Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Reggie Gives Up the Trophy

Two weeks ago I made my first of what I hope will be many trips to South Bend, Indiana to see the Fighting Irish kickoff their season.

Though I would have liked to have spent more time strolling across Notre Dame’s history rich campus, I figured I should make an effort to get over to the NCAA College Football Hall of Fame since it won’t be in South Bend much longer as the facility honoring collegiate gridiron greats will be relocating to Atlanta in 2013.

Two things in the hall were of particular interest: the Heisman Trophy exhibit and what kind of presence USC standout and 2005 Heisman Award winner Reggie Bush had in the museum.

It didn’t take long for me to notice that the former #5 was well represented in the hall. A large poster of Bush was prominently displayed in the gift shop and a few minutes into the tour I saw Bush’s USC jersey hanging prominently in the Heisman Trophy section (at least for a few more hours).

In the aftermath of Bush’s decision to surrender the prestigious award to the Heisman Trophy Trust, the running back will likely get the Stalin treatment long before the hall moves south as his name and image will be bowdlerized from the Heisman display and probably from all other corners of the place.

And that’s unfortunate since Reggie Bush earned his trophy and his place in the hearts and minds of college football fans.

Bush cheated a flawed student-athlete system, not the game. He didn’t use drugs that allowed him to play better. He didn’t take money to fumble the ball at a convenient moment so USC wouldn’t cover the point spread. And he didn’t kill anyone.

O.J. Simpson’s Heisman Trophy wasn’t taken from him by the Heisman Trophy Trust but was seized by creditors as part of the “wrongful death” judgment.

Adding to the absurdity of it all, the NCAA needed FIVE years to figure out that “A” USC player was getting his palm greased on the side. Such news was about as genuinely surprising to college football fans as evidence of gambling was to the Vichy French officer in Casablanca.

Let’s be grateful that these intrepid sleuths don’t work for the Department of Homeland Security.

Some have said that Bush’s conduct has brought disgrace to college football and his university. That’s arguable.

What isn’t in dispute is that he made his alma mater and the NCAA’s most notorious sweatshop a lot of money. Hundreds of thousands of people paid to see Bush play in college stadiums across the country and millions of Americans tuned in to watch Bush perform electrifying runs on television. Kids bought his jersey in droves.

USC and the NCAA profited far more from his toil and talent than he and his family did from the gifts they unwisely accepted from an agent who saw an opportunity to take advantage of their financial situation and the pressure that comes with being a glamorous “celebrithete” in southern California.

Clearly Bush and his family made bad decisions, especially since it was obvious early in his college career that he was going to be multi-millionaire in a few years short of a freak injury. They shouldn’t have taken an advance on his future financial success. And Bush is paying a heavy toll for his greed and that of others.

The Bush-USC-Heisman story shows how quickly life can call an audible even on the rich and famous.

Though Bush couldn’t keep up with the Kardashians and has endured the public humiliation of turning over the most coveted individual award in college sports, Bush has his health and a diamond studded gold ring that Dan Marino would trade his appearance fee from Ace Ventura to have won.

Bush might be persona non grata on the University of Southern California campus these days, though the pylon-magnet running back is still loved in New Orleans and remains not only one of the most popular players on the Saints roster but in the entire NFL.

Most importantly, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis and head coach Sean Payton love having him on the team for the 2010 season, even at eight-figures.

And one has to think losing a trophy is preferable to the fate that his fellow USC team mate, first round draft pick and 2004 Heisman trophy winner suffered when the Arizona Cardinals cut quarterback Matt Leinart from their roster.

There’s no better place for a prodigal athlete like Bush to play and live than the prodigal city of New Orleans. Louisianans tend to be tolerant of (and at times inclined to elect) scofflaws of all varieties.

Perhaps losing both trophies (Kim and Heisman) will provide the psychological grounding Bush needs to build upon the success he has thus far attained on the professional level.

Rather than sulk about the tarnishing of his collegiate glory days, Bush should develop the maturity, patience and determination to work towards having a lengthy and productive NFL career. If Bush plays a decisive role in accumulating for his team and refuge city multiple Lombardi Trophies, he could end up in a more lucrative museum yet…and I’m not referring to the one located near Gate B of the Superdome’s Plaza level concourse.

Giving up the Heisman is a dark chapter in the life of Reggie Bush, but if he contributes to putting more jewelry around the knuckles of Tom Benson and Rita Benson LeBlanc his story might yet have a happy ending.

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