The stadium lights of the Rose Bowl burn bright in Brian Cushing’s mind.
They should. The senior has played under them six times while at USC.
But there’s something about the postseason.
When the longhaired linebacker took the historic Pasadena field Thursday, it marked the fourth start of his USC Rose Bowl career.
“Four years -- so much up-and-down joy,” a dirt-stained Cushing said after USC beat Penn State, 38-24.
Being selected defensive most valuable player of the 2007 bowl game against Michigan -- he would call that an up.
Losing to Texas, 41-38, in the 2006 national championship game -- that would be a down. Way down.
And the latest Rose Bowl game?
Well, the 21-year-old led the Trojans with seven tackles, including six solo. (He and fellow senior Will Harris shared the Trojans’ only sack.) The performance capped a season in which Cushing started all 12 games, had 66 tackles -- second-highest on the team -- and was a first-team All-American.
“Cush’s one of the greatest to ever play at USC,” offensive tackle Butch Lewis said. “Four Rose Bowls in a row, who can say that?”
Rose Bowl and USC officials couldn’t confirm the number of players in history to start in four Rose Bowls, but there was at least one other -- two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, a former running back for Ohio State.
“Being the second guy to ever [start in four Rose Bowls] is a privilege,” Cushing said, “especially being in the company of a guy like that.”
USC linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. attributes Cushing’s achievement to the Rose Bowl game against Texas.
“That game kind of set the tone for the rest of his career, because he’s always been trying to make up for that performance in that game,” Norton said. “He’s our toughest guy, he’s been the spiritual leader, he’s been a captain. He’s been everything you could ever want in a linebacker.”
The Trojans will miss Cushing, who, in turn, will miss winning at the Rose Bowl.
“Every one means a little bit more,” he said. “Coming back for the third victory really made this place our house. To finish my career off here is a great feeling.”