About Tom

Ad industry magazine editor, online sports columnist, known ranter, USC '94, all-around swell guy.
Nov 02

My Vote, My Voice

Vote.

I voted by dropping off my ballot at Newburyport City Hall on Oct. 20. It was reported as accepted by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts on Oct. 22. Such is 2020 that I both did AND know these things.

I’m writing today for a couple of reasons:

  1. To get on the record prior to tomorrow (and whatever follows) why I voted how I did.
  2. To share my thoughts for anyone out there who’s still undecided about any of the races on their ballots.

While anyone following me likely knows my personal political leanings, I’ll say that — aside from the vehemence with which I hold some of these opinions — the people on the ballot mattered to me less than ever. That’s because, to me, our choice between belief systems and values is as stark as it’s been in my lifetime.

We often hear that “X election is the most important of our lives.” Usually that’s part of a get-out-the-vote drive by one party or another, one candidate or another. You (and I) take it with a grain of salt.

This time, though, I must concur. Our country is at a precipice, and while tomorrow’s results are unlikely to provide the final determination, they will push us in one of two distinct directions: A) pull us back from that edge for the time being — giving us an opportunity to reset and — perhaps — make necessary change; or B) nudge us further off balance on the edge of a cliff from which a fall may be fatal.

I don’t ask you to agree with all (or any) of my opinions. I merely hope you’ll read and consider them. Here’s to our votes. Here’s to our voices.

I voted for kindness and understanding.

I voted against hatred and willful ignorance.

I voted for compassion for and responsibility to our fellow citizens: patriotism.

I voted against indifference and lack of accountability to society: selfishness.

I voted for democracy.

I voted against authoritarianism.

I voted for equality and tolerance.

I voted against racism, sexism, and homophobia.

I voted for lifting the voices of those who’ve been voiceless for centuries.

I voted against the idea that the demands of those voices should be shrugged off with bogus equivocation — or worse.

I voted for the not-at-all-hard-to-understand idea that Black Lives Matter.

I voted against the idea that folks don’t understand exactly what that phrase means after growing up in this country.

I voted for celebrating both our similarities and our differences in service of becoming more thoughtful and understanding.

I voted against the tired phrase, “I don’t see color,” another equivocation used most by those descended from the people who created, codified, and enforced laws based solely on their perceptions of skin color.

I voted for women’s control of their own bodies and their own destinies.

I voted against the hegemony of toxic masculinity.

I voted for public oversight of law enforcement.

I voted against the militarization of law enforcement.

I voted for reallocating a not-insignificant percentage of the money spent on law enforcement and the military to resources that will better serve and improve our society.

I voted against the phrase “law and order” as a blatantly racist trope designed to make people feel better about their prejudices.

I voted for education as a crucial tool in turning ignorance to enlightenment.

I voted against the continuing destruction of our system of public education.

I voted for a government free of religion and the citizenry’s freedom from religion as legal directive — the initial idea behind its mention in the First Amendment.

I voted against any and all religions having sway over the laws enacted by and applied against any segment of our citizenry.

I voted for the work of journalists to hold those in power to account.

I voted against the phrase “fake news” and the demonization of the fourth estate.

I voted for belief in science and expertise.

I voted against belief in conspiracy theories.

I voted for minor inconvenience over illness and death.

I voted against the idea that being asked to wear a mask in service to public safety for a couple hours a week is akin to “slavery,” “authoritarianism,” or other inanities.

I voted for my business, which will only thrive again if science and public health come first.

I voted against sacrificing one more life in supposed service to the economy.

I voted for public elections and the rights of every citizen to take part.

I voted against voter suppression and voter intimidation.

I voted for immediate action on the existential issue of climate change.

I voted against the powers that continue to avoid facing this challenge — and appear ready to delay — until it’s too late.

I voted for an opportunity to return some semblance of truth and sanity to power.

I voted against lying, narcissism, and lunacy.

I voted for reality.

I voted against disinformation.

I voted for a 21st century America devoted to all the things I wrote of above.

I voted against a return to the mythical “good old days.”

I voted for peace.

I voted against violence.

I voted for my wife, my son, my family, my future … your future.

Oct 30

‘The Dodgers Won!’

It started 13 years before I showed up. A nine-year-old boy — born in Pasadena and growing up in the San Gabriel Valley and Orange County — saw Major League Baseball move to Southern California in the spring of 1958 and fell in love. A year later, the Dodgers — quite magically, as is their wont — won a World Series. Two more followed in a six-year span, and that boy grew into a teenager and then young adult idolizing and dreaming of the names: Maury and Tommy, and Don and Sandy — and on and on. In 1969, he married. In 1971, he had a son: me.

With my sister Jenny around 1980.

What makes you fall in love with a baseball team? Real, active, always-present-tense love? The first time I remember (vaguely) attending a game is in 1976 against the Padres. I definitely remember having my Hitachi radio next to my bed every night, falling asleep to Vin Scully, Jerry Doggett, or Ross Porter. And I fully remember those crushing losses of 1977 — Reggie Jackson’s three-homer game — and 1978 — Reggie sticking his ass end into a throw to flip the series on its head.

