The voice of USF Athletics, Jim Louk, will routinely put down his radio headset and pick up the pen to share his perspective on the history of USF Athletics.
Louk has been broadcasting games for 27 years and is the resident historian in the Athletics Department hallways... So this week he remembers the Bulls' first trip to play at Army in Bring me the head of Rocky the Bull.
There's a story or two to be recounted about nearly every one of the 152 USF football games. Some games, however, have so many storylines that it's a little bit of a project to recount them all.
Such was the game of September 27, 2003, when the Bulls played Army. What follows is the story of an opening game in a new conference, security searches, armed guards, the Bulls' only appearance at historic Michie Stadium, spectacularly bad weather during pre-game activities, unprecedented national television exposure for its time and a missing mascot head.
Newcomers to the Bulls program might be surprised that USF/Army was a conference game, let alone the Conference USA opener in 2003. Click photo on the right for the complete game program. Army was in the league for a short time as a football only member, and the Bulls were brand new to C-USA in 2003. After losing to Alabama and beating Nicholls State, the Bulls flew to New York State in preparation for the game at West Point. It was just over two years since 9/11 and we knew security would be tight on this trip.
Deep breath and here we go.
Using charter service, the Bulls will, at times, fly in to some small airports just to be as close as possible to the game site. As long as the runway is long enough, (and I've considered more than once driving there beforehand and using a tape measure to make absolutely sure the runway is long enough) we'll fly there.
This time the destination was a small airport in Newburgh, N.Y. When we got there, we found it wasn't quite the airport we expected.
Turns out that little landing strip was a New York City airport alternative for political figures heading in to the big city; when we landed jetliners from around the world were parked at the facility. As a result, when we left after the game the security checks were, let's say, aggressive. It was the kind of security check that when it's over you feel like the only honorable thing to do is marry the person who conducted it. I'm not totally convinced that there aren't a couple of USF staff members still waiting in line in that airport seven years later, convinced they're going to be allowed to board the plane soon.
But that was the return trip. Back to the pre-game.
On game day we travelled to West Point, minus our radio equipment which had been left off the flight. Another story there that we'll set aside for now; the equipment eventually got to the stadium in time for the broadcast. The weather was threatening, but not bad in the morning.
The West Point campus was beautiful but a little sobering, with check point after check point, all staffed with guards who were very noticeably armed. Some had rifles. I don't know if it was standard procedure there or if it was post 9/11 policy, but it created a very strange feeling entering the facility.
Michie Stadium was as advertised; a beautiful stadium in a beautiful setting, with a river running right alongside it. We enjoyed the view while we had it, but soon the weather deteriorated and the rain and lightning started.
While we were safe and comfortable in the press box, a group of USF administrators and fans were on the open water. Fortunately it only drizzled on their boat ride up the Hudson River. The real weather hit during the tailgate event, when a group of Bulls fans were gathered under a tent in an open field near the stadium.
USF Associate Athletic Director Vicki Mitchell coordinated the pregame event.
"We had 300 people huddled together under a tent. The weather came so fast that you were immediately ankle deep in water. Afterward, you had to throw out your shoes. My clearest memory of the day came in the middle of the storm when I saw Lee Roy Selmon with his arms wrapped around a big tent pole holding it up and stabilizing the tent while the caterers used brooms to move the water away."
Once a hero, always a hero.
While all of this was going on, ESPN's College Gameday was broadcasting from the marching grounds, a fair distance from the stadium. It's still the only time Gameday has been at a USF game.
We were informed that Lee Corso was going to pick the Bulls to win, so USF Sports Information Director John Gerdes made his way through the rain to bring the Rocky head to the Gameday set so Corso could wear it for the big announcement. An ESPN staffer promised Gerdes they'd return the head after it was used.
Unfortunately the segment never ran. The weather became so severe that ESPN was knocked off the air a full 35 minutes before kickoff and they never got back on from game site. Rocky's head lost its moment of ESPN glory and worse yet, wound up being tossed in the ESPN production truck instead of being returned to Gerdes.
The young man who played Rocky wound up sitting on the bench (literally) for the game because his mascot head was being driven back to Bristol, Conn., as kickoff approached.
Unfortunately it was too late to add to the injury list for the game:
The Bulls won that day 28-0. It was their first C-USA road win and first conference shutout. I remember DeJuan Green scoring a touchdown and saluting the crowd, but not a whole lot more. Sometimes it's the peripheral stuff that stands out as the years go by.
The weather cleared up by game time, everyone survived the tailgate party, and with apologies from ESPN, Rocky eventually got his head back. The head is still waiting, however, to appear with Lee Corso on Gameday.
During the season, there's never much time between games. You're on to the next one pretty fast. We flew home and got ready for Louisville the following week and a lot of the events of USF/Army faded away.
But looking back now, it sure was an adventure.