But in the days leading to Wednesday, Price had waffled on his decision. He had gone to a UCLA basketball game four days earlier and sat next to new Bruins football coach Bob Toledo. Assistant coach Bernardi had visited on Sunday. Price says he stayed with the Buckeyes only because "I gave them my word." But the failed fax broke his will. "I took it as a sign," said Price. Bernardi called Price late Wednesday afternoon and learned from Price's girlfriend, Joy Moss, that Price had not officially signed with Ohio State. Bernardi called back a couple of hours later, found Price at home and sold UCLA to the California kid, emphasizing that at UCLA he would be near Moss and their 18-month-old son, Durell Jr. It was a persuasive argument because Moss has never been on an airplane, much less to Columbus, Ohio.
It suddenly all made sense to Price, and he prepared to sign with UCLA. But there was one more request: Price wanted uniform number 5, which had been worn by All-America free safety Kenny Easley and was retired. Toledo and Bernardi agreed to give Price number 6, and a deal was struck. At 10 o'clock on Wednesday night in Los Angeles, a fax—from Sav-on Drugs—came through clean and Price became a Bruin.
"Anybody who wants to know about recruiting, who thinks it's a joyous time in your life, I'll tell them another story," said Price. "It's the most stressful thing I've ever been through."
It is 6:20 p.m. in Baton Rouge. The balloons are nearly all gone from the field house, though half a dozen of them are in the hands of DiNardo's 2½-year-old son, Michael. Recruiting is an exhausting business, and a family one, as well. For much of the day, Gerry's wife, Terri, sat home and checked off names on a list she stuck to the refrigerator with a magnet; she later brought Michael to visit his dad at the Bayou Bash. There are 28 new Tigers, although some of them will not qualify academically (which will keep LSU within the NCAA one-year maximum of 25 new scholarships) and many will never contribute. "It's a fact that only about a third of the guys you sign will end up starting, because if you get it going, you sign someone the following year that's better," DiNardo said. There will be injuries, transfers, failures. There always are.
"But this is a good day. It's an end and it's a beginning," said DiNardo. He surveyed the field house, nearly empty, and continued, "It is not beneath any of us to be involved in this kind of affair, to admit that these 18-year-olds mean this much to us."
The process is not pretty—a wide, rough patch on the road to those glittering Saturday nights. You need the players, so you get the players, and for one day that is the story. The DiNardo family walks toward the door that leads into the night and a long, deep sleep. "I'm glad it's over," said Gerry. And you can almost hear a coast-to-coast chorus of sweet amens.
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