Baseball, with its day-in-day-out routine, has a rhythm unlike any other sport. And it’s that rhythm that ties my family together in those years, from April through September — and, in the best years, October. My dad brings us to the Dodgers. My mom helps nurture the love affair. And my sister and I fall right into it.

Love is listening to my dad’s vinyl record of highlights of that 1959 Dodger championship team (“Hodges scores! We go to Chicago!” exclaims Vin.) Love is laughing along with Danny Kaye’s “D-O-D-G-E-R-S” song from the 60s.

Love expands when my dad starts buying tickets for me for my birthday each year. He and I go to a game in the week or two after my mid-May birthday. Dodger Stadium is a cathedral. Love is hearing those familiar sounds from my radio — the organist Helen Dell, the fans roaring — IN PERSON. Love is a Dusty Baker three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to beat the Cardinals in 1980. Love is a win over the defending champion Phillies in 1981, in which both Pete Rose and Larry Bowa are ejected after a close play at third base. And on and on.

If we go to a second or third game in a season, it’s a real treat. The Dodgers televise 50 road games each season on KTTV, Channel 11. Then something called ON TV comes around — a still-odd, one-channel precursor to basic cable — and the Dodgers add 20 home games there.

With my dad on my 40th birthday on 2011.

That’s still less than half the games televised — love is that Hitachi radio getting a regular workout, both bedside and in the backyard as I play along with games on Dodger road trips to the east coast. Love is those 4 p.m. Pacific starts! I am Garvey, Lopes, Russell, AND Cey — depending on what’s happening. I am Reggie Smith, Dusty, Steve Yeager. I am Don Sutton and Burt Hooton.

Love is building a makeshift Dodger Stadium scoreboard out of a large cardboard box, anchoring it to a wall in the backyard, and posting the line score on it every morning with chalk. Oh yes, that’s love.

Time rolls on, the memory bank fills up. Love is the big weekend sweep against the Astros in 1980 (only to be foiled in the NL West playoff game on Monday afternoon). Love is the first championship in 1981, the unforgettable year of “Fernandomania.” It’s staying home from school on a Monday to watch Rick Monday hit a home run in frozen Montreal to put the Dodgers into the Series. Love is jumping off the couch when they win said Series against the hated Yankees and inadvertently clocking my dad’s friend Harold in the chin. Love is getting the Dodgers’ holiday card in the mail — the one with the championship trophy on it.

Love is Opening Day 1982: raising the flag and Dusty walking off the Giants. Then it’s wandering the stadium until — right before they tell us to leave — we see Danny Kaye (“Well, I say D … I say D-O …”) talking to a friend and spot pitcher Bob Welch walking along the field level concourse. I think my sister and I scare him off with how excited we are.

Opening Day 1993 in the left field pavilion.

What’s love? That Opening Day begins a long personal string — broken less than 5 times by work travel, a move east, and now the pandemic — of attending Opening Day, a springtime Christmas of sorts.

Love grows during twin pennant races with the Braves in ’82 and ’83 — listening on the stereo in the living room in the dark to one come-from-behind win after another as a new generation of Dodgers comes along. Near the end of the 1983 race, the Dodgers add a couple home games to the Channel 11 schedule (as happens almost every September). Love is a 4-run ninth-inning rally capped by squeeze bunt by a rookie named RJ Reynolds on a warm Sunday afternoon.

In 1985, my dad and I get tickets to our first playoff game — the first game of the NLCS against the Cardinals. Love is Fernando spinning a gem. Love, too, is being crushed a week later, watching helplessly on TV as Jack Clark sends a pitch screaming through the sunny October haze and into the left field pavilion.

The dream season comes around in 1988. Love is Kirk Gibson appearing as if from the ether — but really, just Detroit — and demanding the team follow his lead. They do, and then near the regular season’s end, love becomes Orel Hershiser going on just about the best two-month streak you’ll ever see from any pitcher.

In August of that year, my dad and I go to the stadium on back-to-back Saturdays — two of the most memorable nights of my life. On the first, we sit in the left field pavilion as a rookie call-up named Ramon Martinez baffles the second-place Giants for seven innings and then — after three Dodgers are ejected for arguing various calls in the 11th inning — pitcher Tim Leary must pinch hit because the Dodgers are out of position players. Love is Leary’s walkoff single, of course!

The following Saturday, we sit in the right field pavilion as the Dodgers fall behind Montreal, 3-0 after six. One in the seventh, one in the eighth, and one in the ninth ties the game, with Gibson standing on second base with two outs in that ninth inning. Love is one wild pitch and one mad dash by Gibby giving the Dodgers a 4-3 win, with more than 45,000 going screaming and celebrating together. Love is connection.

Yes, the year is improbable, and Gibson delivers the impossible in Game 1 of the World Series — still the greatest single moment I’ve ever seen as a Dodger fan. But it’s all of a piece, so that when Hershiser strikes out Tony Phillips to end the World Series in Oakland, the feeling isn’t so much shock as it is wonder. Love is still wondering how they did it. How did it all work out just so?

Until earlier this week, there are times I think we used up all of our fan karma that year.

