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Aftermath of an upset

Harbaugh, Carroll experience opposite emotions

Posted: Sunday October 7, 2007 2:19AM; Updated: Sunday October 7, 2007 3:29AM
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LOS ANGELES -- Jim Harbaugh couldn't stand still. He was bouncing back and forth in the corridors of the Coliseum like a giddy child, the red tie on his black suit swaying left to right as he danced in front of his giggling fiancÚ Sarah Feuerborn.

"We're getting married in January," she said. "I can't wait."

"January 5," said Harbaugh. "That will make this the second best day of my life."

Until then, this day will hold the top spot.

Standing in front of Stanford's deserted locker room moments after the Cardinal's stunning 24-23 win over USC, Harbaugh still tried to put the upset win in perspective as he put his arm around his fiancÚ.

"It's unreal," said Harbaugh in between bites of fried chicken. "Whenever you're a big, huge underdog like we were, sometimes you get blown out, sometimes you lose close and every once and a while you find a way to win, but you can never predict something like this."

Listening to Harbaugh, Feuerborn, who sat closer to the Olympic flame than the Coliseum field during the game, laughed as she recalled a slightly more confident pre-game Harbaugh.

"He said this was going to happen," she said, looking up at him. "He told me he knew this was going to happen. He denies saying that but he knew it."

As Harbaugh teases her about bawling like a beauty queen after the game, he smiles as he puts a piece of gum into his mouth and begins to head out of the stadium. While Harbaugh was savoring the best day of his life, less than 50 yards down the hall in the Trojans' locker room, Pete Carroll was in the midst of one of his worst.

"Walking in here," said Carroll. "I took my gum out and threw it about two feet away from the garbage can and I missed it."

It was that kind of day for Carroll and the Trojans, who hadn't lost a game at the Coliseum since 2001, Carroll's first season at USC, when he lost to Ty Willingham's Stanford side 21-16. Six years and 35 straight home wins later, an emotional Carroll struggled to find the right words to describe the most embarrassing loss of his college career.

"Looking at the color red here on this table it just looks different to me today," said Carroll. "It feels different today. Walking off the field, it felt different. In my mind I really don't know how to accept that. There's no place to put it. Whether it was the Texas game or any of these other games that we've had where they get you, I don't know where to put it. It doesn't fit the way I speak, the way I talk, the way I teach, there's no place for it. I'll find a way to leave it for awhile but I'll wear this forever."

It was a humbling experience for a normally confident Trojans team that quickly cleared out after the game. Most had said last week's near-loss to Washington in Seattle would be their "wake-up call," but it was clear that everyone didn't hear the alarm.

"We're shocked to lose at our house. We don't even know how to take it" said tailback Hershel Dennis, who has been with the team since 2002. "I think a lot of guys thought we were going to come out in the second half and things were going to go our way but that didn't happen."

There was plenty of blame to go around, although much of it will be centered on quarterback John David Booty and more specifically around the fractured, enlarged and discolored middle finger on his throwing hand, which he injured in the first half after hitting it against a defender's helmet.

"It didn't feel good, but it was something I could play with," said Booty, who threw four interceptions. "If I felt that I was seriously hurting the team I wouldn't play, but I'm playing.

Even before the surreal feeling of defeat after the game, Booty and the rest of the Trojans experienced another first at home as they were booed as they ran off the field in the first half with a 9-0 lead as 41-point favorites.

"That's football," said Booty. "Heck, inside I was booing too."

As he prepared to leave the stadium, Booty stared at his injured middle finger, smiling at the irony that many of the fans wearing his jersey were waving their middle digits at him.

"You don't just win because you play for USC," he said. "You have to come out here and play good football and we haven't so that's what you get."