LOS ANGELES--The $315 million makeover of the L.A. Coliseum is one of best facelifts Hollywood has ever produced—simply gorgeous.
A nip here, a tuck there, just like Bette Davis.
A near-perfect early evening was going nearly perfect as the “new” Coliseum welcomed a USC football tenant hoping to reverse field on last year’s 5-7 record with a “new” attitude and “new” offensive coordinator.
Fireworks lit up the sky as USC’s band played and a team of Navy Seal sky divers swirled, then dropped safely, onto fresh-cut lawn.
And then the game started.
You have probably heard by now that USC won, 31-23, but what a summer slog it was getting there.
Opening kickoff gave us two USC players wearing jersey No. 7 (not legal, though something Lane Kiffin liked to try), negating a 61-yard return.
“The mechanics didn’t go,” USC head coach Clay Helton said later as he reached for his Auto Club card. “I bet you it won’t happen again.”
Second-year quarterback JT Daniels quickly changed the subject by completing 10 of 11 passes on a sterling drive under Air Raid coordinator Graham Harrell.
USC led 7-0, then 14-0, as USC fan optimism rose as high as permissible under current Clay Helton conditions.
All this positively was happening against a Fresno State team that won 12 games last year.
Then another AAA call, late first half, as the tranny dropped and the Coliseum went quite when Daniels got hit and towed away with an injured right knee that would lead to the rest of his night on crutches.
X-rays were negative and an MRI was planned for early Sunday morning, but it didn’t look good.
“Gut-wrenching,” Helton called it.
Fresno cut the lead to 17-10 and that’s when Twitter took over as social media wrote off the season, rued back-up quarterback Jack Sears’ decision to quit the team, and planned the search committee for Helton’s replacement.
It’s amazing how much stuff can happen in 10 minutes.
If this game was a microcosm of the rest of USC's season then someone needs to order more Maalox.
How bad is the injury to Daniels (it looked bad) and can backup Kedon Slovis step in and handle a brutal stretch of this season?
How glad is everyone that quarterback Matt Fink returned to the team after removing himself from the transfer portal?
And don’t forget Velvus Jones Jr., who had a 61-yard kickoff nullified by those two # 7 jerseys but made stick a 100-yard return that put USC up, 24-13.
Can the Trojans kickoff return their way to the Pac South title?
Can Sears come back, even after writing a tearful goodbye letter, or will that also require donating a kidney to the NCAA?
Helton said “there’s always an open door” but it may have been wider had he dropped Sears to second, not fourth, on the depth chart.
These and other important questions need to be answered—fast—and it’s only Sept. 1. THESE are the days of their lives.
Slovis, a first-year freshman, played fine in relief of Daniels, completing six of eight passes.
Slovis also nearly fumbled a “victory formation” snap in the closing minutes because USC is not comfortable with the more traditional hand-to-butt cheek snap from center.
Late Saturday, with 1:45 left, Trojan safety Isaiah Pola-Mao had to swoop in with a brilliant end-zone interception to possibly prevent Fresno State overtime.
How long can you survive doing that with a freshman quarterback, Stanford up next followed by at BYU, Utah, at Washington and at Notre Dame?
Can USC football play do justice to the high-class digs it now inhabits?
I’ve attended football events at the Coliseum since the 1960s and covered games, as a journalist, since 1983.
I watched “Brian’s Song” Brian Piccolo (Chicago Bears) rush for 100 yards against the Rams and attended several Times’ Charity Game exhibitions.
Let’s face it, the old lady needed work, although I’m going to miss a few things like the chalkboard scoreboard in the old press box.
It was sort of cool and “old school” to walk past the hand-scrawled score of Florida State 24, Miami 14, in the third quarter.
Only you knew, via Twitter, that game had gone final an hour ago.
A few of us nostalgia suckers remember when the Coliseum field had a track wrapped around it—which was important for hosting two Olympic Games.
If this football team can’t put fans into seats, though, then somebody is going to pay for it.
And that somebody is going to be Helton, who entered the 2019 opener with USC fans already ready to pounce.
A win is a win in a way, but it already feels like a long season.