The 32-year separation from Hershiser then to Julio Urias Tuesday does not dim love. No, it anchors it deeper. Once I am out of the house, into college, living in LA, and into my adulthood, I take every chance I can get to go to that stadium. Love is soaking it all in five, eight, 10, 12 times a year — good teams or bad — during those early lean years.

Even the worst Dodger season in my lifetime — 1992 — brings back strong memories. Love is sitting with maybe 6,000 people at the start of an early July, midweek doubleheader vs. the Expos, made necessary by the cancellation of games during the riots. Love is lucking into a couple of free tickets late in the season — and seeing Kevin Gross toss a no-no vs. the Giants.

The next generation begins to take hold in 1993, as a very average Dodgers team led by Eric Karros and future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza memorably derails a 103-win Giants team on the season’s final day. Love is my dad and I sitting in the loge level and relishing the moment. And though a couple of playoff berths result, the Fox era of Dodger ownership is, mostly, a stain — proven no more clearly than by the joke of a trade that sends Piazza to Florida on my birthday in 1998. Love is still being mad about that.

But that’s nothing compared to the McCourt era. It starts promisingly enough, with the Dodgers’ first playoff game win since 1988 when Jose Lima shuts out the Cardinals in the 2004 NLDS. Another playoff appearance in 2006 is, again, brief — following the famous back-to-back-to-back-to-back home run miracle against the Padres on my dad’s birthday that September. Love is remembering both that marvelous night — and also two Dodgers, laughably, being thrown out at the plate on the same play in an NLDS game in Shea Stadium weeks later.

That doesn’t mean I don’t have fond memories of certain players from the early 90s through the aughts. The aforementioned Karros, Piazza, and Lima. And there’s Raul Mondesi, Hideo Nomo, Paul LoDuca, Eric Gagne (GAME OVER!), and future Hall of Famer Adrian Beltre.

With my friend Brent after a great comeback win in Game 2 of the 2009 NLDS.

Before McCourt’s bleeding of the Dodgers’ finances for his personal gain, though, the team begins to usher in a new crew, many of whom would be part of the Dodgers’ current run. Names like Russell Martin, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, AJ Ellis, and — of course — Clayton Kershaw are the youth on a pair of division title teams that win playoff series in 2008 and 2009 — the MANNYWOOD era. And when my dad both retires AND turns 60 in 2008, there’s no question where we celebrate those milestones: Dodger Stadium. Love, indeed.

By 2012, though, when Guggenheim Partners — which brilliantly lets LA icon Magic Johnson serve as its initial face — purchases the Dodgers, many fans are in outright revolt. The McCourts had sullied what we love, they’d used all of us, and they weren’t subtle about it.

That changes almost instantaneously, as new ownership makes bold moves to create a contender in 2013. Then, in early June, a sort of magic happens — Yasiel Puig. The buzz he creates with his immediate success is incredible, and the Dodgers follow, blowing through a 42-7 run in the middle of the summer to bring back excitement and joy to a stadium that had grown quiet in recent years.

With Caitlin in June 2011.

That summer happens to coincide with the purchase of a 30-game ticket pack, made possible by the agreement of my now wife. Never in my life did I think I’d be so lucky to go to the stadium so many times in one season — but Caitlin is up for it, and I think that’s the summer we bring her into the fold for good. Love adds one more Dodger fan to the family.

Love is Puig running madly from first to third or gunning down another runner. Love is another walk-off hit by Ethier or Adrian Gonzalez. And love definitely is Juan Uribe’s game-winning home run in the NLDS vs. Atlanta. Though the season ends with a tough NLCS defeat to the Cardinals (Love definitely is NOT the St. Louis Cardinals), it’s so much fun that talking Caitlin into full season tickets isn’t really a “talking into” at all.

We could never know that 2013 is the first of eight consecutive divisional title seasons. What a time to fulfill that lifelong dream of owning season tickets. While we never really top going to more than 30 regular season games, going to that many games in a given summer — and then into the playoffs every year — takes love to a different place. The routine weeknights in the early season, with the smaller crowds, OR the big weekend series in late August — it doesn’t matter. Each experience is its own, and just how tied I — we — feel to the team only grows.

Caitlin and me on a Friday night in 2014.

Love is teaching your soon-to-be wife how to keep score. It’s watching her learn each player’s quirks and come to love (or hate) in the same ways you do. Love is the “rhythm and the ritual of the stadium and the game and the season,” Caitlin says.

Love is her loving Joc Pederson and my dad disliking him — while I just enjoy the homers. Love is her being … uninspired … by the persona of Max Muncy and my dad having a massive man-crush on him — while I just enjoy the homers.

Love is sharing a bevy of jokes about Uribe’s or Zack Greinke’s scoreboard photos. It’s also jokes about Jamey Carroll taking Dee Gordon out for ice cream after the game. It’s grabbing two Dodger Dogs and a beer before you sit down each night. Love is going from hating Chase Utley to loving him. Love is getting there early on Kershaw Day to watch him go through his full warmup routine. Love is both of us singing along to “I Love L.A.” and “Touch The Sky” after big wins.

Love is remembering the drunk couple sitting behind us who eventually starts a fight — between themselves — and laughing about it. It’s being on a first-name basis with fellow-U2-lover Josh, the bartender in the Stadium Club who’s originally from New England and always puts my tab under “Tommy Brady” once he finds out Caitlin is, too. Love is being able to take your dad to as many games as he wants, including a World Series game.

