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Trojans' Elevator Ordeal Was Too Close for Comfort

October 11, 2000|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

If USC looked frustrated in losing to Arizona last Saturday, that was nothing compared to the night before the game.

Nine players were trapped in a small elevator at the team's hotel Friday, waiting almost two hours--and missing a pregame meeting--before being rescued.

"It was a little scary at first," offensive lineman Derek Graf said. "And it was hot as hell."

The Trojans, who stay at a downtown hotel before home games, had just returned from watching a movie. The players were headed to their rooms to get their playbooks for the meeting.

Rather than wait for an elevator, a group of receivers and linemen tried to save time by squeezing into a small service lift.

"We started to go up but then it just dropped," receiver Matt Nickels said. "Everyone was grabbing for the walls before the emergency brakes kicked in."

The elevator had a maximum capacity of 2,500 pounds, which had the players doing some quick addition. Even with the likes of Graf, Zach Wilson and Jacob Rogers--offensive linemen who average 6 feet 5 and just under 300 pounds--they came in 100 pounds under the limit.

But the elevator would not budge.

The players called for help and were told the hotel was having trouble locating a repairman. There wasn't room for everyone to sit, so they took turns. As time wore on, the cramped space grew hotter.

"I'm a fat individual and I'm kind of hairy too," Graf said. "I started sweating like crazy."

At one point, someone pried open the elevator doors to get some fresh air from the shaft. Later, the linemen elected to boost Nickels through a hatch in the ceiling but the receiver found himself thrust into what "looked like a dungeon" with no visible escape.

"It got really uncomfortable," Rogers said. "Then it just got frustrating."

Finally a repairman was located and the players got out. Graf took an optimistic view of the ordeal.

"Kind of a bonding experience," he said.

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