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FAN OF THE HOUSE

This player-coach-fan gets his fill in the fall

A USC game, a Dodgers game, some AYSO soccer, and more touch football — he's not proud of his sports addiction, but acknowledges its existence.

October 05, 2010|Chris Erskine

Fall just keeps getting better and better. Granted, I should spend more time attending art walks and viola recitals, maybe take up the oboe. I made myself a little promise the other morning that I'd really give all that a try.

Till then, I attended several sporting events last weekend, coached in one of them (AYSO soccer) and played in yet a fourth — a jangly-nerved touch-football league for the criminally insane. I'm not proud of my sports addiction. But acknowledgment is the first step toward recovery.

By the way, no more USC football games for me — doctor's orders. He said my liver couldn't stand the strain. And my drinking arm may soon need Tommy John surgery. With the season not even half over, I am becoming the Stephen Strasburg of beer.

I was out there again last Saturday — I seem suddenly to eat only out of the back ends of cars. Attending a USC tailgate with my buddy Ulf is like wandering through Rome with Caesar two steps in front. He's got a warrior's stride and this sort of unexplainable Ulf charisma. Knows everybody and smooches all the women and a couple of the smaller men.

"I don't even like that guy," Ulf whispers after spinning away from one warm embrace.

"That was me," I say.

Now, I'm just a Midwestern boy far from home, but I know enough to realize that Los Angeles is a very special place. It's kind of what God is giving me in lieu of Heaven.

I also know this: Except for a Lakers game, nothing in America is as freaky-fun as a USC home game on a warm October evening. There's Al Cowlings, best known as O.J.'s getaway driver, glad-handing former assistant athletic director Barbara Hedges in Row 52 of the alumni side. Marcus Allen is over here. Developer Rick Caruso is over there. Hey, is that one of the Car-Krashian sisters? The Coliseum crowd is made up of the movers and shakers of L.A., plus scores of too-pretty families from San Marino.

And there I sit, feeling a little out of place, when Pat Haden strolls by.

I'm no USC wonk — quite the opposite — but meeting Haden is like meeting an astronaut. He works Section 7 at USC games as if he's about to climb aboard a rocket ship.

I've seen him a couple of times now, and the new AD has none of the oogish, plastic tendencies of other politicians. The bright yet humble Haden has all the right stuff — and the authenticity of an actual hero — not a bad trait for someone assigned to recapture the moon.

Yeah, USC has lost its mojo but not its hope. Here's wishing the alumni base, which like all major programs tends toward attention deficit disorder, plops a Ritalin in its highball and gives Haden the time to fix things.

Because, if not Haden, who?

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Baseball is "a backward-looking sport in a forward-looking nation," wrote Michael Lewis recently.

That's only part of the appeal. The grub is pretty good too.

So over I go to Dodger Stadium, for Joe Torre's last supper as Dodgers skipper. For years now, I've found Torre to be the most sensible man in the entire crucible of Los Angeles. Which is really saying something, because you and I live here too.

Time flies when a franchise is being flubbed. Wasn't it only a year ago that the Dodgers were crushing the Cardinals on the way to the NL Championship Series? When it was over, they seemed maybe only a single gunslinger away from a World Series.

Instead of a pitcher, they acquired a rotation of divorce lawyers who threw nothing but curves. A few weeks ago, I had desperate readers asking me to organize some sort of customer revolt. My promise: As soon as a majority of the fans learn to read, I will rally them to action.

We'll all meet at the Short Stop bar (my Parthenon), where I will give a speech so moving — yet so off point — that the grand old game of baseball may never recover. The good news: Ulf will probably pick up the tab.

Till then, so long, Joe Torre. In a town full of class clowns, you were always a class act — a wry and welcome voice of reason. Rumors that you will now attend law school to help with the McCourt case seem to be exaggerated.

But it was a very nice thought.

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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