Love is watching “The Lego Movie” from the Stadium Club on the scoreboard after a Saturday afternoon game and laughing like madmen with the lone usher/security guard whose job was to stick around. Love is hitting the Short Stop before 6 p.m. Saturday games and downing a couple of boilermakers — and then, on one of those Saturdays, almost missing the message that you won Dugout Club seats because of said boilermakers … and a couple more beers after you got inside the stadium.

Won those Dugout Club seats in 2016.

Love is getting lucky enough to have a pregame margarita with Mickey Hatcher in the Stadium Club. Love is taunting the D-backs bullpen from the right field bar as they fritter away a 4-run ninth-inning lead. Love is watching Pedro Baez give up a 450-foot home run one night and coming back with hope for something better the next.

Love is Kershaw dominating the Giants to clinch the division in 2014. Love is Charlie Culberson walking off the division title on Vin Scully’s final call at the stadium. Love is listening to your own vinyl LP of 1981 championship season highlights the morning of Vin Scully’s final-final game behind the mic, just a week later.

Love is Chris Taylor homering on the first pitch of the World Series. It’s Rich Hill holding a handmade cardboard sign in the dugout exhorting the crowd to get louder. Love is watching Puig and Hanley Ramirez feed Uribe a banana after a home run — and it is Kiké Hernandez dressing in a banana costume on the bench late in games.

On-field for BP with JT in 2017.

Love is Ethier hitting an opposite field home run to tie the game in the ninth and Gonzalez walk it off with a double in the 12th. It’s watching Puig double home two for a walkoff win against the White Sox. Love is rising in unison when Kenley jogs in to “California Love.” Love is hating the “social media highlights” and “in-game hosts” between innings on the scoreboard.

Love is all the familiar faces behind the food and beverage counters and getting to know and re-know them every season. It’s the lucky Dodger Dog lady — every time I got in her line for my pregame dogs one season, the Dodgers seemed to win! Love is getting on the field for batting practice and having Puig and Dave Roberts (among others) take pictures with you and the Dodgers onesie jersey you bought for the son you’re expecting a few months later.

Love is keeping your season tickets even though you move 3,000 miles away in 2018, just so that you can go to a few games when you’re in town — and you can otherwise share the experience with friends and family who are up to go to all those other games. Love is flying back those 3,000 miles, three-and-a-half weeks after the birth of your son, to introduce him to his grandpa and great aunt — and to take him to his first two World Series games.

And love, from 2013-2019, is also about the pain of coming so close every single time. Love is the silence of the home crowd at the end of Game 5 of the NLDS in 2015 … and Game 7 of the World Series in 2017 … and Game 5 of the World Series in 2018. It’s flipping your TV off at the end of Game 6 of the NLCS in 2013 … and Game 4 of the NLDS in 2014 … and Game 6 of the NLCS in 2016 … and Game 5 of the NLDS in 2019. Love is, within a couple weeks, being oh-so-ready to do it all over again the next spring.

Only, this spring, there’s nothing to do. The pandemic puts the season at risk — a season that looks so promising after the Dodgers steal Mookie Betts from the Red Sox. For months, we wonder if there will be baseball. And then, even when it starts, the empty stadiums and positive tests around the league are strange and cause concern about how they can possibly finish the season.

But love is watching on Opening Night (even that sounds weird) on ESPN, and then tuning in regularly with MLB.TV as the Dodgers march powerfully through the 60-game schedule. Love is finding solace in the regularity of a baseball game — a Dodger baseball game — in the craziness that is 2020.

When the extended playoffs start in late September, Dodger fans are ready but wary. Love is worrying about a best-of-three series vs. Milwaukee. And love is relief when they ease through it in two. Love is seeing the Padres show up for their every-other-decade bout of relevancy, and then dispatching their upstart crew in three straight. Love is definitely being so fed up as the Dodgers fall behind Atlanta three-games-to-one that you turn off Game 4 in the seventh inning just for your own sanity.

But love — as noted earlier — is coming back the next day, putting on your “In This Together” t-shirt that you bought earlier in the summer to support the Dodgers Foundation, and hoping against hope for something different.

Something different happens. Love is Mookie’s shoe-top catch turning the tide in Game 5, and then Will Smith homering off Will Smith to force Game 6. It’s Corey Seager and Walker Buehler pushing it to Game 7. Love is Justin Turner’s incredible rundown double play, Mookie stealing one homer, and Kiké and Cody Bellinger hitting a pair of big-time bombs to win the pennant.

Love is starting to believe this is finally the year, and then having Mookie boost that belief in Game 1 of the World Series with a virtuoso performance. It’s shrugging off a Game 2 loss and watching Buehler throw like a modern-day cross of Drysdale and Koufax in Game 3.

And, yes, love is thinking all hope is lost for a few hours after the mindboggling, reality-bending, soul-crushing finish of Game 4. We’ve seen that movie before. And when that movie runs in previous postseasons, it usually means curtains for the Dodgers. The feeling of dread runs well into the early afternoon hours on Sunday.

