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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

Good Grief! Will Hackett Really Be Saved by Bell?

November 19, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

Charlie Brown wins, and for one improbable, but glorious day, it's Sad Sack Hackett making Buoyant Bob a little less cheery.

Take that, Lucy Van Pelt and all you other UCLA and USC know-it-alls who figured there was no way Hackett could raise his Trojans from the dead to defeat the bowl-bound Bruins.

We can't really say, of course, there was never a doubt--because it did come down to a USC kicker, and folks, that's high-wire entertainment.

But if Charles Schulz had still been with us doing his Peanuts strip, Sad Sack Hackett would have watched the ball come off David Bell's foot, hit the crossbar, and on the final panel, bounce back and land at the coach's feet.

And let me tell you, that's the way this day was going, Sad Sack calling trick plays and every one of them exploding in his bewildered face, while Buoyant Bob smiled big, his every move a haughty "gotcha."

A morning newspaper, making note that the decision to fire Hackett has already been made, suggested the only decision remaining for USC officials was when to tell Hackett.

(With Peanuts in mind, tell me Schulz didn't pattern Schroeder, the reserved and unruffled Beethoven admirer, after USC President Steven Sample.)

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BY THE TIME the newspaper report made it to the radio, it had changed form with the suggestion that Hackett might be fired on this USC-UCLA Saturday, the obvious expectation that he would be sitting in a losing locker room.

Twenty seconds into the first quarter, after a USC fumble in the end zone and UCLA's recovery for a 7-0 lead, I looked to the sideline see if Athletic Director Mike Garrett was tapping Sad Sack on the shoulder.

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SAY THIS FOR the guy, instead of buying him out for $800,000 and sending him on his way, for one day he deserves a respectful round of applause for pulling the fight together in a group of athletes who have been trampled publicly for failed expectations. As Snoopy would say, every dog has his day.

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I KNOW I was as guilty as anyone suggesting this contest would be much ado about nothing, but what great fun--and a reminder of the emotion expended, watching USC's starting offensive tackle Faaesea Mailo drop to his knees sobbing as his teammates danced around the Rose Bowl.

Trojan wide receiver Matt Nickels ran to the locker room, removed his helmet and shoulder pads and came racing back to the field with a video camera to record the moment. A teammate had to help him, removing the lens cap as Nickels jumped up and down in excitement--not quite sure why darkness was staring back at him through his camera. These were real kids at play.

Some of these players may never forget the image of their spiritual leader, linebacker Zeke Moreno, still wearing his helmet and perched on top of a ladder directing the Spirit of Troy as it serenaded its heroes in victory over and over again. One Saturday wiping out so many other Saturdays to forget.

And on the other side, the world was seemingly coming to an end.

"You can hear 90,000 people screaming and hollering, and then you lose by three points and it's horrible," said Cory Paus, UCLA's quarterback, and then he talked of a pain that will linger for 365 days.

UCLA linebacker Ryan Nece blamed himself for the Bruins' defeat, and said it will be tough to go to school not only "Monday, but Tuesday, Wednesday . . . We let them all down. I don't know if I can look our student body in the eye."

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IT'S NOT ALL that bad, of course, and maybe not all that good in the long run for someone like Hackett, who may already be gone, the Sad Sack who just doesn't know it yet.

But what excitement, what a rivalry, and a reminder to all of us why these student-athletes play these thrilling games--no matter what the record, the year-to-year circumstance and who wins or loses.

It's kind of embarrassing now to think we reached the point where everyone outside the Rose Bowl was put on hold for a hockey game before switching to a heated rivalry in progress.

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NOT THAT ANYONE is comparing the two, but like Hackett, at the end of his third year, there was move for his ouster, including a petition being passed around asking for the dismissal of Duke basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who had a record of 38-47.

This week they conducted a ceremony to name Duke's basketball floor--Coach K Court.

You sure you want to pass up the chance of one day referring to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum as Hackett Field?

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TODAY WOULD NOT be a good day to stop for a Krispy Kreme doughnut.

For the first time all season the Bruins scored the initial points in the game, meaning 80,227 fans can take their ticket stub to a Krispy Kreme store and claim a free box of doughnuts.

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THE NEW ORLEANS Saints have had it made all year, winning seven games against teams with a combined mark of 15-47, and now they get the Raiders. Talk about the Big Easy.

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TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Lance:

"Don't you find it interesting that a Savannah State alum [Shannon Sharpe] is schooling a Trojan [Jason Sehorn] on financial issues in that Charles Schwab commercial?"

Keep in mind that President Sample is now dedicated to putting USC on a par with Savannah State in both academics and football.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address: t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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