Monday, October 31, 2005

Homecoming: Not Just Any Game

"It's not just any game day for us," said one USC fan at Saturday's game against Washington State. "It's Homecoming."

USC president Steven Sample seconded those thoughts. "It's a reunion, a sense of the Trojan Family coming together for the first time each year," he said, standing on the sidelines. Sample couldn't help but talk a little football, too, gushing over the "excitement" of USC football and the respect he had for the players.

Prominent alum George Lucas was also on hand for the festivities, accompanied by his son. What did Lucas think of this year's Trojan football team? "Exciting." He also hinted that he might be making more appearances on campus in the near future. "My daughter will be attending USC next year," he reported.

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)

Another well-known USC fan, Snoop Dogg, was also in attendance. He said running back LenDale White had invited him to the game, and he was wearing White's 21 jersey on the sidelines. In typical Snoop style, he made his presence known, guest-conducting the USC band and appearing on the stadium JumboTron when White scored a touchdown and then tossed the rapper the football.

After the game, players like Keith Rivers took extra time to sign autographs for fans outside the tunnel, then headed off to a special barbecue for players and their friends and family. Away from the spotlight, the players enjoyed a spread that included home-cooked steaks and grilled shrimp.

The rest of the evening included fathers recounting glory days and mothers rushing around to make sure all the players had gotten enough to eat. Laughter filled the air as players recounted the highlights and blunders of the game. Several others joked about whose mom was the best cook.

Said one parent, summing up the day, "Homecoming really is a reunion, an excuse for people to come together, watch a hell of a football game and remember what it means to be a Trojan."

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Sunday, October 30, 2005

Weis Game Plan Leaves Reed Hobbling

Notre Dame's D.J. Fitzpatrick and USC's Oscar Lua on the Notre Dame Stadium field during the game, after Fitzpatrick missed a field goal. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

In their walk-through at Notre Dame Stadium the day before what turned out to be a game for the ages, the USC football team was greeted with a very unpleasant surprise: ankle-deep grass, courtesy of Charlie Weis and the Notre Dame Stadium grounds crew.

"It looks like my front yard," middle linebacker Oscar Lua told the LA Times after the walk-through.

A few days after the game, a reporter asked Weis if the grass was grown long on purpose. "No," said Weis. "It was a little long, but that's the way it is around here. It was long at the Michigan State game, too. I don't cut the grass."

But several USC players were convinced otherwise. "It seemed obvious to us, at least to me, that they left the grass long on purpose," said tailback Desmond Reed.

Running back LenDale White suggested to a reporter from the Daily Breeze that it was a ploy to negate the Trojans' speed advantage. "All that money [Notre Dame has], you would think they could do something about [the grass], but I guess they thought it was going to slow us down." Added the former Colorado state high school player of the year, "That was the worst field I've ever played on in my life."

USC players weren't the only ones who thought the Notre Dame Stadium grass was unreasonably long. "I stood on it," wrote Sports Illustrated's Stewart Mandel, "and I can tell you, if it was your backyard, the Homeowners Association would send you a citation.

In fact, in a press conference back in January, a reporter asked Weis to assess Notre Dame's team speed, in light of how fast USC was in its Orange Bowl victory against Oklahoma. "I think the grass needs to be longer," said Weis, prompting laughter from the press corps.

But in trying to slow down the Trojans, Weis and company also created dangerous playing conditions. Just ask Reed.

While backpedalling to receive a Notre Dame kickoff, he tore his ACL and sustained other damage to his right knee. But unlike most football injuries, Reed's were caused not by contact on the field, but contact with the field.

"My cleat got stuck in the grass," said Reed, "and when I turned to run, I hyperextended my knee."

Desmond Reed during practice for the 2005 Orange Bowl

White said he wasn't surprised Notre Dame's "home field advantage" caused Reed's season-ending injury. "Honestly, when the grass is that thick, your feet can't get out of the grass that well," White told the Daily Breeze. "Your plant is kind of like (artificial) turf. Your foot gets stuck and [you] can't really get it out."

Though Reed was behind White and Heisman finalist Reggie Bush on the depth chart, he played an important role in USC's quest for an unprecedented third straight national title. "He's had a fantastic impact on our special teams and whenever he gets in the games he's done tremendous things," Coach Pete Carroll told the LA Times. "We're going to miss him a lot."

While his teammates focus on closing out the season with a string of victories, the normally lightning-quick Reed walks methodically around campus in leg brace. After his upcoming surgery, he'll have to endure three months of being unable to walk under his own power, and another three to six months of rehabilitation before he can rejoin his teammates out on the football field.

Reed has long been known among those teammates as one of the Trojans' most optimistic players, a trait that will serve him well in the coming months. He's looking forward to getting the surgery over with, he says.

"And getting back on the field."

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