As a Trojan fan, the last four minutes of the Rose Bowl were absolutely gut-wrenching. At least that's what I've been told. Instead of watching LenDale White get stuffed on 4th-and-2 as USC attempted to seal the game, instead of seeing Vince Young shred the Trojan defense and run untouched for the clinching touchdown, I was pacing the sidewalks of some Sherman Oaks neighborhood, too tense to watch, my heart pounding, knees shaking, waiting for my wife to call with good news.
The good news never came, of course. My team lost and hearing her say "it's over" brought about an almost paralyzing feeling of despair.
Am I insane? Should I really suffer through a sleepless night because a group of 18-to-21-year-olds lost a football game?
In all honesty, this football season has been more of an ordeal than a source of joy. Each time USC fell behind this season — whether it was to Oregon, Arizona State, Fresno State, and most famously, Notre Dame — the same feeling of despair washed over me. USC came back to win every game but there was little joy in the comebacks, just relief.
That's why I was looking forward to the Rose Bowl as much as I would look forward to a root canal. I wasn't looking forward to the joy of seeing Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush holding up another crystal ball; instead I was dreading the feelings that might come with a loss. The more I read about the game, the what-ifs, the plays that could have easily sealed an 'SC victory, the sicker I feel.
Again, I ask myself, and the thousands of 'SC fans who feel the same way I feel today, heck, any fan of a team that loses the big game: Why don't I feel this distraught when I hear about yet another solider dying in Iraq? How can I just shrug my shoulders when I hear that the 12 West Virginia coal miners who I thought had been found alive are actually dead, but go into a tailspin when my team loses its first game in two years?
I have no answers for this question. Maybe my priorities are completely out of whack, maybe the idea of these tragedies is so hard to comprehend that my mind shuts down. I understand LenDale White getting stuffed on 4th-and-2 while trying to kill the clock, I can't understand an 18-year-old kid getting his head blown off in some godforsaken desert village.
I do know why this loss hurts so much, though. A chance for history, to truly separate USC from the rest of college football, was wasted. USC blew an opportunity to win its third straight national championship, an opportunity the Trojans probably will never have again, by making too mental errors and suddenly forgetting how to tackle.
Many plays from this game will haunt Trojan fans for years to come. Reggie Bush's inexplicable lateral that killed a potential scoring drive and momentum for USC, Matt Leinart's empty backfield quarterback sneak on 4th-and-1 that was inevitably stuffed, LenDale White getting stopped on 4th-and-2, Vince Young sprinting into the end zone, again and again, untouched.
By the end of the game, Vince Young appeared to be toying with USC's defense, a truly painful sight for those who remember last year's stifling defense. The horrible cliché "defense wins championships" has been thrown around all day on the few radio talk shows I can bear to listen to. Most of these loudmouths conveniently forget that the Longhorns' defense was no great shakes either, getting torched by Leinart for most of the second half.
Like any traumatic moment, and yes, I am being overly dramatic, I find myself going through the different stages of grief, disbelief (no they can't lose!), anger (damn ESPN jinx, hyping 'SC as the greatest of all time before the game is even played!), bargaining (please NCAA, find Texas guilty of improper player benefits and void the win), depression (LenDale only needed two inches to ice the game!), and acceptance (Dancing with the Stars is on tonight, sweet!).
I have the game Tivoed and my first instinct was to immediately erase it. The day after, however, I became drawn to it, ready to witness the carnage first hand. I skipped to the end of the game, and wouldn't you know, the Tivo stopped recording right at Bush's improbable leaping touchdown that redeemed his earlier mistake. The final image on the recorder is of Number 5 leaping through the air like Superman, ready to hit paydirt. I think that's how I'll remember this game, Reggie suspended in air, destined for glory, with no hint of the disappointment that is about to come.