As dawn broke on a chilly fall morning, two buses carrying the Cal State Northridge football team left the North Campus Stadium parking lot and headed for Las Vegas.
Suddenly, one of the buses pulled to the side of the road. Its door swung open and out stepped a very defiant young man.
For more than a week, Jon Beauregard had been a human wishbone in a tug of war of will. Finally, he had snapped.
Beauregard paused as his feet hit the sidewalk, but the door closed quickly behind him and the bus drove off.
Until that moment, he had been the starting right guard on the Matadors' offensive line.
As he started his climb back up the long blacktop path of the stadium driveway, a celebration began among a group of two dozen men and women who had been left behind in the parking lot.
Through Beauregard's action, they were able to claim victory.
They identified themselves as members of the Northridge Black Student Union, an organization that in previous weeks had led a rebellion against the school's athletic program. The football team had been a prime target.
The group claimed that some Northridge athletes were living in poverty while the school reaped a windfall profit from guarantees, advertising and gate receipts.
They showed up at one home football game toting signs and shouting slogans, comparing the work of athletic program leaders and coaches with acts of slavery.
And they had gathered that morning to encourage players to protest their plight by boycotting Northridge's game the following night in Las Vegas.
The issues ripped at the heart of several football players, some of whom had missed meals and fallen into debt because their financial aid packages failed to cover expenses.
Beauregard was one player among many who believed the cause was a noble one. Yet, with a single act of defiance, he had become the one and only martyr.
He was asked how he felt. "Like a man," he responded, among cheers. He also had some scathing comments about Northridge administrators, coaches and teammates.
I wondered how Bob Burt, the football team's coach, would respond. And I thought back to a conversation I had a few years before with former Northridge President James Cleary.
Cleary believed strongly that athletics had its place in a university's academic curriculum. He said he admired athletes because they were immediately held responsible for their actions.
They were forced to make choices, act on those choices, and were then held accountable by the armchair quarterbacks of the world.
Beauregard certainly would be held accountable for his action--probably at the expense of his scholarship.
He said, in so many words, that he was prepared to make the sacrifice.
Later that evening, I phoned Burt in his room at the hotel where the team was staying in Las Vegas. By my count, three starters would not be suited for the game, a fact I wanted to confirm.
"Who are the three?" Burt asked.
So I listed them: Vincent Johnson, a cornerback who was serving a one-game suspension for a related matter, Gerald Ponder, a safety who did not show up to board the bus, and Beauregard.
"Beauregard is here, or at least on his way here," Burt said. "I have a coach picking him up at the airport."
It was true. After hours of soul-searching, Beauregard had phoned Burt in Las Vegas and asked to rejoin the team. In fact, he had paid for his airline ticket.
The following night, Beauregard stood by himself off to the side of the Northridge bench, holding his helmet under his arm and watching his teammates upset Nevada Las Vegas in what was the proudest moment in the Matadors' tumultuous season.
He did not play. He did not look happy. But he remained a member of the team and, in the course of the next couple of weeks, won back his starting spot.
The following week I approached Beauregard after practice. I wanted him to know that his previous comments would not be seen in print. What is said in the heat of the moment often makes great newspaper copy. It also can engender deep regret.
Beauregard seemed to appreciate the gesture. But mostly he seemed emotionally spent. He said he still took issue with the school's treatment of athletes, but he added that he felt an overwhelming responsibility to his teammates and himself.
Some people bag groceries to pay their way through college.
Beauregard plays football.
He is not a traitor, or a hero. Never was.
He's just another 21-year-old student who occasionally finds it difficult to separate fact and fiction.
I can relate. It's the most difficult part of the job.