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The Inside Track | T.J. Simers

Food Poisoning and O.J. Both Cause Some Nausea

January 01, 2003|T.J. Simers

MIAMI — A number of years ago, I tried to get a sportswriting job at the Sioux City Journal in Iowa, which would probably have put me in the position of making fun of USC, Trojan fans and Mike Garrett today as the Hawkeyes prepare for the Orange Bowl.

I know most of you will find this hard to believe, but the folks at the Sioux City Journal didn't think much of my writing, which almost kept me from ever making fun of USC, Trojan fans and Mike Garrett.

I remained determined, however, and as a result, it's pretty much my only job right now, which explains why I was so disappointed that a case of food poisoning prevented me from being here earlier to watch O.J. Simpson mug for the Orange Bowl cameras as an ever-loving member of the Trojan family.

(You know that old expression: "Beware of Trojan fans bearing fruitcakes.... " Well, I can't say for sure that's what happened, but in his new role as food taster, as long as he's still with us, I'm confident the Grocery Store Bagger will do a fine job. In fact, feel free to keep sending those fruitcakes.)

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NOW, I still have some unanswered questions for Simpson. Does he expect to get the game ball if USC wins because of the little speech he made to the team?

Does he get a regular job out of this -- other teams inviting him to their practices, inspiring a public outcry and thereby reinforcing that tried-and-true football formula: "Guys, it's us against the world?"

Does he ever come clean and tell us who the other two were in his foursome, after mentioning at the Trojans' practice he had just come from playing golf with "L.T."? Let's see, Charles Manson is still imprisoned, and I'm not sure I'd recognize Lawrence Taylor's former drug dealer....

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OBVIOUSLY, I still have some unanswered questions for Garrett & Co., which of course will always go unanswered. The Trojan brain trust had to know this was a possibility when USC came here, so why didn't someone take the leadership role and make it clear to Simpson that this was one fine party that didn't need to be crashed?

A private meeting would have raised the same kind of furor, but there wouldn't have been a picture of Simpson and Carson Palmer standing side by side in every newspaper in the country.

Imagine the public relations points Garrett might have scored had he escorted Simpson off the practice field. Coach Pete Carroll and his players were obviously not prepared for the visit, and their comments reflected as much, which goes back to USC's leaders, who didn't do their jobs.

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I FEEL a lot better, now that I've been given the chance to make fun of USC and Garrett again. And I still have a couple of days to poke fun at Trojan fans. In fact, I've been invited to a New Year's Eve party here with some big-shot Hollywood producer who used to be a USC cheerleader, and it's too bad it's too late to fly in the Grocery Store Bagger because I hate to go to a party knowing I can't eat anything.

While waiting for the party and the chance to poke fun at Trojan fans, I thought it might be nice to spend time with the Iowa media, since I could have been one of them. So I went to the hotel's media hospitality room, knowing that's where the free beer was being served. If I wanted to find the L.A.-area media, I would have gone to the hotel's fitness center. That's where I hang out when I go on the road.

They were more than happy to fill me in on Hawkeye lore, and I should credit the Orange Bowl Committee for its foresight in not running out of beer.

"At the end of every Iowa game, the fans sing, 'In heaven there is no beer, that's why we drink it here,' " explained one, and, for a second, I thought the entire media corps was going to make like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and give me the whole song.

I'm told Iowa also has Herky the Hawk as its mascot, and by the look on most of the faces of the reporters in the room, each of them has written Herky's life story at one time or another.

"Don't make us out to be just a bunch of rubes," said one TV guy, who insisted on reminding me every five minutes he'd been born in Illinois and not Iowa.

There are more than 45,000 Iowa fans expected here for the game -- most dressed in gold and black and looking like pork-fed bumblebees. Orange Bowl officials couldn't be happier -- because instead of the usual three-day stay, Iowa fans are expected to make this a six-day trip. Would you be in a hurry to return to Iowa?

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MY HOPE, of course, is that the Iowa football team is good enough to help me make fun of the Trojans again. I did some homework, though, and I'm concerned. The last two big bowl games the Hawkeyes played were in Pasadena, Iowa losing both Rose Bowls by a combined total of 29 points.

In the majestic words of the late great Times columnist, Jim Murray, written 17 years ago, almost to the day:

"Well, I guess the good old American farmer is in worse trouble than we thought. A bunch of corn-kickers from Iowa came out to the big city for New Year's and got shucked again.

"They came out with the egg money and blew it on the wrong shell again. They're going home, so to speak, with a deed to the Brooklyn Bridge and a watch that loses an hour a day and turns green on their arm.

"It's getting embarrassing. Another defeat for home cooking and mom's apple pie. Quiche is better for you....

"These people are the salt of the earth. They feed the world.

"They just can't play football."

I'm starting to feel sick again.

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T.J. Simers can be reached at t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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