Once upon a time, back when I was still living in Boston, Pete Carroll did a terrible job coaching the New England Patriots. Eventually, they fired him. But not before I gave him the nickname “Coach Fredo” on my old Web site.
Deep down, I always felt bad about it. Pete seemed like a good guy. Of course, that was the problem — there wasn’t anything coach-like about him. His teams consistently screwed up and did dumb things. His players consistently walked all over him and found trouble off the field. Even in his press conferences, beat writers found ways to undermine him and make him look bad. Poor Pete carried himself like a giddy substitute teacher for an inner-city high school, the high-energy dude who strolls in hoping to change everyone for the better and ends up getting duct-taped to his desk and covered with gobs of whiteout. That was Pete Carroll in New England.
Well, a funny thing happened: He took over USC’s program and became the modern-day Bear Bryant. In fact, I moved to Califonia three years ago, in November 2002 … and the Trojans have lost exactly once since I arrived. Thanks to Kobe’s Tony Montana-like collapse, the Trojans are now the marquee team in Southern California. Out here, Carroll is a football god. Part of me feels happy for him; part of me feels like I moved to Bizarro World. And maybe I did.
Anyway, I have few rules in life, but this is one of them: Any time Pete Carroll has a chance to win three straight national championships within 15 months of the Red Sox winning the World Series during a lunar eclipse, I have to keep a running diary. Here’s what transpired.
8 p.m. ET — It’s No. 1 USC against No. 2 Texas, the Rose Bowl, live on ABC! Keith Jackson just made it through the pregame intro without morphing into a Gatorade commercial. Here was my favorite part: “By consensus, these teams rank one and two, with nary a vote of dissent.”
8:02 — Dan Fouts, Jackson’s partner tonight, just tied Doug Collins’ record for most broadcasting clichés in an opening: “Both of these teams are ready, willing and able. This is gonna be like a heavyweight fight. It’s time to get it on.”
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8:05 — Good times in the Ford Built-Tough Pregame show — Aaron Taylor is wearing one of Mr. Roarke’s old suits from “Fantasy Island.” Smiles, everyone, smiles! That’s immediately followed by a trash-talking celebrity montage with Will Ferrell and a zonked-out Matt McConaughey. All right, all right, all right! Has anyone morphed into his most famous character more beautifully than McConaughey’s glacier-like transformation into David Wooderson over the past 10 years? All he’s missing is a thin mustache and a TransAm at this point.
8:09 — Our first promo for an ABC show debuting as a midseason replacement tonight: “Everyone needs a hero … especially the innocent … an all-new ‘In Justice,’ Friday on ABC.”
(See, I would have gone with a different promo, something like: “Kyle McLachlan is so desperate for a hit, he even stole Peter Gallagher’s hairdo … and holy crap, does his head look enormous. It’s an all-new ‘In Justice,’ Friday on ABC.”)
8:17 — Highlight of the game so far: LeAnn Rimes belting out the National Anthem, followed by a cut to Matt Leinart with a pensive, “Have I had her yet?” look on his face. He’s the best. We need to figure out a way to get him on the Jets next year.
8:21 — Our celebrity coin tosser tonight … Judge Smails’ wife from “Caddyshack.” Whoops, that’s Sandra Day O’Connor. Sorry about that, Sandy.
8:23 — Funny shot of Leinart warming up and wearing a conspicuous knee brace. After the Saints locked up the No. 2 pick, do you think Leinart went to USC’s doctor and asked, “Can you give me the biggest, scariest looking knee brace you can find?”
8:25 — Texas coach Mack Brown … welcome to the Reggie Cleveland All-Stars! How can you be white with the name “Mack Brown?” Stunning. And no, I’m not a big college football fan. But you knew that already.
8:30 — Fouts compares Bush to Barry Sanders AND Walter Payton on the same exciting 10-yard run. And you know what? It worked. I was thinking the same thing. I watched a record (for me) 10 college football games this year, including seven USC games, and only because of Reggie Bush. He’s so close to Gale Sayers in so many ways, I would almost be afraid to be a white fullback on his NFL team next year.
8:33 — Touchdown, LenDale White. 7-0, USC. How many times do you think he thought about pulling a Tonya Harding on Reggie Bush during the season? The over/under has to be 500.
8:37 — Keith Jackson on Vince Young: “As an old defensive coach once said, ‘He ain’t got no handles,’ but he led the country in passing this year.”
