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On the Holiday Bowl Road: Part 3 – The pregame

Greg Katz – WeAreSC

 It’s Part 3 of On the Holiday Bowl Road with the Cardinal and Gold. It’s game day and what better way to get “up” for the game than the pregame atmosphere in and around Qualcomm Stadium.

Saturday – Dec. 27

9:00 a.m.: All right, it’s about time to play the game, wouldn’t you agree. Outside the Omni Hotel there are lots of people dressed in cardinal and gold jackets and “Big Red” Nebraska attire. I’ll be checking out at noon and getting a brief lunch at Point Loma Seafood with my buddy Bob, and then it’s off to Qualcomm.

12:30 p.m.: Having checked out of the Omni, I arrive at Point Loma Seafood, which is not far from San Diego International. I am told it’s a short drive from the restaurant to Interstate 8, which will take me to Qualcomm Stadium.

1:30: Depart from Point Loma Seafood after a wonderful fish sandwich and some tasty coleslaw. So far, Interstate 8 is moving well, and I begin looking for the Mission Village Drive entrance for the media. Parking for the media is located outside Gate H. To reach the press box, I’ll have to enter Gate H and take elevator No. 4 to Level 2A. Got all that?

1:50: Houston, I have a problem. Can’t find the off-ramp to Qualcomm. Now the adventure, unfortunately, begins yet again. Well, it’s time for Mr. Navigator. After going through surface streets, there is Qualcomm in front of me. I ask a security person for directions for press parking, and she tells me I need to pay for parking like everybody else. I tell her I am with the press, and she says, “It doesn’t make any difference, everybody pays.” She finally relents and tells me to make a left turn. Wrong! It takes me to the wrong side of the stadium, but I do get a grand tour of all the tailgating and partying. It’s all pretty impressive.

2:00: The Trojans Marching Band is warming up in a far parking lot as a number of Nebraska fans watch the country’s No. 1 college marching band, according to the rankings of USA Today.

2:05: Trojans fans are dressed for a big bowl game. Besides the obligatory tailgate tents, there are all kinds of assorted head gear from general cardinal and gold hats to Trojans Marching Band and Tommy Trojan helmets. Not to be outdone, Nebraska fans are wearing those big white cowboy hats with a large letter “N” on the front.

2:10: The Qualcomm parking lots are almost full, and this has the feel of a major bowl game. There are Trojans tents and tailgates everywhere and Nebraska is not too far behind. After finally being directed to a media area, I find media parking.

2:15: Outside the stadium, Cornhuskers fans are playing the old beanbag toss trying to direct their “bag” in a giant “N” hole.

2:25: After a quick security check-in, I take a crowded elevator to Level 4. The press box is actually not centered with the field. WeAreSC is seated between the goal line and the 10-yard line. There is a short, clear window shield in the front row to avoid any wind issues. Looking out on the field to the end zone to my left is the name “San Diego” in cardinal and gold and naturally the other end zone “San Diego” in the Nebraska colors of red and white.

2:35: As part of the media gift, each seat has a paper booklet on the front with the logo “San Diego Bowl Games,” which means this same gift was given out at the Poinsettia Bowl held earlier in the week between Navy and San Diego State.

2:45: There is a public address sound check with the voice of the Trojans Marching Band, and it is loud and intense.

2:50: Fans coming into the stadium are now showing their colors with some extensive face painting and colorful

3:00: The Trojans team has arrived and they enter on the field as upbeat music is played throughout the stadium. Trojans junior linebacker Anthony Sarao is pretending to be playing the drums to the musical beat. All-America defensive lineman Leonard Williams has his own music playing in his earphones and is dancing on the National University Holiday Bowl logo.

3:05: The Trojans running backs assemble on the 30-yard line and place their arms around each other, sway, and give some sort of pep talk or prayer.

3:08: Lead by Leonard Williams, a large number of Trojans gather at midfield and sway back and forth. Any bets this isn’t Leonard’s final game as a Trojan?

3:10: Showing a little individualism, freshman offensive guard Viane Talamaivao is dressed in all grey, forgoing the standard cardinal sweats. To think he could have honored his original Alabama commit and not been a Trojan. The Trojans deserve credit for getting Viane to rethink his decision. He is now playing his best ball of the season and at the right time.

3:13: A lone Trojan player stands by himself on the 27-yard line and it’s a sign of the times as he is apparently text messaging.

3:15: A discussion begins amongst members of the press regarding Qualcomm Stadium having once been a horrible place to watch a baseball game but still a nice place to see a football game. With all due respect, I think the football configuration here leaves a lot to be desired. The lower level sideline stands are way too far from the field. Maybe they could eventually lower the field, but as it stands now, it’s like the way the Coliseum was when it had a running track surrounding the football field.

3:20: Fans are now being allowed into Qualcomm. A number of high school bands are now seated. They must be part of the pregame or halftime shows.

3:22: Trojans back-up quarterback Max Browne warms up with wide receiver Robbie Kolanz, winner of the Chick Hearn Award for outstanding journalism. Browne is wearing a black Trojans T-shirt and a unique pair of black Nike shorts that look like military wear. Apparently Max has no feeling of cold. Placekicker Andre Heidari is apparently ready to go, having returned to the field in his full Trojans home uniform.

3:31: A Trojan father wearing a USC Marching Band jacket sits with his son in the view level seats to my upper left. The jacket is full of awards and medals. A couple of rows across a Trojan fan is preparing for cold in his view level seats by putting on one of those Trojans fleece blankets with the arm inserts.

3:34: Tonight’s officials will be from the Big 12 Conference. The referee is Randy Christal, who was the referee for the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between the Trojans and Cinderella Northwestern.

3:38: Trojans head strength and conditioning coach Ivan Lewis comes over to the end zone to my left and shakes hands with the Nebraska strength and conditioning team. You can bet that deep inside there is a competition to find out which team has the strongest and toughest competitors.

3:40: A number of Cornhuskers appear on the field in full uniform, wearing their traditional white road uniforms with the white helmet and the red “N” on the sides of the helmet along with a red strip down the middle of the helmet.

3:42: The Trojans Marching Band comes marching through the field level tunnel to my right.

3:50: The press box meal tonight for the Holiday Bowl is Mexican. Honestly, the food is not very good. The good news, while eating I’ve been informed that there are heaters underneath the tables of the press box. In other words, you can keep your lower body warm and your upper body cold.

4:15: Both teams are warming up and the stadium is starting to fill in. I’ll say this, there is a heckeva lot of red in this stadium. We have been informed the game will now start at 5:10.

4:20: Word is given that Trojans defensive lineman Greg Townsend Jr. will not play along with offensive lineman Aundrey Walker. Townsend’s loss could hurt the defensive line depth while the loss of Walker is, well, the end of an unfulfilled career to say the least.

4:25: Trojans President Max Nikias and Athletic Director Pat Haden pose for pictures along the USC sideline. The Trojans team runs to the end zone to my left, and the Trojans band plays Tribute to Troy. The USC fans react accordingly with a big ovation as their heroes leave the field. Nebraska continues warm-ups.

4:36: Nebraska leaves the field to a chorus of boos from Trojans fans and then emerging cheers from Cornhuskers fans. The stadium is starting to come alive. The upper levels of Qualcomm are starting to fill.

4:39: USC royalty is making its way onto the field. Former quarterback Rodney Peete and legendary fullback Sam “Bam” Cunningham grace the Trojans sideline. Sam Bam is wearing a USC lettermen’s jacket with his famous No. 39 on the right sleeve.

4:44: The Trojans Marching Band takes the field and a huge ovation takes place when the Trojans Warrior plants his sword at midfield. FanFare begins and we’re underway. A member of the press starts whistling Tribute to Troy.

4:50: The Nebraska band takes the field from all sections of the football field. They look like a Big Ten band, which is an improvement from being a Big 12 band.

4:58: Here comes the Navy Seals “Leapfrog” parachute team. It’s an awesome spectacle coming out of the night. Very impressive.

5:01: The National Anthem is played, as a football-length American flag is unfurled on the field.

5:06: Nebraska takes the field to a mix reaction.

5:07: The Trojans take the field to a huge ovation.

5:10: It’s time to play.

Greg Katz
Greg Katz

Now entering his 59th season of either writing, broadcasting, or just plain watching USC football, WeAreSC columnist Greg Katz began his affiliation with the website back in 2001, introducing his well-received O/NSO (The Obvious/The Not So Obvious) column and later adding his respected IMHO Sunday opinion and tidbits column. Greg, a former ESPN.com college football columnist covering USC, is also a member of the Football Writer's Association of America. He is also known in Southern California as a professional public address announcer, having called the the 1996 Rose Bowl Game between USC and Northwestern. Greg also holds a master's degree in athletic administration and was a former varsity high school coach of 27 years.

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