About 20 minutes into Friday night’s live broadcast of Fox’s “Big Noon Kickoff” pregame show at the Coliseum, the USC fans assembled by the southwest tunnel got their wish.
Their individual yells of “Reggie!” had joined to become a legitimate chant, and their hero looked up during a break on set to acknowledge them.
Only Reggie Bush had forgotten which fingers to use to properly execute a “Fight On!” sign.
You couldn’t blame him for being a little rusty.
Bush, the Trojans legend who had to give back his 2005 Heisman Trophy when it was revealed his family had received impermissible benefits during his time at USC, hadn’t been welcome in the place for nearly a decade after the NCAA banned him from campus as part of its sanctions. And he was in the building Friday night only because he had to perform his new job as a college football analyst.
The Fox camera quickly panned to the fans, some of whom wore their No. 5 jerseys and brought their memorabilia from a bygone era.
The desire for a return to past glory was a part of the pregame spectacle, too. The crowd’s admiration volleyed between Bush and Urban Meyer, the former national championship coach at Florida and Ohio State who is the presumptive favorite of the Trojans faithful to replace current USC coach Clay Helton should he be fired after this season.
It wasn’t long after Bush’s botched “Fight On” — it looked closer to “Hook ‘em” — that the fans rowdily chanted “Hire Urban!”
Meyer, placed like Bush in an awkward spot by his Fox contract, did not look up from his notes. A few minutes later, he offered a brief half-smile.
The whispers among fans spoke louder than the chant.
“Give him all the money he wants,” one said.
“Shouldn’t even be a question,” said another.
This was one of those scenarios that could happen only in college football — or maybe only at USC? Matt Leinart, also a Heisman winner and Trojans legend, sat between Bush and Meyer and seemed nothing more than a chaperone for two celebrities.
When the Trojans arrived at the stadium and walked across the field toward the tunnel, they had to pass by the set. Nobody was more tunnel-visioned than Helton, who did not look up at the visitors.
In between rehearsing sessions, Bush turned his swivel chair around to look on the field that used to be his stage. What was he thinking about as the current Trojans, who entered the game at 2-1 with one more opportunity to play for their embattled coach, warmed up?
It was hard to know until he revealed it during the show.
“I see too many guys from USC out here warming up with their shirts off, other guys with shirts on their heads,” Bush said. “It doesn’t look like a team. This is a team sport. Put your shirt on. You’re not undefeated. Put some clothes on and look like a football team.”
Bush, 34, sounded like a member of the USC old guard. And, later, when asked for his pick, he chose the Trojans, 24-21.
“I cannot pick against my Trojans, and I will never do it,” he said.
Bush’s loyalty was rewarded with a thrilling 30-23 USC win over the 10th-ranked Utes that would keep the “Hire Meyer” crowd at bay for at least another week.
And in the fourth quarter, as USC drove the ball deep into Utah territory looking to add to a 23-20 lead, Bush stood at the edge of the end zone watching.
When redshirt freshman running back Markese Stepp plowed through a Ute for a touchdown, Stepp saw Bush in front of him and ran toward him to celebrate. Bush, either forgetting or not caring that it may be a NCAA violation for him to interact with a current USC player, slapped hands with Stepp and tried to pull him in for a hug before a referee broke up the potential embrace.
A flag was thrown for unsportsmanlike conduct on Stepp.
Minutes later, with the win secured, a large group of Trojans trudged triumphantly past the Fox set and flashed the “Fight On” sign to Bush, giving the former star a fresh reminder of how it’s done.