“When you’re winning, no one can hurt you…
… and when you’re losing, no one can help you.” – Former Hall of Fame Coach and Broadcaster John Madden
A rogue student manager has been deflating footballs at USC.
The Pac-12 reprimanded and fined USC for the practice.
And according to Head Coach Lane Kiffin, the (now fired) student manager was acting as a lone ranger, even though footballs are easier to throw when they are slightly deflated.
How do I know this?
I was a student manager at USC during the 1976 and 1977 seasons. Even more precisely, I was the student manager working with the offensive coordinator at the time, Paul Hackett, the quarterbacks (e.g., Vince Evans, Rob Hertel and Paul McDonald) and wide receivers (e.g., Shelton Diggs, Randy Simmrin).
For each game, I was responsible for getting the USC football into the game when the Trojans were on offense. That meant following the line of scrimmage, carrying at least two footballs, for the better part of three-plus hours.
During the Rose Bowl played on January 1, 1977 against Michigan, our quarterback, Vince Evans, kept a ball-inflation needle in his sock. The needle was not used to inflate footballs, but for the opposite reason.
The referee and other officials kept throwing the under-inflated balls to me and demanding an inflated ball. Vince, in turn, kept on deflating the balls. This put me in a classic Catch 22.
When I told Vince about the officials tossing the underinflated balls out of the game, he responded with an imperative. I think it was something like, “Duck you, Kevin!”
We managed to win the game over Michigan, 14-6, and finished #2 behind Tony Dorsett and the Pitt Panthers for the national title. The incident with the ball-pump needle went into the DRAM (Dynamic Random Access Memory) of my brain and remained there…until this week.
How serious is an underinflated football on a bending-the-rules scale of 1-10? How about a “five”? Yes, it may be easier to throw a football and that certainly is a factor for USC with a great passing quarterback, Matt Barkley, and all-world receivers. Conversely, one would think it would hurt the performance of the punter and field-goal/extra point kicker. USC punted only once last Saturday against Oregon.
My problem with this story is why would a 19-20-21-year-old student manager be deflating footballs without anyone else on the football team (e.g., coach and/or player) knowing anything about it? This one doesn’t pass the giggle test.
And was it the (scapegoat?) manager that was deflating the balls or maybe a player with a ball-pump needle in his sock? It’s happened before.
What is more germane about this story is how it relates to Kiffin. Let’s face it. This guy is an Oakland-Knoxville-Los Angeles public relations disaster zone always waiting for the next installment. When you open up the dictionary looking up the word, “arrogance,” Kiffin’s mug shot will most likely jump out of the page.
His predecessor, Pete Carroll, was Mr. Public Relations. Pete was everyone’s pal. He was a player’s coach. He was a good interview. He was the face of USC football. Heck, he even risked his life night-after-night, driving into the worst parts of LA to give youths a third option besides jail and death.
Have you ever heard about Kiffin giving back? Opposing teams aren’t even allowed to walk through the LA Coliseum the day before games with the Trojans.
The marauding student manager story follows the quick and painful end of USC’s over-inflated dream of playing in the BCS national championship. The team has lost two straight, surrendered 101 points in the process, and is looking at the prospects of playing in the…Holiday Bowl.
Besides generating controversy du-jour during his relatively brief stays with the Oakland Raiders, Tennessee Volunteers and now USC, Kiffin has consistently parlayed Viagra expectations into Low-T results, 43-37 overall.
What does the fired student manager, underinflated football-gate mean to squeaky clean, play-by-the-book USC Athletic Director Pat Haden? If this was an isolated incident in the nation’s second largest media market, it most likely would be noted and quickly forgotten.
But with USC coming off the third most severe set of NCAA penalties (exceeded only by Penn State and SMU) and considering Kiffin’s repeated bouts with controversy, this may be another small nail (or ball-pump needle) in Kiffin’s coffin.
Haden must know that someday, sooner or later, he will have to terminate Kiffin and maybe even spend literally millions to buy out his contract. Sometimes acknowledging mistakes of your predecessor (e.g., Mike Garrett) is costly. You sure can buy a treasure trove of ball-inflation pins, even with millions of inflated dollars.
Editor’s Note: As mentioned, I managed the USC football team for two seasons, earning a Tommy Trojan statue for my service. I have a Rose Bowl ring and watch, and graduated from Troy with my undergraduate degree in broadcasting journalism. I also managed the football team at the University of Oregon. I am a 23-year season ticket holder at Autzen Stadium and a member of the Duck Athletic Fund. I received my master’s degree from, and presently teach public relations at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication.