By Greg Katz: WeAreSC.com
The USC Trojans are in the Bay Area this weekend for their first-ever appearance in a Pac-12 Championship Game, which will be played at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara. The game winner gets a Rose Bowl invitation. For USC fans, a conference championship game is something new. For those fans that couldn’t make it or for those attending but want to see a different set of eyes comes a special “On the Road with the Cardinal and Gold.” Here is Friday night’s Part 1 with your humble correspondent.
Friday – Dec. 4
4:30 p.m.: As the old song says, “My bags are packed I am ready to go,” and so begins something new in the glorious history of USC football – the Pac-12 Championship Game in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara and a second-time meeting with those Pac-12 North Division bullies affectionately known as the Stanford Cardinal. Departing from my Orange County man cave and depending on traffic, it should take about 15 minutes to get to John Wayne Airport for the flight to San Jose (cue to the Dionne Warwick classic “Do you know the way to San Jose?”)
4:37: Traffic on the 405 North is about as predictable on a Friday night, rush-hour evening as Trojans tailback Justin Davis gaining extra yards after an initial attempted tackle. Now you have to admit, Davis is running like former Trojans All-America tailback Clarence Davis, and Justin should take that as a compliment.
4:50: Traffic on the 405 is as slow as a Coliseum restroom during a Notre Dame sellout. Trying to make my way to the McArthur Blvd. off-ramp for the airport is like trying to maneuver through the original Wild Bunch.
5:00: Maybe because it’s Friday night, but John Wayne Airport traffic is beyond mild; it’s almost non-existent. It’s easy access into the JWA public parking lot, and it’s as easy to find a parking space close to the crosswalk as Justin Davis finding an opening in the UCLA defensive line.
5:10: There is no line at the Southwest Airlines counter and I mean no line. Maybe I’ve found a new time to depart on Trojans road trips, but, of course, flying to San Jose isn’t exactly like taking a trip halfway across country to Chicago for the Notre Dame Weekender. So far, no Trojans fans in sight.
5:20: Like you, I am eternally grateful when my boarding pass as a “TSA” designation, which means I go through the “Diamond Lane” of security checks. Moments after going through the “TSA”, my cellphone “bings” with a message. Just don’t tell me that Cody Kessler has a broken arm. No, it’s a message saying that Dodgers all-star pitcher Zach Greinke has reportedly agreed to a six-year contract with the rival Arizona Diamondbacks. Oy veh. Hey, Katz, remember, your assignment is USC football and not your beloved Dodgers. The Greinke announcement still gives me this sinking feeling like when Notre Dame was driving in the fourth quarterback in South Bend to defeat the Men of Troy.
5:30: Decisions, decisions. I am really getting hungry for those that care. Haven’t eaten lunch since 11:30 this morning. Should I get a Subway sandwich in the airport before boarding or wait to I get to the Pac-12 media hotel, the San Jose Marriott? I think I am going to suck it up and gut it out like center Khaliel Rodgers playing with a pair of bum shoulders against UCLA.
5:40: Southwest Airlines makes an announcement that boarding at Gate 13 is ready. I do not have priority boarding, so I am in the “B” line, which isn’t too bad. It’s like being a Trojans walk-on, but you still get to play on special teams.
6:17: Take off – Not too many visible USC fans inside the plane. Oh, wait a minute, there is one Stanford fan. So far, it’s a Trojans home field, plane advantage. Flight is quiet as UCLA fans filing out of the Coliseum last week.
7:27: Land in San Jose. Lights of downtown San Jose looked pretty while on approach, and I was able to easily see the Marriott, the media home of the Pac-12 Championship Game. Getting my one small suitcase in the luggage area was probably the easiest acquisition off a conveyor belt I’ve experienced in quite some time. BTW, did I mention that I am starving?
7:50: The cab ride into downtown San Jose is fast, but the streets are overly crowded with cars due to a closed Christmas street carnival. The cab fare that should have cost $18 increases to $23. The Market Street location of the Marriott is so crowded that my cabbie drops me off across the street. I give the cabbie credit; he made better “halftime” adjustments than the previous two no-longer Trojans head coaches. The weather is very chilly, and folks are all bundled up on the street.
8:00: My Marriott room is on the 20th floor with a view of the lighted city. The room itself is small but nice. The bathroom is acceptable and the bed appears comfortable and clean. The TV screen, however, is way too small, and I long for my 70-inch home television. Hey, that’s what happens when you “play” or should I say “stay” on the road.
8:25: Unfortunately, check-in for Pac-12 media credentials is closed, so I go to check out the Marriott dining choices. Whoa, way too expensive! A server suggest I try an Italian restaurant called Original Joe’s, which is a block away. Original Joe’s is crawling with USC fans. Apparently I have made the right choice. The wait for a booth is well over an hour if I don’t seat at the counter, so I pick the counter.
8:45: A TV screen is showing a Pac-12 Network replay of the earlier USC/Stanford game. Nobody seems to care. I decide to order a salad and salmon with veggies. They also serve sour dough bread and I stick to one slice. Like the Trojans winning the recent coin tosses, I “defer” on the dessert option.
9:30: Head back to the hotel and there are a good number of Trojans fans roaming the street. It seems to be the calm before the storm. Saturday morning in the Arcadia Restaurant of the Marriott will be a special Pac-12 media breakfast to discuss Saturday night’s game between the Trojans and Cardinal. Expected to speak are former Trojan wide receiver great Curtis Conway, former Trojans Pete Carroll assistant assistant Yogi, Roth, and fellow Pac-12 analysts Nick Aliotti and Glenn Parker.
10:00: Time to call it a day. All I can think of is the Trojans are one game away from going to the Rose Bowl, and that makes Saturday’s game a real anticipation.