Mom didn’t react well to the adriamycin, or the cytoxan.
This was Jan. 4, 2005, a Tuesday. My dad was carrying my mother as they slammed through the front door of our Burbank home. She was having difficulty even standing alone, and so he walked her through the house and onto the bed.
This Tuesday marked week one of chemotherapy treatment, coming roughly six weeks after the breast cancer diagnosis.
I was 14. My brother Matt was 11; my sister Kelly had just reached 7. We sat in the family room, watching football. Meanwhile, Mom collapsed on her bed, nauseated. She proceeded to vomit. A couple hours later, the nausea subsided and she finally caught some sleep.
We dared not move from the couch. We stayed and stared at the TV. We didn’t know what to say.
Dad later emerged from their bedroom. He said he would take care of the rest and assured us Mom would be fine. We nodded.
He was right. She would be — it’d take a year, but yes, she would be fine. Dad didn’t lie. She still is fine.
But on that January night, at least, Mom was missing the game.
The game was the 2005 Orange Bowl, also the BCS national championship game. Undefeated USC, Dad’s alma mater and, by association, the official college football team of the Kaufman household, was facing No. 2 Oklahoma.
But Mom couldn’t see any of it. She couldn’t see the touchdown passes from Matt Leinart that sliced the Sooners’ secondary. She couldn’t see the Trojans’ “Thunder and Lighting” duo of LenDale White and Reggie Bush that dodged one defender after another. She couldn’t see a Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson-led defensive line that put opposing quarterback Jason White on his back on about every down.
But she could at least do this: She could wake up the next morning and read the newspapers. She could see that big headline from The Los Angeles Times reading “Conquest:” USC had defeated Oklahoma, 55-19.
You see, it was not uncommon for Mom, because of chemo, radiation treatment or some doctor’s appointment somewhere in Los Angeles, to miss seeing our Trojans play that year.
No matter, though — she always had the papers. And she trusted the newspapermen to bring her the news of the team. Was anyone hurt? How were those freshmen coming along? She’d always smile, too, when a picture of Leinart and his wavy surfer hair landed in print. He was her “sweetie,” we teased.
She didn’t always have the chance to witness everything that happened on the field with her own eyes. She relied on others, the reporters on the sidelines and in the press boxes, to paint the scene.
Seeing this, I always admired those newspaper writers.
In full disclosure, I had an interest in sports journalism from a young age, mostly because I discovered I was about a foot shy of ever having any chance to play center for the Los Angeles Lakers. Though I had little idea of what exactly journalism entailed, I wanted to work in sports.
Watching Mom read the paper, though, firmly cemented the goal of sports writing in my brain, and it gave me a greater purpose. I too would deliver the news to readers. I would tell them about their favorite teams. Maybe they were also missing the games because of something traumatic. They couldn’t always be around to smell the grass, to listen to the crowds, to feel the excitement. They wouldn’t always be in the stands.
So I promised to be there for them, in order to tell those stories.
Luckily enough for me, the Daily Trojan provided me with a chance to do just that. Covering USC sports for the last four years, and last two and a half years with this column, allowed me to live up to that set standard.
I’d cover Mom’s Trojans the best I could.
I’d capture moments, from women’s water polo’s NCAA championship season my freshman year to the most recent disappointing football season, where business remained unfinished. I’d chronicle teams and players.
I’ve seen Notre Dame Stadium (blaring “Crazy Train” and all) go from deafening to silent in one Jawanza Starling fumble recovery. I’ve seen Jacki Gemelos return to the basketball court after a fourth ACL surgery. Perhaps, most amusingly, I’ve seen Lane Kiffin as normal, talking about his own dad, Monte, and how, in a way, he was much like Brooks Hatlen from the movie The Shawshank Redemption.
Not every moment captured USC on its brightest day.
I’ve also seen the Trojans’ Rose Bowl dreams die in the mud after one swift, crushing and now infamous Anthony Barr sack of Matt Barkley. I’ve seen more press releases in response to NCAA-related allegations than I’d like to recount. I’ve seen basketball coach Kevin O’Neill explain the irreversible effects of scholarship limits to about every media member amid a school-worst 26-loss season.
It wasn’t exactly the rosiest four years — pun intended.
But there was no shortage of things to tell, and I tried to do those stories right. It was my turn. It was my turn to describe what the crowds looked like and what they sounded like. It was my turn to highlight players and coaches, peel back a layer and show the person. It was my turn to make sure I didn’t miss a single moment. Because this time, there’d be at least a few readers such as Mom relying on me.
I remember Ron Hock, a religion professor my junior year, telling me how he would read my column on his train ride back to his Palm Springs home. I remember the handwritten notes from Kent Hollenbeck, a Ventura County dentist whom I met for the first time in January, thanking me for my updates on men’s basketball, of all sports.
That was all I needed.
I wanted to depict USC athletics, both accurately and vividly. I wanted people to feel as if they were there alongside me.
Forever, this will be my own “Mom Rule.”
Joey Kaufman has served as a columnist since Spring 2011. To comment on this story, email Joey at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit dailytrojan.com.