January 27, 2006

USC Dynasty Slips Away

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As the great grammarian Jimi Hendrix once observed, “Castles made of sand slips into the sea, eventually.”

In Great Britain, there are more castles and castle ruins than David Beckham pin-ups. On fog-draped nights, the ruins look like hollow skeletons out of a John Carpenter film and they suggest a bloody memory of something great. Yes, there once was a princedom, or a kingdom, or a dynasty that thrived here – but that was before the bloodshed.

In Los Angeles, there are no medieval castles. The ones we see in the movies are either facades or computer creations. Hollywood’s castles are too clean and Colin Farrell-friendly for the likes of Henry V or William Wallace.

But there are two great structures in the city which might interest archeologists digging up the city centuries from now – the Coliseum and the Rose Bowl.

Did armies battle at these castles? Were kings slain? Did dynasties fall? If the people of the future are able to look back at January 2006, they will find that on an otherwise radiant afternoon, the princes of Los Angeles were brought to their knees.

At this year’s Rose Bowl, USC was at least a seven-point favorite to beat Texas. The foreign invaders could not possibly win in Southern California. Who was Vince Young? Wasn’t he some distant runner-up to Reggie Bush in the Heisman voting?

USC could not be toppled. They had won 34 consecutive NCAA football games. With two Heismans in their backfield and an offensive line that could cause earthquakes, USC was an impenetrable fortress – arrogant, untouchable and unbeatable.

But, as the battle got underway, odd things began to happen. The sort of things that give hope to underdogs. In 1071, when the Turks were about to be slaughtered at Manzikert by the Byzantines, a Byzantine general inexplicably retreated. In the second quarter of this year’s Rose Bowl, Reggie Bush was streaking into touchdown territory when he inexplicably threw the ball away – pitching it to someone named Brad Walker, who promptly fumbled.

The 1071 retreat led to the wipe out of the Byzantines. Here, Bush’s oddball giveaway led to Texas coach Mack Brown wiping away tears of joy.

It helps to have gifts when destroying dynasties. The original Troy was undone by a gift from the Greeks – the Trojan horse. This year’s Troy looked on as a referee gave Texas six points for Selvin Young’s phantom touchdown.

Yet, even as Troy’s ramparts began to crash down, confidence never waned. A six-point halftime deficit? USC was down 18 at the half at Arizona State. An opponent scoring at will? Bush and his troops had easily out-gunned Fresno State, 50-42.

No, the idea of a cardinal-and-gold capitulation never crossed the minds of the Trojans – or anybody else. There had been too many comebacks. Too many victories eked out in the final seconds. Too many wins – 34 straight, to be exact.

As Jean Bodin once said, “Sovereign authority is absolute.” In the kingdom of college football, USC was the sovereign. Victory wasn’t a question – it was an absolute.

Thus, when Dwayne Jarrett’s touchdown catch gave the Trojans a 12-point lead with 6:42 remaining in the game, the stars again were aligned. The castle walls may have quivered, but they would never be broken.

When the clock ticked zero, however, the princes – Bush, Leinart, coach Pete Carroll and the rest – had become paupers. Texas had won, 41-38.

USC’s collapse was another lesson in history. Princes rise and fall, soldiers are trained and killed, and castles are built and destroyed. A new prince – Booty, Sanchez or Turner – will inherit the crown. The end of the greatest dynasty in college football was a final reminder of what it was – the greatest.

At the end of the Rose Bowl, they did not play the much-maligned “Rock ‘n’ Roll Part 2.” This is the “Hey” song, once common at sporting events but now heard less often. It seems that songwriter Gary Glitter is imprisoned in Vietnam on child sex charges.

What was worse for Trojan fans, in their home castle, was that 60,000 die-hard Texas fans stayed and in one booming voice sang their own song: “The Eyes of Texas.”

Vince Young – the conqueror of kings – said it was “beautiful.” Yes, for those who like their dynasties dead, it was a perfect evening.

Kyle Sheahen is a Sun Senior Editor. The Ultimate Trip will appear every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Kyle Sheahen