This Reserve Is Not About to Be Left Out

You are the starting quarterback for the USC Trojans. You return for another season. Your team opens play against not one, not two but, as things turn out, three nationally ranked opponents, all on the road.

You play quarterback in a conference that has supplied the NFL with Warren Moon, John Elway, Mark Rypien, Troy Aikman, Rodney Peete, Jay Schroeder, Chris Miller, Hugh Millen, Timm Rosenbach, Todd Marinovich, Tommy Maddox. Your exposure on national TV is practically guaranteed.

You attend practice this week preparing for USC vs. Oklahoma, schools that have accumulated 14 national championships and seven Heisman trophies. It is Student Body Right vs. the offense of the 1990s, and the game's fate is always in the hands of the quarterback. After that, USC will be playing Washington, Cal, UCLA, Notre Dame. . . .

Except you don't play.

Someone else has your job.

How do you handle this? If you are Reggie Perry, as in this case you are, you handle it with class. You cheer out loud for the guy who's out there.

"I made a promise to myself that I would be the hoarsest person on the sideline," Perry says. "No matter what, I am going to be involved. At halftime in the locker room, I intend to be in a sweat."

It can't be easy on him.

"People come up and ask: 'So, what are you going to do now?' Like I'm not even a player anymore.

"I keep saying: 'Hey, hold on! I still have two more years here.' "

Who knows what could happen. A guy such as Reggie should be nicknamed "the Vice President," because he is only a heartbeat away. If anything happens to the starting quarterback, he has to be right there. He could be needed for one snap, one sequence, one half, one week or for the rest of the season.

Ask anybody at UCLA.

What makes it particularly tough on a guy such as Perry was that he already had the job. Rob Johnson beat him out this season, fair and square, as four touchdown passes in the season opener against San Diego State will attest. But, in some ways, Reggie Perry became the fall guy for the 1991 season of doom. He took the rap.

It wasn't his fault Todd Marinovich split a year too soon. It wasn't his fault USC's coaches miscast him as a rollout quarterback when Perry has been a pocket passer all his life. Yet with the unsteady sophomore at quarterback, the Trojans won fewer games--three--than any SC squad since 1957.

Never mind the experience gained. Never mind knowing what life is like out there against Washington or Penn State. Perry's numbers were poor, and so were USC's. Three touchdown passes all season. No completion longer than 35 yards. Numbers difficult to live with.

So now, Reggie stands and waits.

If you play any other position, you can go out there on special teams and knock somebody down, or come in to rush the passer on third down, or maybe spell the first-stringer for a series or two. But not when you play quarterback. Not unless your coach is one of those rare types who shuttles quarterbacks back and forth, which is pretty much passe.

Maybe it shouldn't be. UCLA Coach Terry Donahue recently proposed that collegiate coaches might need to consider a reduction in playing time, even for superstar quarterbacks, if only to keep one on campus. The more numbers a Maddox or Marinovich amasses, the sooner an NFL team will lure him away.

Perry is down to a quarterback's worst options. Can he wish injury or ill luck to Rob Johnson? Of course not. Can he transfer and try another school, as did Rob's older brother, Bret? No, because he likes USC too much to do that.

"My major is business administration, and being at USC gives you a lot of good contacts," Perry says.

He has interests other than football. He was an academic All-American in high school in Texas. One of his hobbies is listening to classical music--"especially anything by Mozart or Beethoven." He watches opera on public television. Some players' idea of public TV is a prizefight on pay-per-view.

Yet we mustn't forget Reggie Perry is, indeed, still a football player. He has been a quarterback since he was 6. Back home in Denison, football wasn't a sport; it was a cult. "If anybody ever wanted to rob the whole town, all he'd have to do is pick a football night," Perry says.

Perhaps pro football is not in his future. Then again, Pat O'Hara joined him on the sideline of that San Diego State game. O'Hara spent his USC career on the sideline because of an injury and because Marinovich was around. O'Hara wasn't sure anybody would want him to play quarterback again. Now, he's a San Diego Charger.

So, you stay on the sideline. You yell yourself hoarse. And you stay loose. Because you never know.

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