(Um, does anyone on this plane speak jive? What just happened there?)
8:40 — Let’s be honest — there’s no way Vince can succeed in the NFL with that throwing motion. It’s impossible. It can’t happen. I’m telling you. There has never been a successful NFL quarterback who threw like that. And by “that,” I mean, “throws like someone who just realized they have dog poop on their hand and is trying to fling it off.”
8:42 — Fourth-and-2 at midfield, Texas goes for it and gets absolutely stuffed. That’s quickly followed by our first promo for “Dancing With the Stars,” featuring celebrities dancers like Jerry Rice, Stacey Keibler, George Hamilton, Tatum O’Neal … and ESPN’s own Kenny Mayne. I will now pop a champagne bottle directly into my right eye.
8:45 — Top-four names, words and phrases that sound 10 times more entertaining when Keith Jackson says them: (1) LenDale White; (2) Tostitos; (3) the speedster; (4) Frostee Rucker.
8:51 — The Trojans go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Texas 18 … and Leinart pulls a Scott Mitchell and botches the QB sneak for no gain. Texas ball. And yes, the decision-making in this game is already confirming something I already believed — to coach a good college football team, you basically need two arms, two legs and a head. That qualifies you.
8:56 — Scariest moment of the game: Coming back from commercial, a close sideline shot of Reggie Bush sitting on the injury cart (NOOOOOOOOO!) followed by the camera panning back to reveal that he’s just getting his shoes changed (PHEW!). Every Houston Texans fan just passed out.
8:58 — All right, is there a dumber sports rule than “If your knee hits the ground, the play is over … even if if you weren’t touched” in college football? That’s right up there with “You can’t just intentionally walk someone, you have to throw four balls,” “You don’t get an extra foul for overtime,” “You can call a timeout while you’re in midair” and “You aren’t allowed to punch A-Rod in the face during a game” in the pantheon of Dumb Rules That Only Make Sports Less Fun.
9:03 — One more question: Has there ever been a national championship up for grabs between two schools that had hotter female fan bases? ABC could pan anywhere in the crowd right now and hit the proverbial jackpot. I need to start watching more college football. Seriously. Remind me next year.
9:04 — Reggie Bush just makes me happy. I think I have a man-crush on him.
9:10 — We see a goofy sideline shot of Marcus Allen and Sean Salisbury laughing it up in wildly expensive-looking suede jackets. That reminds me, wouldn’t you have picked Salisbury in the “Guess who’s representing ESPN in ‘Dancing with the Stars’ ” game well before Kenny Mayne? My list would have looked like this: (1) Stu Scott; (2) Salisbury; (3) Michael Irvin; (10) Kenny Mayne; (750) John Clayton.
9:11 — Crazy turn of events: Bush rips off a 35-yard screen pass, gets chased down deep in Texas territory, then throws a boneheaded lateral to an unsuspecting teammate that’s recovered by Texas. USC should be up by 20 points already.
(A morning e-mail prediction from reader Jack Buell in Lakeport, Calif.: “Prepare yourself for your New Year’s present — the Pete Carroll face, coming to a screen near you, Jan. 4, 2006, 9:30 p.m. PT.” Jack, you were about 19 minutes late with that one.)
9:17 — Texas rolls down the field and settles for a 46-yard field goal. 7-3, USC. Hey, after the game, do you think Vince Young will give Johnny Damon his throwing arm back?
9:30 — Leinart gets picked in the end zone to kill another USC drive. Either he’s rattled by Lindsay Lohan’s drug abuse/bulimia confession, or he’s the next Scott Mitchell and we haven’t fully realized it yet.
(So far, we’ve had a USC interception, fumble and failed quarterback sneak inside the Texas 20 … good to see things haven’t changed with Pete Carroll teams. I think I watched this game 20 times when he was coaching the Pats. Wait, why am I still bitter about this? We ripped off three Super Bowls as soon as he left. I need to let this go.)
9:39 — Young scrambles to the USC 11, then laterals for a touchdown even though his knee was clearly down, followed by the replay officials not stopping the clock for a challenge and the touchdown counting (although Texas missed the extra point). Unbelievable. Gawd-awful officiating. 9-7, Longhorns.
9:45 — After USC’s offense gets hit with illegal substitution and delay of game penalties, Fouts notes “two uncharacteristic mistakes by the Trojans on this drive.” Excuse me? This is a Pete Carroll team! It’s absolutely characteristic!