Our beloved, flawed hero — Kershaw — is to take the mound in Game 5 under immense pressure to right the ship. So many times during the past seven seasons, the Dodgers put it all on Kersh — and then try to put even more on him. Worse, Kersh has a tendency to put it all on himself, and his striving for perfection — plus the Dodgers’ constant desire to see him get just one more out, no matter the situation — too often leads to disaster.

Love is putting on my Kershaw jersey that evening and deciding to believe, one more time. On Sunday night, he does the job — not with his Cy Young stuff, but not trying to be perfect. Grinding through 5 2/3 innings, catching the tying run at the plate trying to steal home, and retiring the last seven batters he faces, Kershaw gets the biggest win of his career.

This time, the Dodgers stand strong in the face of the most baffling adversity at the worst time. They remain steadfast in that 4-2 win in Game 5. It’s different. Love is the strange calmness that comes — something I’ve rarely felt in all my years as a Dodger fan.

Love is understanding how that sense of calm remains, even as Rays pitcher Blake Snell tosses 5 incredible innings to start Game 6. But Tampa loves its analytics, and five Dodger pitchers keep the deficit at just one run. Love is believing that this championship is just one break away. When Snell goes out after an Austin Barnes single in the sixth, love and Mookie and Julio win.

32 years gone. When last the Dodgers call themselves champs, I’m a senior in high school, my sister a sophomore, my dad nine years younger than I am right now, and my mom not even 40. So much changes. We grow apart and come back together — some of us more than once. We move on, and create different lives, and add wonderful people to our circles, and find ourselves in different parts of the country.

But, when Urias fires that 97 MPH fastball down the middle to Willy Adames on Tuesday night — and I sit with Caitlin to my left, our son Theo on my lap, and my dad on FaceTime on my iPhone — we’re all together. Not just Caitlin, my dad, and Theo, but also my mom, my sister, my aunt, and my friends with whom we spend so many days and nights at the stadium.

There we are: standing in the left-field pavilion on Opening Day in 1982; dancing around the living room on a Sunday afternoon in 1983; screaming in the right field pavilion in 1988; jawjacking Giants fans in 1993; sitting in the ballpark on a chilly April night in 1995 just because we loved it there; watching Raul Mondesi’s two miracle home runs on Opening Day in 1999; celebrating Lima Time in 2004; cheering a Matt Kemp walk-off homer against the Nats in 2012; roaring after JT’s walk-off homer in Game 2 against the Cubs in 2017; feeling the stadium shake after Puig’s 3-run bomb in Game 4 against the Red Sox in 2018.

The Dodgers are a part of the fabric of my life, of our lives. I love them when they fail at the end, and I most certainly love them when they finally win it all. But most importantly, I love them because I mark time with them. I love them because I see who was then and who I am now. I love them because they are a thread that runs through everything I’ve done and everything I’d like to do (insert James Earl Jones’ “Field of Dreams” speech here).

They are that thread because my dad hands it to me in the 1970s and lets me run with it. Love is getting to see my dad watch the Dodgers win the World Series again. Love is my dream-maker Caitlin being with me in that moment. And, finally, it’s that Theo is there to lean into the phone screen a few moments after the last out to tell my dad: “The Dodgers won!”

Yes, buddy. Yes, they did.

Dec 23

By Popular Demand, a Throwback Football Column: My 2003 Orange Bowl Diary

As I put the finishing touches on my preview of Friday night’s Holiday Bowl game between USC and Iowa, I’ve received a number of requests from friends and followers to repost a piece I originally wrote during my duties as a Pac-10 columnist for ThePigskinPost.com in January 2003 about my trip to the Orange Bowl in Miami for the last USC-Iowa meeting.

Suffice it to say, this one’s a bit different than the work I do now for USCFootball.com (and the mentions of Ryan Abraham in the story will give readers a sneak peek at just how far Ryan’s business has come since the early days of college football message boards). I have to thank Iowa’s fans for the inspiration. I didn’t head down to Miami with a plan to write this story … but by New Year’s morning, their bluster and bravado made it a no brainer.

Without further ado, here it is: my 2003 Orange Bowl Diary.

***

Hog … Err, Hawk Tied! The Orange Bowl Experience

Coming to you live and in color from Miami, it’s the 2003 FedEx Orange Bowl (and surrounding experiences) pitting the tradition-steeped, big-city, used-to-70 degrees in December USC Trojans of the Pac-10 against the “Gollllllllly, it ain’t 33 degrees here in January!” Iowa Hawkeyes from the Big 10. That’s right, for your reading pleasure, this reporter dipped himself deep into the thick south Florida air to bring you this report of the Orange Bowl experience.

