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THE FOUR HORSEMEN OF SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA
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Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again.  In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Once named Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden, the gladiators of the New Millennium are men of youth, color and American diversity. Their real names are: Leinart, Bush, Jarrett and White. These new Four Horsemen of Southern California came to the land of destiny riding their famed white steed Traveler, that dreaded Coliseum sight of Irish past. They relegated the old Notre Dame ghosts to their place and time, a time when the only color was white, myths were protected, lies told as Truths. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another Fighting Irish team was swept over the precipice at Notre Dame Stadium on the afternoon of Saturday, October 15, 2005. 80,795 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.

            These fans observed the changing of the guard, the team of the New Age, the University of the 21st Century. For the better part of the previous century their team held that loftiest position on the grid landscape. No more. Their ancient rivals arrived at their house of worship, paid homage to their shrines, and honored their traditions.

Their skill, class and guts emanated like water pouring forth upon a barren valley, informing all whose eyes saw that Truth, when witnessed in an American arena, is never misunderstood.

            The Truth of October 15, 2005, in that most perfect of settings, was that the Trojans of Southern California had taken over from the previous title-holders, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, the lofty moniker Greatest Collegiate Football Tradition of All Time! They did as their legendary old coach, Marv Goux, advised countless legions to do. They did as Goux's beloved granddaughter asked them to do. Four games in four years passed since Kara Kanen advised that future Trojans, "Win one for the Goux!"

            For four years now they took on the Irish at home and away. Each time they left them heartbroken in noble defeat. On this day, they would take more than a shillelagh back to Heritage Hall. There was no plaque, no crystal football, nothing inscribed.

            There was only pride and knowledge that what they did secured for them everlasting glory. Legends were made. Expectations had been met. 80 years of excellence had not only been lived up to, but exceeded by a new generation. They took the foundation laid brick by brick by decades of Trojans, erecting a higher statue than ever before.

A modern Lancelot led them, for indeed the times he was living in were those of a Camelot quality. His name is Leinart. The similarity to "Lion Heart" is not insignificant. It is, rather, cosmic, for he does not lace his cleats in a land of mere mortals. He is part of something ancient and utterly sacred The standards this tallest and sturdiest of the new Horsemen set under that blue, gray October sky, with the wheat of an Indiana harvest swirling about like so much stardust, are standards that nobody will ever be expected to meet. To strive for, but not to meet.

            The second new Horseman's name is Bush. On a field of play where 81 years ago he would have been invited to leave, this step-son of a preacher man stepped up and took a nation, a Trojan Nation, and with his loyal partner with the "Lion Heart" he thus moved mountains on the flat Midwestern plains.

            The third new Horseman's name is Jarrett. A babe in the woods, a child desperate to return to his Jersey roots rather than accept the challenges that God graced him with the ability to meet, he did meet them on the green plains of South Bend. He met them; soft of hands and swift of feet did he meet them as he raced through the gauntlet set forth before him. His was a moment of mystery and wonder, a Shakespearean marvel: "There are more things on Heaven and earth, Horatio, than can be dreamt of in your philosophy."

            Finally, in the "most Gracious" Shakespearean of seasons, did the fourth new Horseman emerge. His name is White, a famous last name and one he lived up to, as he had taken the previous man's number, 12, and turned it around: 21. In the glare of the spotlight, Mr. White did what makes him splendid. He sacrificed for his team. His name will not be synonymous with the glory and memory of this challenge met under the watchful eye of "Touchdown Jesus," but his mates knew that they would not have been there without his sacrifice.

            Thus was history made. Leave no doubt? Thus is the statement made. USC was not tested, they were out-played. But championship teams do what championship teams do. On the game's final play, Leinart pushed into the line, then did a spin move that looked like something he learned in a Tuesday night ballroom dancing class. With three seconds left, he found a seam to score the winning touchdown. Number one USC escaped with its 28th straight victory, 34-31 over the ninth-ranked Irish. The game more than lived up to expectations. It was the greatest game in the history of the storied rivalry that goes back to 1926. Depending on one's perspective, and considering the pressure, the stakes, and the atmosphere, it may have been the greatest football game ever played, college or pro. It was watched by the largest TV audience of any regular season college football game in a decade. To say it meant the rivalry was revived was as obvious as saying Pamela Anderson possesses sex appeal. The college football world, increasingly complaining about Trojan hegemony, now saw a reason to tune back in. 

When the teams lined up as Leinart approached the line for the last play, Carroll could be seen making the "spike it" motion. Apparently it was a deke. In the NFL, Miami's Dan Marino approached the line against Carroll's Jets, looking to spike the ball to stop the clock, luring the Jets off-balance before throwing a touchdown pass.

Leinart looked at the stack of Notre Dame defenders. The play called was a sneak. He turned to Bush.

"What should I do?" he screamed. "I don't think I can make it, Reggie, what should I do? You think I should go for it?"

"GO FOR IT, MATT!!" yelled Bush.

Then the Irish crowded the line. Bush had second thoughts.

"NO, NO, NO, NO, NO!!" he screamed. Leinart never heard him.

Leinart took the snap, heading into the line. It was not even close. He had no chance to muscle through the pile. But it was all in one place. He pirouetted. The ball was precariously held halfway tucked against his shoulder and halfway in the air, where it could be swatted away. He somehow found a hole.