9:48 — Just thought of something: Where do you think O.J. Simpson is watching this game? Something tells me he doesn’t have the Marcus Allen/Ronnie Lott sideline pass. And yes, it’s always fun bringing up O.J. Simpson to USC people — almost as fun as meeting a rich person from Brentwood, playing dumb when they say where they live, then excitedly saying, “Hey, wasn’t that where O.J. lived?” One of the underrated perks of living in Southern California. I’m telling you.
9:51 — Ramonce Taylor breaks a 30-yard TD run for Texas … it’s 16-7, Longhorns. I’m just excited that the guy’s first name is “Ramonce.”
9:55 — We should be able to bet on things like “Which will get canceled first, ‘Jake In Progress’ or ‘Emily’s Reasons Why Not’?”
10:00 — An action-packed USC drive for a field goal closes out the first half, highlighted by shaky clock management and a vicious hit on a Leinart scramble that didn’t even remotely faze Keith Jackson. After about 90 years of announcing, you would need to sack someone with a chainsaw for Keith Jackson to be flustered. Heading into halftime, it’s Texas 16, USC 10.
10:12 — I have to mention Holly Rowe’s halftime interview with Mack Brown, and only because she’s really, REALLY good at a thankless job. Anyway, she asked him the typical “What happened to turn the momentum in the first half?” question, which Brown answered with the typical blah-blah-blah college coaching answer, although he did say, “We really stunk in the first part of the half,” followed by some more babbling. And as he was ready to pull away, old Holly stuck her mike out and asked, “What stunk?”
Well, Brown had to answer that one, right? It’s a direct question. So he loosened up and started talking about their turnovers and lost opportunities, then mentioned how they have to protect the ball better in the second half. Here’s the point: It’s not that hard to ask a direct, concise question that traps someone into giving an engaging response. It really isn’t. Nice job, Holly Rowe.
10:30 — My two favorite moments from the Pontiac Game Changing Performance halftime show: First, John Saunders trying to say the words “Kirkuk, Iraq.” That was outstanding. And second, Marcus Allen reprising his role as one of the worst halftime studio guys ever. A one-time-only deal. Kinda like Sinatra coming back to play MSG in 1974.
(By the way, I was sifting through e-mails at halftime and noticed one from Chicago reader Steve Huffman, who wrote, “It occurred to me immediately that Reggie Bush’s ill-fated pitch in the second quarter was an ‘I’m Keith Hernandez’ moment.” An excellent call. It’s not like Reggie was forcing a bad play, he was probably just thinking to himself, “Screw it, I’m Reggie Bush … I won the Heisman and I’m the first pick in the 2006 NFL Draft … let’s see if I can pull this off.” Can you blame him?)
10:40 — Texas goes three-and-out to start the second half. Meanwhile, I just called my buddy Bish (my only friend who truly loves college football) to find out why there isn’t a college playoff system in place. “Money,” he says. “The colleges would lose too much money from the bowl games.” Oh.
(Note: I loved watching the Monday Bowl games, when the No. 9 team was battling the No. 12 team, and people were pretending that this was even remotely interesting. Oooooooh, if they lose, they could drop from No. 9 to No. 14 for the season! Who cares? Does anyone even keep track of this stuff? Imagine if, one day before the NFL playoffs started, San Diego played Kansas City to determine who was the 13th best team in the NFL? Or what if the AFC and NFC Championship losers met one day before the Super Bowl to battle for the No. 3 ranking? Would anyone care? Of course not. So why would anyone follow these meaningless college bowl games? I find the whole thing perplexing. Back to the column.)
10:47 — White breaks out the old stiff arm to bring USC inside the 5, then carries it into the end zone on the next play. USC 17, Texas 16. Why is it legal for an offensive player to whack a defense player in the face, but it’s illegal for a defensive player to whack an offensive player in the face? Have we ever figured that out?
10:55 — Texas comes roaring back with a seven-play, 80-yard drive, including an awesome 14-yard TD run by Young. Texas 23, USC 17. Screw it, why couldn’t some NFL team just run the option with Vince? Wouldn’t you rather have him running your team than Charlie Frye or J.P. Losman?
10:57 — Reason No. 235 why I enjoy the Keith Jackson Era — any time he has to read a “Dancing with the Stars” promo. I’m dying for him to do “Emily’s Reasons Why Not.” “You know Heather Graham as the stunning beauty who played Rollergirl and Felicity Shagwell … now this little lassie has her own show on ABC …”
11:02 — My new favorite name in today’s game: USC tight end Dominique Byrd. Couldn’t they pair him up with another tight end named Kareem Moses or Jordan Drexler?
11:04 — On the Texas 12, USC goes for it on fourth-and-1 … touchdown, White! Should we even have punters in college football? Probably not. USC by one.
11:07 — All right, this wasn’t just the highlight of the game, it might have been the highlight of my life. Here’s an actual transcript of Keith Jackson reading an “Emily’s Reasons Why Not” promo (10 minutes after I wished for it):
“Don’t miss the season’s premiere of ‘Emily’s Reasons Why Not.’ [Mumbling to someone off-camera.] ‘Emily’s Reasons’ … I don’t know. [Back to the promo.] Starring Heather … Graham. A new comedy about love, laughter and life, premiering at Monday, 9 central, followed by an all-new ‘Jake’ … [prolonged pause] … in Progress,’ starring John Stah-mos.”
(Note: That was 10 times funnier if you imagine Stamos flipping out in his living room, screaming, “It’s STAY-mos, you old fart! STAY-mos!” before flipping over his 40-inch Sony Wega, breaking a coffee table and finally being consoled by Dave Coulier and his publicist, Lewis Kay.)
11:11 — Young scrambles for 45 yards to the USC 20, giving him 150 yards on the night (and counting). Wow. This guy could throw like Costner’s Dad in “Field of Dreams” and still thrive in the NFL. Unbelievable. He’s killing USC. Now I would put him above Frye, Losman, Gus Frerotte, Brooks Bollinger, Kyle Orton, Mike McMahon, David Carr, Josh McCown, Joey Harrington, Patrick Ramsey, Kyle Boller and all the Detmers. And we’re not even in the fourth quarter yet.
11:17 — Not only does the Texas kicker have the last name “Pino,” he just shanked a 31-yard field goal. They might need to revise the field goal rules for college — kick it past the end zone, it’s worth three points.
11:29 — Just as I’m typing the words “Poor Reggie Bush — he’s being outshined tonight by Vince Young AND LenDale White (101 yards, three TDs),” Reggie breaks around the right corner at the 26-yard line, shifts into ninth gear and zooms by two defenders, jumps from the 5-yard line, soars like “Superfly” Snuka and finishes it off with a flip into the end zone. Well, then. USC 31, Texas 23.
11:40 — Since I firmly believe Marv Albert should do every big NBA game, Pat Summerall every big NFL game and Keith Jackson every big college football game, no matter how old they are, and only because it feels like a bigger game when any of them is involved, I feel totally comfortable saying this: Listening to Jackson is like driving with my mother at night. In other words, maybe he can’t really see anymore, and he might drive over a few curbs, and maybe he’ll even send a pedestrian diving behind a parking meter … but it’s always exciting, and you always get home safely in the end.
11:49 — Texas kicks a field goal, USC roars back with a quick TD. USC by 12 with less than seven minutes to play. We’re less than an hour away from a Three-Pete.
11:56 — Just so nobody gets TOO excited about his NFL future, Young throws across his body into triple coverage, but USC drops the interception. That would have been the end of the ballgame. Texas just keeps hanging around, hanging around … they got alligator blood …
11:59 — This just in: Vince Young is awesome. He just single-handedly kept Texas alive with two crazy scrambles (including a 17-yarder for a TD to cut USC’s lead to five). Sure, it’s helping that USC is steadfastly refusing to keep extra defenders around the line of scrimmage to contain a guy who doesn’t seem like he can successfully throw deep, but still. Fouts sums it up best: “I’ve never seen anything like him in my life.”
(Me, neither. And can you put a price on a scrambling quarterback with the same name of the monosyllabic guy who played Noah Hunter on “90210”?)
12:04 a.m. — I’ll tell ya, one of these times, Jackson and Fouts are going to realize that someone fumbled in this game when it actually happened. Law of averages.