After all, it was the first trip to the “OB” (as the game is affectionately called by locals) for both schools. And for a reporter/fan whose biggest impressions of major bowl games rely almost exclusively on Rose Bowl memories, what an opportunity to see how the boys in the orange coats run the show on the other coast. So, with no further ado, let’s get to it:

Tuesday, Dec. 31

“Welcome to American Airlines flight 280 – non-stop service from Los Angeles to Miami International …”

Does the pilot realize he doesn’t have to ramble for four minutes each time he reminds us we’re going to be flying around that “nasty southeast storm”? I mean, he’s killing me because I can already barely grasp what Marlon Brando’s getting at during our feature film, “The Score” …

Does Brando get a “per-mumble” percentage? …

Old thief DeNiro running a jazz dinner club in Montreal? There aren’t enough drugs in the world to get me to come up with that one, let alone turn it into a reasonably successful and enticing caper …

People in Montreal must not be too smart if they’re easily falling for Ed Norton’s “RainMan” act at the museum …

Nothing like a silver-dollar size piece of ham to tide you over until you get off the plane …

Why do people applaud when a plane lands? Aren’t the pilots just doing their job? Someone should applaud me when I wrap an interview with Leeza Gibbons or Daisy Fuentes for my day job …

What will be the first of many “Go Hawks! USC sucks!” is screamed into my face as I quietly try to relieve myself in the airport bathroom. I thought it was just a freak occurrence. I should have known better …

Dodge Intrepid – surprisingly nice ride, leather seats, roomy. Thank goodness for expense accounts …

That’s right, it’s a work trip – trying to nail down a cover feature on Erik Estrada in a meeting on Friday (Ponch, baby!) …

Surprisingly, the Intrepid’s stock stereo system makes my Trojan Marching Band CD sound epic rolling into South Beach …

A quick stop in the room – unpack, freshen up, note the full selection of cable channels (I mean full cable, not that 30-channel smidgen most hotels offer – sweet!), and roll out to the Clevelander …

It’s New Year’s Eve in South Beach. Need I say more? Shrimp cocktail, one pound of stone crabs, a slice of key lime pie and a bottle of champagne later, I’m ready to drink …

Meet fellow Trojans Andy and Joel at the bar. We’re severely outnumbered (as Trojans will be all week until the scoreboard starts working on Thursday night), but ready to throw back some adult beverages and celebrate the New Year with a few hundred other revelers surrounding the Clevelander’s pool …

You have to kick off the festivities with a Maker’s Mark on ice …

Andy and Joel flag down a pair of Kiwi girls (you know, girls from New Zealand … try to keep up, Jethro) they’d met the night before. Throw in a blonde Purdue grad and her boyfriend, and now the party’s on. Who knew the best-looking Big 10 girl in Miami this week wouldn’t be from Iowa? Ok, ok, grads of other Big 10 schools, put your hands down …

Now, it’s time for the 13th “Go Hawks! USC sucks!” on the night (Let’s just refer to that as “GHUS” for space’s sake the rest of the column). I’d ask them to act like they’ve been there before, but I know most of them haven’t (and, no, the Alamo Bowl or your local Piggly Wiggly doesn’t count) …

Midnight, fireworks, “Auld Lang Syne,” and “Let’s Go Hawks” …

Wednesday, Jan. 1

There’s no stopping this party. It’s pouring rain and about 400 people are whooping it up as if it were a clear, dry night …

“GHUS” no. 22 finally causes me to crack to Andy, “Methinks there might be a lot of disappointed large folks dressed in yellow about 48 hours from now.” …

Thank goodness for the time change – 4 a.m. feels like 1 a.m. and we’re still going strong …

We meet the reputed “long snapper” from the early-mid 1990s Trojan teams. I mean, he’s a big guy and he’s got a USC football ring? Even if he wasn’t a player, wouldn’t you go around giving that impression too? Heck, O.J. gives people the idea he actually graduated from USC …

Finally, it’s crash time. 5:15 a.m., but first the cab driver decides he needs to tell me and the couple who are sharing the cab about his big plans to split stock tomorrow. Dude, if you’re a financial player, what are you doing driving a cab around SoBe five hours into the New Year? …

I must have some sort of mental alarm clock. At 11:05 a.m., I wake up and turn on the TV to find the Rose Parade getting underway. It’s weird watching the Rose Parade from 3,000 miles away, especially when you’ve seen the last four in person …

What’s with the float with the kid on the toilet thinking he’s a spaceman? Was Hunter Thompson consulted on this …

The only thing now rivaling the number of screaming Hawks bellowing “GHUS” in my face is the number of Rose Parade floats centered around the centennial of the Wright Bros.’ first flight. Now, there’s a flight that should have been applauded at its termination point …

It’s 1:30 in the afternoon, and there are four football games on. Should I crawl out of bed yet? I didn’t think so …

So, ok, by 2 p.m., the guilt sets in and I’m off to Hollywood Beach, Fla., for the “Patch Beach Bash” official Orange Bowl beach party …

What is it with the Orange Bowl and its jersey patch? They sell them everywhere, you get a discount to certain OB events if you buy one, but really, what’s the big deal? I mean, it’s a freaking jersey patch – a Rose Bowl patch, now there’s something impressive (and you can’t get your hands on one either). Of course, I had my OB patch with me all week …

20 miles of Florida Hwy. A1A later, I’m in Hollywood Beach and it’s pouring again. It’s also clear that no matter how seedy the worst parts of Hollywood, Calif., are, they’ve got nothing on the beachfront sections of Hollywood Beach, Fla. I do feel safe here because the Iowa fans look like bigger and more obvious targets …

