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ONE OF THE MORE TELLING EXPRESSIONS THAT I SAW DURING THE ORANGE Bowl was on the face of Arizona coach Mike Stoops, the brother of Sooners coach Bob Stoops. Mike was walking off the field in the fourth quarter when he suddenly stopped and turned around to watch a play. At that moment what he saw was a USC player making a big hit on an Oklahoma player. I happened to be looking at his face at the time, and I saw him wince. I didn't know if he was feeling the pain for his brother or if he was feeling the pain for himself, because Arizona will play USC next season. Either way, it's understandable, since these Trojans are easily among the top five USC teams in history.
As a former Trojan, that makes me proud. As a broadcaster, it's a whole other situation, of course. When I'm asked if it's difficult to broadcast a national championship game involving USC, I say it's actually easy. I have tremendous respect for Bob Stoops and his staff, and I keep in mind that the focus is the game. Yes, Southern Cal is my alma mater, but I also feel for Oklahoma, getting to the championship game but not being able to win. It's easy for me to be respectful, and objectivity is more about respect than professionalism.
But of course I have pride in the Trojans. The day after the national championship game my old roommate from USC, Sam Cunningham, met me in the lobby of my hotel. In college Sam was 6'3" and 225 pounds and could run a 9.8 100-yard dash. We played together on the 1972 national championship team, and we talked about how unbelievable this year's Trojans team was. No one could have predicted that these guys would dominate the way they did, and talking about the game I felt as if Sam and I were 19 or 20 again. It was as if this were our team too, and we lived the moment with them.
Our moment was 32 years ago. That USC team went undefeated and beat Ohio State 42-17 in the Rose Bowl to win the national championship. Like these Trojans, we saved our best game for last. A friend had told me during my sophomore year that I didn't play my best in big games, and while I challenged him on that, when I looked at film I realized he was probably right. I was determined to step it up in that Rose Bowl, and when the game ended [ Swann finished with six catches for 108 yards and a touchdown], I felt a sense of joy. It was also the first time that I thought, Maybe I'm better than these guys I'm playing against.
I'm not sure if today's players are familiar with my USC career. None of those guys were even born yet! I don't think that Reggie Bush, when he was up there directing the band after the Orange Bowl, realized that I started that tradition on the practice field. After one practice during my junior year, I came off the field and the band was playing. I walked over and grabbed [ USC Trojan Marching Band director] Arthur Bartner's baton, headed over to the platform and led the band in Conquest. I started doing it every Friday before we would leave for an away game. Now it's morphed into the guys leading the band after the game.
At my home in Pennsylvania I still have my USC helmet and home and away number 22 jerseys. I also have my Trojans varsity jacket. In fact, before I headed off to the Orange Bowl, I even tried it on for size.
Guess what? Still a perfect fit.