Trojans team in class all on its own

I remember 2004 and 2005 just as much as the next person. It was a time defined by wardrobe malfunctions, Shaq and Kobe’s split, a search for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and, yes, USC’s dominance on the football field.

Sure, who doesn’t like a national championship-caliber team now and again, but sometimes you just have to face the facts. This is 2011, not 2005. At some point you simply have to move on from what was and focus on what is, because time passes by too quickly to revel in the past.

This message is still unfortunately lost upon the majority of media members and fans who follow USC football through rose-colored glasses. These days, nostalgic trips down memory lane aren’t few and far between for some, but instead daily doses of delusion.

It simply needs to stop.

The present isn’t as bright at the Coliseum as it was six years ago, and if that obvious sentiment is lost on anybody, just check the attendance numbers. But it does nobody any good to continue the comparisons back to a time where the grass was a little bit greener.

At some point, the only way to accept reality is to appreciate it for what it is.

If this year’s version of the Trojans is the roast beef to the 2005’s filet mignon, sign me up for a few extra slices. There might not be a title waiting on the other side of the 12-game schedule, but it’s hard not to root for these guys.

If you subscribe to the school of thought that defines these players solely as athletes, maybe this won’t make much sense. Even with the current win-loss total, give me this group 10 times out of 10 over the 2004 and 2005 teams.

What they might lack in firepower, pro-potential and genuine swagger, they make up for in the character department.

The 2004 and 2005 teams were led by a quarterback who was more interested in celebrity status and self-image than in buying into the team concept. He could perform on Saturdays, sure, but outside of rare athletic gifts, how great a spokesman was he for the athletic program?

Give me the current No. 7, not only behind center but as the face of the program. Instead of carousing the club scene in Hollywood during his off-season, Matt Barkley was volunteering his time in Nigeria. So while his touchdown to interception ratio might not pack a stadium like Matt Leinart, let’s face it: He’s a better poster child for a university that preaches well-roundedness and community activism.

During the so-called “golden years” of USC football, running back Reggie Bush electrified crowds with his acrobatic leaping ability and flair for the dramatic. Along the way, he would win a Heisman Trophy and sell a bunch of jerseys and video games, but he would also plant the seeds for the sanction-imposed paradise we now live in.

Sure 2011’s group is a motley crew of characters compared to Bush, Leinart and company, simply trying to get the program on the map again rather than planning for a New York City ceremony or bowl game.

But how many football players do you know that split time between the practice field and the stage every week, as freshman running back Amir Carlisle, a theatre major with a 4.0 GPA in high school does?

How many give up their summer break to teach kids how to play football in American Samoa, as starting junior center Khaled Holmes did in 2011?

Or who are so passionate in prayer and faith that they attempt to start an on-campus ministry group as junior wide receiver Brice Butler has done this semester?

Up and down the roster — from junior running back Curtis McNeal to sophomore cornerback Nickell Robey to senior tight end Rhett Ellison — lies story upon story about current players selflessly helping the community, pursuing interests outside of football or taking part in educational endeavors that can’t be ranked by the BCS or shown on ESPN’s Top 10 plays.

This is by no means a slap in the face to the Pete Carroll years we all know and love, but times have changed, and in some ways for the better. The word “student-athlete” as it pertains to the football program might mean more now than ever before.

Though fans might not like that Athletic Director Pat Haden has diligently worked to emphasize the initial part of the label more so than the latter, sometimes sacrificing a few wins for the betterment of the school is necessary.

Celebrity has been replaced by stability around these parts, and it’s bound to shift even more in the coming years. For those who continue to struggle with the notion of this program not being what it once was on the field, take solace in knowing that off the field, successful strides are being made everyday.

It might not be 2005, but from where I’m sitting, 2011 ain’t so bad.


“For The Love Of The Game” runs every other Friday. To comment on this article, visit or email Dave at

1 reply
  1. 1usctrojan
    1usctrojan says:

    I commend your championing of this 2011 team, they deserve every bit of praise and gratitude.

    But I must take issue with maligning a former Trojan great, and that historic team he led, to make your point. Try asking the parents of Ryan Davidson, the Make A Wish Foundation, or the disadvantaged kids that play in the Urban Youth Football League, their opinion of Mr. Hollywood and the foundation he established (as promised while at USC) with his first NFL check.

    It must also be mentioned that a great number of the players on that 2004-2005 team signed their LOI to a program that had faded into irrelevance. Khaled Holmes’ brother was one of those players, so was Matt Kalil’s brother Ryan.

    The kids on this 2011 team came to a program that had returned to national prominence, and Thank God for them, but their predecessors rebuilt the dynasty. Give each group their due without taking shots at the other.

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