I get to the Beach Bash just in time to catch the USC band’s performance in the downpour for 20 Trojans and about 500 Iowans. I flee during the Iowa band’s reasonably solid performance, if only to avoid the upcoming appearances by SHeDAISY and Juanes (don’t ask me – I haven’t the foggiest) …

Before I got to Pro Player Stadium, I thought the PA announcer at the Beach Bash was bad. At one point, he referred to the “University of Iowa Buckeyes.” I’m not from the Midwest, so I’m not sure who that’s more of an affront to at this point (though, after two more days in Miami, I’m thinking it’s Ohio State) …

Brainpower alert: USC fans have the “SoCal Spellout” cheer (that’s right, fans spell out all 18 letters in “Southern California” in a rhythmic cheer). Iowa fans have an Iowa spellout of sorts. It goes, “I … O … WA!” That’s right, “Iowa” is a three-letter word, and the newest letter in the alphabet is “WA” …

Back to Miami for the USC rally at the downtown JW Marriott. Scheduled drinking start: 5 p.m. Scheduled band appearance: 7:30 p.m. …

I run into Ryan, the creator and moderator of USCFootball.com, in the ballroom lobby outside the bar showing the Rose Bowl …

Trojan fans are packed into the bar and about 99 percent are rooting strongly for Washington State. Unfortunately, Mike Price’s team looks like Price is already in Tuscaloosa …

Into the ballroom with about 4,000 other Trojans. The spirit level is higher than I’ve ever seen at one of these pep rallies. As the band files in, the crowd is shoulder-to-shoulder and chest-to-back and roaring …

Midway through the rally, Dr. Art Bartner, longtime director of the band, tells the crowd, “This is the best USC pep rally we’ve ever had.” …

I’m ready for the game to start right now …

Instead, it’s back to SoBe, which is overrun with more Iowa fans than the preceding night thanks to a 20,000-strong rally held at the nearby Miami Beach Convention Center. I have to say, at this point, aside from the not-a-few jerks who have been in my face, I’m truly impressed with the Iowa support …

“GHUS” nos. 33-35 on the trip occur all at the same time, when three Hawkeye/Abercrombie & Fitch Big & Tall poster boys scream at me as I attempt to eat my dinner. It’s followed by the first “you can’t spell ‘suck’ without USC” blast. How novel … My retort? “Guess what, pal? After the game, I get to go back to California. You have to go back to Iowa.” …

This Sugar Bowl game is, uh, poor at best. Florida State is playing their 22nd-string QB (and starting wideout), but Georgia can’t put them away. Still, do I ever wish I were there instead. USC-Georgia would have been a great game on the field. Georgia fans on the Internet have been nothing but great. And the scenery in the stands and on Bourbon Street thanks to a Trojan-Bulldog pairing? Whoa …

Time for an early night. I want to be fully prepared for tomorrow, and I know I won’t be sleeping in too long in the morning. Back to the hotel at 1 a.m. for a little cable viewing and some shuteye…

Thursday, Jan. 2

Tailgating in Miami, Jan. 2, 2003.

Up and ready to go by 12:30 p.m. Game ticket, check. Carson Palmer jersey, check. SC Orange Bowl hat, check. Camera, check. OB patch around my neck, check …

Ah, Jerry’s Famous Deli. Breakfast at 1 p.m. Feels like home …

Rolling up I-95 to Pro Player Stadium by 2:15 p.m. TMB CD in full effect …

The clerk at the Winn Dixie supermarket on Ives Dairy Road (3 miles from Pro Player) says to me as I pay for my Rolling Rock, “Wow, everybody comes in here is goin’ to the Super Bowl!” I choose not to correct her since I don’t think it would matter. Whew, not the sharpest knife in the drawer …

Into the stadium lot, and we’re surrounded by Hawkeyes. Angry Hawkeyes. I’m not sure why they’re so mad, really. Our two teams haven’t played in 26 years and I have no animosity toward Iowa fans other than what I’ve built up in the preceding 36 hours – thanks to these same angry Hawkeyes walking around Miami …

Fortunately, there are about 4-5 Trojan cars around mine and we group together about 15 of us for our own tailgate party …

Angry Hawkeyes pelt a van full of ’SC fans trying to park with beer and apparent insults. Shouldn’t these people be happy? After all, it’s 77 degrees and their team, which was 1-10 three seasons ago, is playing in the Orange Bowl …

Here comes the Ford F350 with the full backyard barbeque grill bracketed tight in the bed to park across from us. And its license plate is from … California?! Sweet …

It’s got three couples in their early 50s. The men drove from Cali starting the previous Friday. The women flew in on New Year’s Eve. And they’ve got the full tailgate setup – tables, chairs, CD player blaring the Stones, alcohol, snacks, honeybaked ham. Not to mention the 4 lb. slab of tri-tip that’s been marinating in a cooler all the way across the country …

Now that’s tailgating …

A group of Trojans just a couple years younger than me – Scott, Jeff, Andreas and Colleen – are offering me beers and BBQ. Plus, Jeff’s an SC grad, with Iowa State parents, who lives in Des Moines. I think I’ve found the one Trojan in the stadium for whom this game is the most important. “I need to be able to go home,” Jeff tells me – more than once …

