Dec. 24, 2002
DAY 2 (Christmas Eve) The Regent Beverly Wilshire was void of Cougars early in the morning, with the exception of the coaching staff, who were hunched over video projectors in the offensive and defensive meeting rooms by 7:00 a.m. About 90 minutes later you could find players walking, not yet completely awake, toward the taping room.
Many also were headed to the player hospitality room, where they could find a pool table, a foos ball table, televisions, and the desire for this early morning appointment - juice, apples, bananas and plenty of pastry, thanks to Cougar Mania honcho Ernie Housel. Housel, with the tenacity of a bulldog, makes sure the Cougar players have as many comforts as possible during their down time. He has a cooler stocked with soft drinks and Gatorade, plus a cooler with pizzas and plenty of microwaves for everything that needs to be heated or cooked.
The buses rolled at 9:30 a.m. sharp and within 30 minutes were pulling into the LA Coliseum for the first real practice, complete with pads. A few players started practice without their regular practice jerseys, the result of a missing bag of laundry that the local company left back at headquarters. But thanks to the efforts of Milton Neal's equipment staff, few knew anything was missing, with quickly produced practice jerseys handed out to those who were missing their regular wear. Shortly after practice was underway, the missing jerseys arrived.
It was a relatively quiet practice, with few onlookers - just a few members of the media who have arrived early to cover the Cougars, a few family members from Southern California, and a couple of former Cougar players, including defensive back Chris Moton, who remembered being recruited by Jim Walden, then played for both Dennis Erickson and Mike Price. Moton will never forget the LA Coliseum. It was about the 30 yard line opposite the tunnel entrance where he blew a knee that every so often still reminds him of that game against the USC Trojans. Moton says his recreation now includes playing quarterback for a "nationally ranked" flag football team. Now they are ranking flag football teams?
Once practice was done, some players headed for a weight room set up by the Rose Bowl Association in a tent at the end of the field near the Olympic Torch. A few were requested for media interviews, while the rest showered and headed out for lunch.
Once Tuesday's practice was completed, the Cougar players were released for Christmas, with many headed home from the LA Coliseum. All must be back in time to board the buses at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Several locals took teammates home with them for the short Christmas break.