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ORANGE BOWL * USC vs. IOWA

The Renaissance Man

Palmer's friends see him as more than just a star quarterback for Trojans

January 01, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

DAVIE, Fla. -- Carson Palmer, USC quarterback, 23-year-old Heisman Trophy winner, is a romantic.

He surprised Shaelyn Fernandes with dinner at an outdoor table at a cliff-top restaurant overlooking Dana Point. This on a day he had football practice, on a day NFL scouts had come by to poke, prod, time and weigh him.

He was frazzled and running late, and it was in the middle of his most fabulous season, but Palmer, from Laguna Niguel, never lost his poise, never varied from his plan. That is the Palmer method. Never panic, never complain.

"I couldn't figure it out," Fernandes, a former USC soccer goalie, said. "We were running late and I told Carson, 'Just call the restaurant and say we'll be late.' But Carson wouldn't do it.

"When we got to the restaurant, I understood. We were taken outside to this single table overlooking the ocean. We had our own waiter and violin player. Everything was ready. When dessert came, it was under a cover and the waiter took the cover off and there was the [engagement] ring.

"It's a perfect ring, just what I would want. Carson picked it out himself and it showed how well he knew me. And then I was trying to call my parents. I was calling their cell phones and home phone and no one was answering. It turns out Carson and his family had arranged for my parents to fly [from Northern California] to Carson's parents' house. When we went after dinner, everybody was there."

Carson Palmer is a goof.

His younger brother, Jordan, 18, a freshman quarterback at Texas El Paso, remembers the time Carson cut the tips off golf tees, put them into a BB gun and shot Jordan in the back. Jordan called their mother, Danna at work and yelled, "Carson shot me in the back." Jordan didn't mention the golf tips or the BB gun. Danna rushed home, imagining the horror. She found two boys fighting.

"That was pretty much the end of my working outside the home," she said.

Carson Palmer is a planner.

His older sister, Jennifer, 31, remembers how Carson would always send Jordan out to try new, scary things first.

"Water skiing, fishing, skiing, snowboarding, Carson would send Jordan down first, just to see how it went," Jennifer said.

"Yeah, I was kind of like the food tester," Jordan said.

Carson Palmer is a throwback.

USC Athletic Director Mike Garrett, a man who appreciates action instead of speaking and admires old-fashioned values, said that Palmer "could have played on our teams."

Garrett played at USC in the 1960s, when athletes didn't dance after touchdowns or parade around after every big play. When Garrett played football, men accepted responsibility for mistakes, took the blame, shared the praise.

"Carson Palmer," Garrett said, "has never wanted to distinguish himself from others, has never shied away from responsibility, always took blame when he played badly, always deflected praise when he had earned it. He handles winning the same as defeat. He could have played with us. He would have fit in nicely."

Carson Palmer is a prankster.

USC wide receiver Keary Colbert, who lives with Palmer and six other players in a house near campus, said that Palmer loves practical jokes, that Palmer knows where to shop for joke props -- "I didn't even know they had stores like that," Colbert said -- and was a victim when Palmer bought fake dog poop and put it in the living room so that when housemates came through the door, Palmer could sit and watch.

Colbert was a victim.

"I walked in and said, "Whose dog did that?" Colbert said. Then Colbert saw Palmer laughing.

Carson Palmer can't dance.

"He kind of dorks out on the dance floor," Fernandes said. "He thinks he can crib-walk. But he can't."

Carson Palmer can't play soccer.

"He toe-kicks the ball straight ahead every time," Fernandes said. "He tries to score on me and he can't even get the ball near the goal. It's pretty funny."

Carson Palmer is an athlete, a great athlete.

When he was 3 1/2, his mother took Carson along to a golf tournament Jennifer had entered. Though he had never played, he pestered his mother until she entered him in the 5-and-under division.

"And Carson won," Danna said.

Up until fifth grade, Bill Palmer, Carson's dad, hoped Carson would play basketball, like his oldest son, Robert, who is 37 now and a financial planner in Baltimore.

"I had resisted Carson playing football," Bill said. "I just saw too many kids getting hurt and the coaching wasn't very good. But I finally gave in. He wanted it too much."

By seventh grade, Carson Palmer was being introduced to Bob Johnson, the Mission Viejo quarterback guru whose son Rob, played at USC and now in the NFL.

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