ORLANDO, Fla. — Ted Tollner, the beleaguered USC football coach, hoped that after 3,000 miles and an all-night plane trip, he could finally escape the questions about his recent firing.
Guess again, Ted.
Tollner, affable as usual, answered the same questions about the same subjects without complaint.
No, he doesn't think all the talk about his firing will effect the team.
Yes, he thinks it's tragic that USC's All-American guard Jeff Bregel was declared ineligible for the Florida Citrus Bowl against Auburn on New Year's Day because of steroid use.
And, of course, he thinks Auburn is a very fine football team.
Then it was time for radio and television to ask questions. Tollner was asked if he was glad to be in Orlando (he is) and what he thought the key to the game would be (both offense and defense are important).
Oh, boy, is this good stuff or what?
Still, Tollner's candor is sure to win over the Orlando media. Especially when Auburn Coach Pat Dye, who brought two Alabama State Troopers and a whole lot of chewing tobacco to Orlando, is only slightly more revealing than Oliver North.
Friday's big revelation went something like this:
Reporters: Did everyone make it here OK?
Dye: Pat Johnson (a second string tackle) didn't make the trip.
Dye: You'll have to get that from Dave Housel (sports information director).
Reporters to Housel: Why didn't Pat Johnson make the trip?
Housel: He failed to meet NCAA eligibility requirements.
Reporters: What does that mean?
Housel: That's all I can say.
However, the Orlando Sentinel quoted a source close to the Auburn team as saying that Johnson tested positive for steroid use.
OK, back to Tollner, even if he has gone over this firing thing several times.
"We're going to play this game and coach this game just as if we were going to be back next year," Tollner said.
"We'll play as aggressively as usual. My situation doesn't change anything. We know we're playing in a New Year's bowl game against a ranked Auburn team. But we're also here to enjoy ourselves. We hope to keep the team focused on football during the day and enjoying the other things when we're not practicing."
Dye, ever the cautious one, sees the turmoil in USC's program as a disadvantage to his team.
"If you put yourself in their position, I think you would prepare to do everything you could to send your coach out big," Dye said.
Despite the rationale, most things seem to be in Auburn's favor. USC (7-4) lost its last two games, and Auburn (9-2) finished with an upset win over Alabama.
And despite Tollner's protestations, the distractions provided by the uncertainty of the coaching situation is bound to be a factor.
Dye is only concerned with one distraction, however, a local flesh palace known as the Doll House.
Traditionally, players from teams participating in the Florida Citrus Bowl have somehow found their way to this bar. When Auburn was here in 1982 against Boston College, two players were sent home before the game after they found themselves in a scuffle.
"I've already warned them about the Doll House," Dye said unprompted as his players were being escorted by women serving as part of the welcoming committee. "But it looks like they found us, this time."
Finally, something new to talk about.
Citrus Bowl Notes The game is less than 1,000 tickets from being a sellout. If, as expected, the local ABC affiliate buys the remaining tickets, it would be the sixth straight sellout. . . . Citrus Bowl officials were told that Traveler, the Trojan horse, was not making the trip, and that USC officials would look for an Orlando horse instead. . . . Add Animals: Tiger, the eagle mascot of Auburn died before the season of a ruptured spleen. But another eagle, also cleverly named Tiger, was trained and made available for the last two games. The bird (with a 1-1 record) should be here by gametime. She's driving, not flying.