, Pittsburgh 45 (2OT) was incredible. I got on the field during halftime as part of the gigantic American flag unfolding-thingie. I sat with the Pitt students for the first three quarters of the game. Then I moved to the Navy section for the fourth. Pictures will be up soon enough (and by soon, I mean whenever the hell I get around to it.) This game reaffirmed everything I love about college football. Stanford still hurts the way a pike to your innards hurts – deep, probably fatal, certainly a prolonged and painful period of dealing-with-pike-wound, and oddly archaic – but celebrating Dave Wannstedt’s immense and awe inspiring stupidity with a bunch of Midshipmen was as cathartic as anything I can think of. If there was a better time to not be in Los Angeles I can’t think of it.

Though I’m certain many people would be more than happy to explain to me that any time is a good time to not be in Los Angeles.

A big thank you to Chad Reed, who played on the offensive line for Pitt and, as a senior center in 2002, was named to the Rimington Trophy watch list. Chad got me a ticket to Pitt-Navy. The game didn’t turn out as he hoped, obviously, but he still got me into the Mustard Palace for free. A lifetime of Iron City beer for Chad is in the works, and by in the works I mean probably not happening even though it should because guys like him deserve it.

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85,125

That’s the number of people who attended USC-Stanford. The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – home of the 1932 and 1984 Summer Olympiads, the first ever Super Bowl, 22 Pro Bowls, the former Los Angeles Rams, the former Los Angeles Raiders, the current (but long since vacated) Los Angeles Dodgers, and, of course, the eleven* time national champion Trojans – has a seating capacity of 92,516. This is the second home game in a row that the formerly #1/#2 team in the country could not sell out.

I did not see the game, but apparently there was audible booing – particularly on Chauncey Washington’s failed fourth down conversion on the goal line. Having been stuck in Clemson’s Death Valley nervously – nervously!** – wondering what the score was, I can’t say whether that booing was deserved or not (John David Booty: “Believe me on the inside I was booing too.”) I do know this: 85,125 is not 92,516. Our season tickets have been moved multiple times since the beginning of this whole success thing. For what? For a bunch of guys who aren’t going to show up to USC-Stanford? If anyone should be booed it’s the Coliseum crowd that so often can’t even figure out that it should be wearing red; or that standing up and yelling is the norm and not, in fact, sitting down and demanding everyone else to, too; or that can’t even fill up one of the great landmarks of college football in order to watch the premier program of the past half decade take the field to defend the former NCAA leading home winning streak.

It was pouring rain during the entire first quarter in Williams-Brice Stadium. Girls showed up wearing cocktail dresses and they stayed and screamed things like “Go Cocks!” and “Go! Fight! Win! Kick ass!” right on through the deluge. Bless them.

You know what? Good for Stanford, and Jim Harbaugh who is so eminently unlikable that I oscillated between applauding and driving murderously towards Palo Alto and, really, am I decided yet?, and good for Tavita Pritchard, who before yesterday’s game was – as far as everyone in the nation was concerned – an earnest young lesbian ceramics associate professor yearning to set the world of cutting edge pottery on fire. And I do not mean that Tavita Pritchard sounds like a lesbian who teaches ceramics; I mean that Tavita Pritchard is the kind of name you’d associate with someone who teaches the art of lesbian ceramics, probably at your local community college but there’s always that opening at Santa Cruz. Whether or not Pritchard was, before rocketing into national consciousness, an actual lesbian is the kind of question a classless rag would ask but, as far as this blog is concerned, it certainly lends credibility to the whole associate professor of lesbian ceramics thing. Not that I’m pigeonholing.

But, again, good for the Cardinal: yesterday was the Feast of St. Crispin. Yesterday was the kind of event that changes lives. As I was listing towards my car I passed a tailgate still eating and drinking and listening to game reports. I stopped by and listened, because I am a sucker for auto-flagellation. The USC score rolled through. I said that I felt like jumping off a bridge. The elderly gentleman in charge of the tailgate, or at least in charge of looking in charge of the tailgate, said, very seriously, “It’s just a game, son.”

Tell that to Stanford.

By the way, The Farm used to be a big empty place. Now it’s a smaller, not as empty place and, via a reduction of patheticness, perhaps it’s more intimidating. Maybe the 7,391 people who didn’t show up Saturday were simply trying to send a message to the USC administration: “Let’s make the Coliseum a more hostile place!”

Bless them for their efforts.***

* Yes, yes, the 1939 championship is ridiculous. When I first fell in love with USC football the numbers were easy to remember: 4 Heismans, 8 national championships. The addition of three Heismans in four years was an amazing, wonderful thing. The addition of three national championships in two years was an amazing, wonderful thing, except that the third championship was retroactively self-awarded with the possible mindset of, “Well, we’re winning a lot of these things at once. Maybe no one will notice?”

** I really was nervous about the game. Not nervous enough to believe USC would lose, but there are a number of bad things that can happen in a victory: injuries, loss of confidence, etc. (Matt Grootegoed, the patron saint of small white linebackers who get it done, was injured against the Cardinal after a cheap shot left him without the use of one leg. He’s still my favorite linebacker of all time, even one legged.) (He now has two legs again, but for half a season there he didn’t.) (Which means he’s my favorite two legged linebacker, as well.) Perhaps I wondered if Carroll would eclipse the 38.5 spread. This much is certain: the more you know about your team, the worse you expect. I wish I could have soldiered on in blind indifference once I found out the halftime score. I wish. But instead I became impossibly nervous about Stanford. That should say a lot about my state of being.

*** And by bless them, I mean fuck them.

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Someone just ran over my puppy

His name is Jim Harbaugh. Not my puppy. My puppy is named Bonestorm. Jim Harbaugh ran over Bonestorm, the greatest puppy in the history of college football.

I think I might just drive straight back to California tomorrow and eat In ‘n Out until I don’t feel feelings anymore.

Everything is dark and hopeless and devoid of meaning. I want a chocolate vanilla milkshake very badly right now. And two sausage McMuffin with egg sandwiches for two dollars. And heroin.

Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

(That’s one “h” for every home win USC has had since 2001, when… Stanford… beat the Trojans at the Coliseum.)

:(

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