A Victory That Was Heaven Sent
Saturday was a good day in heaven for Marv Goux. Make that a great day.
Ever since the greatest assistant coach in the history of USC football passed away in late July, he had been arguing with God about the need to get DirecTV up there. He was pretty sure God was a Notre Dame fan and She had been stalling because there hadn’t been much to watch the last few years. Then, low and behold, the Irish started 5-0 and there was DirecTV.
As far as Marv was concerned, not a moment too soon. His Trojans, the team for which he was captain in 1955 as a 5-foot-10, 185-pound center and linebacker and for which he served as an assistant coach from 1957 to ’82, was supposed to be good this year, even nationally ranked. But he had heard it was struggling a bit.
So he gathered up the guys, Giles Pellerin and Morley Drury, grabbed the remote and settled in.
And what he saw amazed him. It wasn’t just the football game, but lots of other stuff. He clicked a couple of channels and there was Pat Haden, doing commentary on a Notre Dame game. He still had trouble coming to grips with that. And then he clicked again and there was the American League championship series. He had to blink twice when he realized the game was coming from Anaheim, and the Angels ... yes, THE ANGELS ... were winning again. Morley was also stunned, asking who the Angels were, and Giles hobbled off to find Gene Autry.
Comforting to Marv was that, when he found the SC game, it was against Cal. Ah, Cal, the Trojans’ doormat, the team that had played USC 89 times over the years and won just 29 of those games. Marv chuckled. Cal was always the place where the best marches came from the students, not the football team. This was going to be good.
Marv found out that his Trojans were 3-2, but ranked 20th in the country. He also found out, quite quickly, that Cal wasn’t Cal, meaning they were pretty good. How could this be?
Marv watched in amazement as a quarterback named Kyle Boller started the game by slicing up the USC secondary like a guy doing onions in the kitchen. And he was shedding no tears.
And when it got to 21-3, Marv was beside himself. Where was the fire, the Trojan pride?
He remembered when he was coaching the linemen and it was late in the season and he’d walk around with his fists clenched and his jaw set. He’d tell these young men how it was, that next up was UCLA, a nice little team from over there in Westwood that would usually fold in the late going.
And then, after that, the big game.
He remembered how he’d grab them by the front of the jersey, sometimes two of them at a time, look them right in the eye and shout: “Then comes Notre Dame. Big man against big man. Nothing else matters. They live for this. You live for this.”
Marv had not lived for 21-3 deficits against Cal. He was furious. But then it turned, and he started feeling better.
The Trojans got the ball to their star wide receiver deep in the end zone. He lunged, bent forward and appeared to cradle it as he went down. As one official signaled touchdown, another seemed to indicate that the ball had slipped out of Kareem Kelly’s grasp as he fell. As they discussed it, the giant screen overhead had a replay from an angle that showed the ball popping out and hitting the ground as Kelly went down.
Seconds after the replay ended, one official signaled touchdown, and Marv was ecstatic. Now this was the kind of stuff he had lived for. He remembered an old saying around the coaches’ lockers: “It’s not whether you won or lost, but how well the referees screwed the opponents in the Coliseum.” It all came rushing back to him.
And from here, it just got better and better. The two quarterbacks, Boller and the Trojans’ Carson Palmer, both smart, poised veterans, were going at it as if this was a scene from “High Noon.” Boller drew and fired. Palmer fired right back.
And even better, his Trojans were taking command of the game not only with Palmer’s passing, but with some of the best rushing offense they have demonstrated in years. Sultan McCullough might just as well have been Charles White or Mike Garrett in this one, bouncing in and around Cal’s line for 176 yards. If he closed his eyes, Marv could visualize Student Body Right.
At the end, with a crowd of 63,113 on its feet, on the kind of crisp October night in Southern California that provides such a great stage for college football, and with the Trojans smothering Cal’s last gasp by falling on an on-side kick, Marv was, well, in heaven.
Sleep came easily, with the strains of “Fight On” and “Conquest” floating through his mind, and, instead of sheep to count, just a pleasant parade of men with whistles in their mouths, arms thrust to the heavens.