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The Night Carson Palmer Became A Legend

One night in 2002 became my favorite moment in USC Sports.

Carson Palmer vs Notre Dame, November 30th 2002.

I inherited most of my early football knowledge from my grandfather, who worked and coached in the Compton Unified school district for 25+ years. If there was one philosophy I was able to glean from him growing up, it was that running the football is the key to victory.

I have lost track of the times I have heard some variation of “Run Fargas! Carroll is trying to make Palmer into a star!” or “The 49ers would be so much better if Mariucci would run the ball! He’s trying to make Jeff Garcia into Joe Montana!” As for me? I believed it too, what did I know? I was only a child, with little interest in football, and it seemed like whenever a team got the ball going on the ground they did better.

So, I too followed the mantra of “Run the ball, win the game!” Something I thought I would carry with me for the rest of my life.

That all changed for me November 30th, 2002, the night Carson Palmer set fire to the Notre Dame secondary for 425 yards and 4 Touchdowns. I was only 14, and had just finished my first season of organized football. It was one of the first football games I sat down to actually watch and didn’t have my Gameboy in my hand. For the first time in my life, USC received my full and undivided attention and I was blown away.

46 passing attempts? 32 completions?! 425 passing yards?! My mind exploded, three yards in a cloud of dust isn’t the only way to win games?! Short, middle or deep, it didn’t matter, Carson Palmer was on fire that night. Even though he threw two picks it didn’t matter, I was still in awe. Carson Palmer went from someone I vaguely remember watching over the top of a Gameboy struggling against Utah, to a legitimate gunslinger and a legend. I didn’t realize till much later, but it was also the night Palmer won himself the Heisman.

This is my favorite moment in USC sports because it was one of the first times I watched football with my grandfather on purpose, instead of just being in the room while the game was on. It also gave birth to my first football philosophy; “Throw it and throw it deep!”

Between then and now my football philosophies have changed, I now realize how important running the ball is and establishing the line of scrimmage and thanks to Lendale White I can also appreciate 3 (read 5.8 ypc) yards in a cloud of dust. Even though my appreciation for the run game has grown and I understand maintaining a balanced offense. I will never forget the thrill and excitement I felt watching Carson Palmer, it was something I have not felt watching USC football in a long time.

Well, it was something I hadn’t felt watching USC football until the Rose Bowl in January when current Trojan gunslinger Sam Darnold lit Penn State up going 33-53 for 453 yards and 5 touchdowns. It’ll be a while before I forget where I was during that USC sports moment as well, sitting in the same spot I was 15 years ago, on the couch next to my grandfather. Incidentally that night we were both shouting at the TV.

“Let Darnold throw it!”