The suspense increased with each passing quarter: What would happen first in Memorial Stadium--the explosion of USC's offense or the expulsion of its athletic director?
It went down to the wire.
Keyshawn Johnson, the Trojans' record-setting wide receiver, finished the first half with one catch for minus two yards, and the Trojan offense that had slapped 61 points on California a year ago managed but a dozen by intermission.
Meanwhile, up in the press box, USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett waged his own battle. Although cautioned repeatedly by announcements that there should be no cheering in the media work area, Garrett put on a show. He continued clapping, pounding his feet and shouting for joy, before screaming loudly: "You shouldn't sit me here; get me a . . . box."
Someone had to give, and in each case, it was Cal.
The Trojans, fired up by a pair of acrobatic catches by Johnson in the third quarter, went on to dictate the terms of surrender in a 26-16 victory over the Bears, much to the delight of Garrett, who had recorded his own victory.
Cautioned to observe the rules by a Cal media relations assistant late in the game, Garrett emphatically waved him off and clapped louder.
"He was obviously trying to make a point," said Kevin Renau, Cal's associate athletic director in charge of communications. "So we stopped making the announcements."
Question: How will the man behave when the Trojans actually play well?
The Trojans won, but they were tagged with 15 penalties and Johnson's NCAA record of 12 consecutive games with 100 or more yards came to a halt. Johnson caught five passes for 57 yards, his worst statistical showing since being limited by injury to one catch for five yards against Washington in last year's opener.
"All good things come to an end," said Johnson, who had only 11 passes thrown his way against Cal. "It's time for other players to step up and take the pressure off of me. If teams want to control me, they are going to get hurt elsewhere.
"I just love it. All that's going to do is open it up for me again in a couple weeks against Notre Dame or somebody. When they see that Keyshawn isn't the only thing USC has on the team, then I can go back to being a regular college football player and doing my thing."
As Johnson went Saturday, however, so did the Trojan offense. Midway through the third quarter, Johnson had two catches for two yards and USC had a 12-7 advantage.
But on first down from the USC 38-yard line, quarterback Brad Otton went looking for Johnson, who had broken to the sideline. Johnson leaped for a 26-yard gain and then came back two plays later with a diving grab for 25 more yards, setting up LaVale Woods' four-yard touchdown run.
"They didn't stop me, they just slowed me down," Johnson said. "The record is mine, and now somebody has to chase me like I caught [Pacific's] Aaron Turner for the record."
Johnson had only five catches, but the Bears' on-side kick down the stretch also landed in his hands. "I didn't know they were going to kick it right at me," he said. "That was very foolish."
The Bears, however, were able to frustrate Johnson with a steady ration of zone coverage. They also received plenty of help from the Trojan quarterbacks.
"There was a lot of miscommunication between me and the quarterback and they just weren't able to get me the football," Johnson said. "But there were a lot of people open, so why not just take the easy money?
"I know [Cal] was talking a lot of trash and saying, 'You didn't score, you didn't score.' But big deal, I didn't score the first game of the year too. Look at the scoreboard, for crying out loud."