There, for the
first time in his life, he had felt he belonged to something important and
grand; there he had earned the privilege to use that magic word, the word he
craved: we. There he had discovered the joy and pain of sacrifice, surviving
with his bride on 19� boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese in order to make it
through medical school. Janet, poor gal, had gone to UCLA, but it was a Trojan
frat brother who had made the introduction, and through the power of the
doctor's passion, by god, he had made her a Trojan. The truth, now: Who and
what else—in an age when people jettisoned jobs, homes, cities, spouses and
friends—had made the long trip with him from skinny undergrad to 58-year-old
multimillionaire but his wife and USC?
His own family,
for goodness' sakes, how much more of a family it had become because of the
Trojans. Everybody might run off in a thousand directions from Sunday through
Friday, but on Saturdays in autumn everything had its place, everyone had his
or her role: Chuck brought the chips and the salsa and the beer, and his
brother Jay had those three-foot subs with the Trojan peppers, red and gold;
Janet packed the cookies and sodas and cheese and arranged a bouquet of flowers
for the picnic table—and always asked her husband, no more than 3� seconds
after they got on the road, "Did you remember to bring the tickets?"
The doctor would roll his eyes and say, "Yes, dear."
Third tree in from
Menlo Avenue, that was where they would meet the old gang, 15 or 20 of them,
easy friends to have, the sort you could laugh and drink and joke with from
Labor Day weekend through New Year's and then not see again until the Trojans
gave them a reason to get together the following fall. All of them scrambling
to clean up the tailgate party when they heard the drums thumping, hastening to
their seats just in time to see the band, 267 pieces strong, come thundering
into the Coliseum. And then, after they had wrung themselves out cheering for
2� hours, it was back to the tree to pop the three bottles of champagne and
analyze the game, to heat up the pasta inside the motor home, then to head back
to the house and pull into the driveway at dusk, feeling tired—a good tired, a
winner 115 times at home in the last 25 years—and then to sprawl out on the
couch and watch the day's big plays all over again on the 11 o'clock news.
Repeating it over and over until it became ritual, as automatic as which side
he slept on, moments and smells and scenes so inseparable from a man that it
was difficult for him to truly believe that all of it would go on and on and on
even after he was gone.
"I didn't do
it for plaques or publicity," says Elerding. "I did it because I feel
good about what this school provided me. Most of the people in this world are
takers. They stay on the sidelines and then wonder why life passed them by. Who
wants to be in the audience all the time? No, I'm not on the outside looking in
A startling thing
occurred in April. Elerding suddenly became better. Pneumonitis, they finally
called his illness, then, after 10 days, detached him from the tubes and sent
him home. In June, he wrote a check for the Dr. Charles E. and Janet R.
Elerding head football coach, and he knew he was doing the right thing. He
pledged his legacy to the Trojans.
Within a few
months, on a trip to northern California, his left arm went dead. Stroke?
Tumor? The nightmare commenced again. An abscess in the brain, they finally
called it, and then, through massive doses of sulfa drugs, the side-effects of
which made him ultrasensitive to sunlight, he began to recover from that,
And now, of
course, it is a glorious Saturday afternoon, midseason, the last seconds
ticking off on a 28-27 war with Washington, the Dr. Charles E. and Janet R.
Elerding punter salting it away with a majestic 51-yarder. The Trojans have
survived. And although he can no longer join his friends for the pregame picnic
or sit out in the sun with them, just a few rows from the band, Elerding has
champagne is sure going to taste good today," he says. "We've earned
He puts on the
sunglasses, gloves and wide straw hat he now wears as a precaution to protect
his skin, leaves the shade of the press box and files out with the crowd. Old
friends spot him and point. What do they say to the man who has recently made
what may be the largest contribution to a football team in history, the man who
has endowed the head coach and punter until the end of time?
How's the migrant work, pal?"