Read an Excerpt
Football for USC was like whaling in 19th-century New England: it was a passion, it was a religion, it was the central point of agreement for all areas of endeavor behind the high walls of the nation known as "Troy." And it spanned generations. USC was big business to be sure, and as a business that emphasized "family," its stockholders were the aggressively proud SC alumni throughout the upper echelons of Southern California society. These were people who actually cared, and more frighteningly, remembered, who scored the winning touchdown in the first Trojan Rose Bowl in 1923. And also their children, who went to 'SC, and also their grandchildren, who went to 'SC, and also their great-grandchildren, preparing to enter SC in the fall of 1996.
Getting from High School to USC was a big step in anyone's plans to make it big in the National Football League. That's what Division I athletic programs like those of USC or Michigan or Nebraska or Notre Dame meant for the young standout: a four or five year hiatus between being a glory boy full of promise, a senior adolescent on a varsity team in High School, and being a rookie player making the big money in the League— The National Football League. Just the sound of it!
The problem was a bothersome little something called a "college degree" which was somehow associated with this hiatus and which often interfered with network exposure and campus visits by professional scouts. And then there were all those NCAA rules and also sometimes some hugely insurmountable academic barriers keeping even a standout player from making it through this otherwise glorious NFL training camp known as college. Danny Glendenning was a phenomenal tight end. As a TE at Torrance High in Torrance, California he had set school records for most points scored in a game (36) and in a season (144) and had made Super Prep All-American and Blue Chip All-American First Teams, Super Prep All-Far West, and the Los Angeles Times All-South Bay first team, among other awards. He was a perfect candidate for USC, the more so because his grandfather had attended USC in 1926. Danny was recruited enthusiastically by the coaching staff prior to being found academically ineligible in 1994 by the NCAA clearinghouse. Of course he had not stopped there. A phone call had placed him in contact with a Junior College coach, and, given the relaxed entrance requirements of the Junior College, he had predictably been sold on the idea of playing for a local JC team as a kind of "farm" system on the way to the ultimate goal of USC. In other words, recruitment-wise and where USC was concerned, he was "in the bag."
Where school was concerned, it was really just a matter of doing 60 units at the "C" level and staying, at least officially, out of trouble and healthy. Unofficially this often meant a continuation of public high school habits and attitudes: missed classes, easy tests and lots of time in the weight room or hanging out with other young men eager to emulate the lifestyle of the NFL. By the time it was time to go on to USC, Danny had made the Super Prep JUCO 100 and the All-Western State Conference first team at Pasadena Community College and had been awarded an AA degree. This allowed him to come directly to USC, provided his units transferred, and begin life anew as a Trojan. No SAT tests, no NCAA clearinghouse and no impertinent inquiry into his habits or private life. Only his transcript listing the right classes and sent to the right people in the Admissions Department at USC. Sweet Success. One step closer to the NFL.
"Danny, what do you think of USC's chances for making it to the Rose Bowl this season?"
"I think they'll have a whole hell of a lot better chance with me catching balls for 'em. You can't win games without getting touchdowns."
Danny was talking on the phone with his uncle, who was a true-blue sports fan. His father was also a real sports kind-of-guy, and had encouraged Danny since the lad was able to throw a ball to fulfill the family's father through the success of the family son. Uncle Conway was in on that too: if one talked enough about sports, and if one knew enough sports trivia, then you yourself could be a great bastion of testosterone yourself…by association. The fact that Danny's grandfather had gone to SC in the time of John Wayne (Class of '27) only made matters more desperate for the family: since neither of the sons had gone to SC (much to the disappointment of the father) and since neither of them had actually played football (they were into "martial arts"), Danny was the great hope of the whole family. The only other thing any of them could do (short of actually being sports-jocks themselves) was have a real sports-jock in the family! One duly recognized as such in the Los Angeles newspapers: he shows great promise, or, he could be the next great one.
Now dog-fighting with pit-bull terriers has long since gone the way of cock-fighting and bear-baiting as illegal, inhumane and somewhat barbarous; therefore all that is left to the arm-chair "studs" and tough guys of America— the would-be "top dogs" of your neighborhood— is to prove themselves so much better than other males of your neighborhood by means of Sports Trivia, because knowing all about a sports celebrity is confused, often times, with actually knowing the celebrity, which is confused in turn with being like the celebrity…which is kind of like one cave man eating another cave man's heart so that he can become as big or as brave as the other cave man was before his demise! But the beauty of the former instance is that none of this of course requires any special skill—or time in the weight room or time sweating through wind sprints till you vomit or pass out from light-headedness and over-exertion. So it was right up Conway's alley to have a nephew on the way to USC. Having a nephew like Danny Glendenning was like having your own pit bull: it was pure painless pleasure.
On Danny's first day at USC he wandered, or rather swaggered, into the Academic Resource Center to see Larry Starr and gloat over his upcoming season. As an early JuCo transfer, he knew classes were a necessity, and it was Larry's job to tell him about it. Danny didn't wait for the Assistant AD to recognize him. He came right in like a baying hound.
"Hi Mr. Starr! Am I late?"
"Well, hello Mr. Glendenning! Good to see you! Larry dropped what he was doing and stood up to shake Danny's hand. "Are you settled in at your new home? How is it?"
"It's all right for now—until the alumni can get me a new house—In Marina Del Rey."
"Now Danny, don't start with that, you know that's not how it works here. You can move off campus when we see you can handle your classroom responsibilities. Have you thought about a major?"
"No. What, does it matter?"
Larry looked meaningfully and parent-like at Glendenning, and Danny noted this.
Danny laughed. "Well, I mean, it doesn't really matter to me because I haven't thought about it. What's the easiest major? I mean, what do the other guys usually take?"
"Well, let's get an idea first what you might be interested in, Danny. If you're interested, it's likely that you'll do better." vDanny gave him a nervous, self-conscious laugh that didn't sound entirely convincing. "Can I major in Gynecology? I'm interested in that."
"Oh, so you want to go 'pre-med.' That's an excellent idea. What was your High School GPA?"
"Oh, A's and B's mostly," said Danny.
"Yeah," said Larry, not seeming to hear him. "Here it is: just over a two-point. Well, that will make it difficult to handle the pre-med curriculum; most students going into that posted a 3.5 or better in high School."
"Whatever, Mr. Starr. What do you think I can handle?"
"History would be good for you, or Sociology. But there is a lot of reading."
"Whatever, Mr. Starr. Yeah, that sounds good to me. Hey, I gotta go lift weights." Danny left Starr's office with a gratuitous wave, closed off forever from the idea of school, classes and learning in general. Starr missed the significance of what had just passed. Danny was a number, a statistic. And History was a safe major for someone expected to fail at anything else. I work so hard for these kids, he thought. He made a note of what had just transpired under the "choice of major" slot in Danny's paperwork. Then he returned quickly to the blinking light on his answering machine and made another telephone call.