Anyway, here’s the setup: fourth-and-2, 2:11 remaining, USC on Texas’ 45 and leading by five, with the logical move being a punt that would force Texas’ offense to drive 85-90 yards in 120 seconds with a quarterback who hasn’t completed a pass longer than 15 yards all game. The decision rests in the hands of Pete Carroll. For once, he does the logical thing — goes for the game-ending first down, keeps Reggie Bush and his Heisman Trophy on the sideline, then runs a predictable dive play with LenDale White that falls short because everyone on the planet knew it was coming (including all 11 guys on the Texas defense). Wait, absolutely none of that was logical. Texas ball.
12:09 — And the gifts keep on coming: USC keeps Texas’ drive alive with a face-mask penalty on third down, followed by an Emmy Award-winning shot of the Pete Carroll Face. That was fun. I should go put on Tony Simmons’ blue Patriots jersey from the 1999 season just to complete the effect.
12:13 — Young dances in traffic for another first down, somehow gets out of bounds and earns a “My gosh!” from Keith Jackson. He has thrown for 250 yards, rushed for another 187 and two touchdowns and caused at least 2 million Trojans fans to wonder, “Why don’t we have a linebacker spying him?” Now the Horns are inside the USC 30 with less than a minute to play. Let’s just start simulcasting this one on ESPN Classic.
12:16 — Facing a game-deciding fourth-and-5 from the 8-yard line, Young lines up behind center as Jackson chuckles, “I’m too old for this.” High comedy. I’m shaking and I don’t even have money on this game. The snap, some pressure, Young has to scramble … touchdown, Texas! Wait, can I swear on ESPN.com? Because that was (bleeping) unbelievable! Vince Young, everybody! He’s just joined the 200-200 club.
“You’re not gonna beat him!” Fouts screams. “Invincible!”
12:19 — In one of the most amazing random sports blunders of all time, one of the USC players is forced to call their final timeout because they don’t have the right defense for the 2-point conversion. By the way, there are only 19 seconds left. “My goodness!” Fouts screams.
(Sorry, I’m hanging that one on Carroll and his staff — would anyone on a well-coached team think that the two-point conversion mattered more than a timeout there? Come on. That’s beyond awful. Poor clock management, dumb penalties, no defensive adjustments, stupid decisions leading to turnovers, wasted timeouts for no good reason … does any of this sound familiar, Pats fans?)
12:21 — Young runs for the 2-point conversion. I now have him ranked above every NFL QB except for Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Carson Palmer. Good golly. We also had this exchange right after the conversion:
— Jackson: “Only 19 seconds to play … clock didn’t move on that play.”
— Fouts: “That’s an extra point, it’s probably not going to … ”
12:24 — USC drives to the Texas 43 with 8 seconds left … of course, they don’t have any timeouts left … leading to the inevitable Leinart incompletion … game over! Your national champions, the Texas Longhorns! What a comeback!
As we see the Longhorns and their fans celebrating, ABC’s cameras catch Leinart and Carroll hugging and Leinart whispering the words, “God, I wish I knew how to quit you!” All right, I made that up. But that’s the only way this defeat could have been worse for USC fans.
12:25 — Just a classic ending to Carroll’s postgame interview with Todd Harris:
— Harris: “At the very end of the game, you had a timeout, did you want to save one timeout if they had scored?”
— Carroll (rattled): “Yeah, we had a little problem, we had to go for two right there … but, eh, you know … we didn’t get it done.”
(In the words of Brian Fantana, “Take it easy, Champ. Why don’t you stop talking for awhile?”)
12:26 — In his postgame interview with Holly, Matt Leinart throws out a classic, “I think we’re a better football team, they just made the plays in the end,” backhanded compliment before heading to the Roosevelt Hotel’s pool bar with Nick Lachey. You’re right, we shouldn’t have played the game, Matt. That was stupid. You guys were better.
So what did we learn? Three things …
1. Not only is Vince Young the best player in college football, his Rose Bowl performance following the Heisman Trophy ceremony ranked at least an 8.3 on the Vengeance Scale. It’s nice to see an athlete back up his own words, isn’t it?
2. If your season potentially rides on one first down, and you have a Heisman Trophy winning running back on your team … well, you might want to have him on the field. It’s a little unorthodox, I know. But it’s probably a good idea.
3. Pete Carroll will always be Pete Carroll.
And there would be no Three-Pete. As always, one my readers (Greg in Philly) summed it up best after the game: “It was only a matter of time. And you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine and his Sports Guy’s World site is updated every day Monday through Friday. His new book “Now I Can Die In Peace” is available on Amazon.com and in bookstores everywhere.