LOS ANGELES — No one in the USC Trojans family was cheering wildly Tuesday.
Certainly not the way they did at the Coliseum when Reggie Bush used to weave through defenders, catch passes and return punts for touchdowns.
Not exactly a bottle-of-champagne kind of day when Bush announced he was shipping his 2005 Heisman Trophy back from whence it came.
Nevertheless, for Trojans everywhere, it was at least a better day than the day before — when Bush was still clinging to his hardware, hoping the lingering, stale stench from his fraudulently won prize would just, please, go away.
USC already did its part in July, removing its replica trophy from Heritage Hall, acknowledging that an ineligible player shouldn’t keep a Heisman. Finally, Bush did the same, for the first time actually referring to his own “mistakes.” Finally.
In this whole sorry mess, that dragged on for more than four years, and ultimately cost USC more than a season’s worth of victories, two years of bowl eligibility and 30 scholarships, it was the first time Bush stepped up and did the right thing.
Too late to keep the NCAA from unleashing severe penalties. Too late for Bush, or the school, to get ahead of the situation, to appease the NCAA and, perhaps, lessen some of the blows to the program.
The only thing left for Bush to do was the correct thing, perhaps because he was the last one in the world to recognize it.
“It’s never a good thing to have to give back a Heisman Trophy,” USC athletic director Pat Haden said Tuesday, in front of Heritage Hall, little more than a first down from the spot where the statue once stood with the school’s other six Heismans.
“But at the end of the day, we did the right thing, Reggie did the right thing and I feel good about that.”
Small consolation, of course.
The situation had finally reached critical mass for Bush, which is what it had to take for him to man-up. Or not. Most would call it a pre-emptive move.
Reports surfaced last week that the Heisman Trust was going to ask for Bush’s stiff-arming little man back anyway. Tuesday, he issued a statement saying he was “turning a negative situation into a positive one,” while at the same time proposing an education program to assist athletes and their families in avoiding “some of the mistakes I made.”
Nice words. But as hollow as a football.
His and his family’s acceptance of gifts, including payments for housing, from agents ended up being Bush’s greatest collegiate legacy. Not his touchdowns.
If his “mistakes” finally cost Bush, himself, something tangible, there’s no doubt who has been saddled with the biggest debt.
“It’s guys who were in junior high school who are suffering the consequences,” noted Haden, referring to USC’s current players.
After Lane Kiffin finished coaching those players Tuesday evening, he answered the dreaded Reggie Bush questions with grim-faced exasperation. He said he mentioned it to his team only because he knew they would be asked, but made it clear that “these guys didn’t even know Reggie Bush.”
Nor did he care, he said, the 2005 Heisman was on its way back to New York City.
“Honestly,” he said. “That has nothing to do with this team or the direction of this program.”
Not any more.
Contact Gregg Patton at gpatton@PE.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service, www.scrippsnews.com.