Dusk begins to settle over the stadium and a few beers and a couple hours of commingling have made Iowa fans a little friendlier. Now, you can even discuss the game with them, as long as you don’t say anything specific about the advantages USC may or may not hold …

That doesn’t mean “GHUS” nos. 55-65 don’t occur on the walk into the stadium …

My seats end up being in the end zone, just above the Trojan band. Two rows above Jeff and his pals. And just one row above and a seat over from Ryan of USCFootball.com, who is feeling the pregame liquids and fired up …

Of course, I’m not exactly Mr. Sobriety at this point …

I pick up a message on my cell phone from my dad right before kickoff. It says, “Uh, I just wanted to remind you in case you weren’t aware … YOU’RE AT THE F***ING ORANGE BOWL GAME!” Nice …

17 seconds into the game, Iowa fan is certain of victory. The 100-yard kickoff return by C.J. Jones is an Orange Bowl record. 7-0 Hawks …

Palmer to Kareem Kelly for 65 yards. Fargas in the end zone moments later. Order restored. 7-7 …

How does Iowa line up offside three times in one quarter? …

Matt Grootegoed sacks Brad Banks, the key play in holding Iowa to a FG. 10-7 Hawks …

The PA announcer needs to chill with his, “There’s a … flaaaaaaaaaag … on the plaaaaaay” line. What a loser …

Did someone forget to tell the PA sound guys in the press box that this is a college football game, not an NFL game, and you don’t need lame dance contests while blaring “YMCA” over the stadium speakers? That’s what the marching bands are for, Dolphin Boy …

The Trojan offense looks very conservative inside the red zone. What would have been touchdowns in previous games turn into a missed FG and a made FG. 10-10 …

Think Norm Chow is setting up the Iowa defense for the second half? Me too …

Banks misses his receiver on a likely TD pass from the one-yard line and, two Hawk penalties later, USC blocks a Nate Kaeding FG attempt at the halftime gun. Momentum-turner? …

The Orange Bowl Halftime Show – nothing spectacular. A bunch of no-name music “stars” lip-synching. Woo-freakin-hoo. Let’s play football …

The second half starts. The Iowa defense looks gassed. Palmer to Mike Williams. 17-10 …

Iowa’s second-half highlight? Downing a punt at the USC one-yard line. Unfortunately for the Hawkeyes, 99 yards and seven plays later, it’s 24-10 …

With USCFootball.com founder Ryan Abraham at the 2003 Orange Bowl.

Ryan has no voice, but that doesn’t keep him from rolling out “covered wagons” and other assorted smack at the drunk and becoming-more-depressed Iowa fans behind us. I guess he’d heard enough Iowa fans running their mouths all week, too …

31-10 as USC slams the ball down the Iowa defense’s throat again, and our section starts the “We’re not physical!” chant at the remaining Iowa fans. Thanks, Fred Barr …

It’s party time in the stands as the 17,000-strong group of USC fans are again nearly alone in a stadium. Trojan fans have grown used to being abandoned by opposition fans in recent weeks (Stanford, UCLA, Notre Dame, now Iowa) …

38-10 and Jeff’s feeling good about his trip back to Des Moines …

Finally, mercifully, Iowa scores against USC’s second- and third-stringers …

Unfortunately, it was 59 minutes and nine seconds of game time and a 38-3 USC run before the Hawks got in the end zone again …

38-17. “Conquest.” Palmer and Pete Carroll tossing oranges from the bowl and MVP trophies out to the team. Carroll then taking the bandstand with the Trojan sword and leading one last version of “Conquest.” What a feeling …

It’s much quieter now in the stadium halls and parking lot. The few Iowa fans that are left out here seem to have run out of their big words sometime around 9:45 p.m. Something must have changed their mood …

Only in Miami: On the drive back to SoBe, I see this billboard on a building on the side of the I-95: “MR. BIDET. For a healthy, clean tush. 981-1111.” I bet Iowa fans could use one of those right about now …

Back in SoBe and I run into New Year’s Eve Andy and Joel again, this time with their pal Gus. It’s time for a 2 a.m. dinner! How about the 18 oz. strip steak at Finnegan’s Way along with a Guinness? Now, that hits the spot …

The 30 Trojan fans in the place blast a “SoCal Spellout” when the highlights come on ESPN. This leaves the five Iowa fans at the bar even quieter than they were …

The walk back to the hotel for some sleep before my morning interview (work trip, remember) and flight home yields this overheard conversation snippet from a pair of young Iowans huddled close in a light rain:

  • Female: “I’d never seen the ocean until yesterday!”
  • Male: (in an astonished, this-must-be-a-cosmic-union voice): “Neither had I.”

I guess the trip wasn’t a total loss, then, right? …

This mystifying exchange is followed rapidly by one of the local female hospitality engineers running across Collins Ave. in the rain screaming at me, “You comin’ home with me, baby!” Repeatedly. Uh, no, actually, I’m going back to my hotel alone, toothless Ruth. You can keep screaming that and trying to pat my backside all you want, but if there weren’t enough drugs for me to envision DeNiro running a jazz club in Montreal, there certainly aren’t enough, even in Miami, for me to go home with you …

Ah, Miami.