"This thing, regarding USC and the NCAA, is the closest thing to death without dying because I have such a great love and respect for the university," Bush said. "This has been one the toughest things I've had to deal with in my life."
Speaking publicly about the NCAA report for the first time since its release last week, Bush would not address the specific allegations of wrongdoing. Rather, he pledged to support USC however he could in an appeal of the sanctions.
"I believe that there's a lot of untold truth to this matter, there's a lot of fabricated lies to this matter, but it is what it is and I can't sit here and cry about it. I can't sit here and make up excuses," Bush said. "Ultimately, it's a responsibility that's placed on USC and my shoulders. It's because of me. So all I can do is continue to try to help them and move forward with the situation.
"God works in mysterious ways and at the end of the day I think this, too, shall pass and hopefully we can grow stronger from this."
The NCAA report, released June 10, concluded that Bush and his family accepted improper benefits from marketing agents while he was playing for USC. The NCAA ruled that USC would have to vacate victories from late 2004 through the 2005 season, a period that included the Trojans' national title win over Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl in January 2005.
USC also was penalized with a two-year bowl ban and a loss of 30 scholarships during a three-year period.
It is not yet clear whether Bush will lose his 2005 Heisman Trophy. Bush said he's not worried about what further punishment or embarrassment may await him, but he is concerned about current USC players who may be deprived of scholarships or miss out on postseason play.
"Obviously, with the current penalty, it sucks because the kids there now have to deal with that and you never want to be in the position where you've affected a kid's career or the future of a high school player who has a dream to go to USC," Bush said. "That's not a good feeling. Obviously, like I said earlier, we're going to do everything we can with the appeal and we feel strongly about winning the appeal."
The report has no bearing on the 25-year-old Bush's pro career with the Super Bowl champion Saints.
As Bush spoke, his former marketing agent, Mike Ornstein, stood nearby, listening intently. Ornstein, who is now a Saints consultant, said afterward he had "absolutely no comment about any of this."
Although the probe resulted in large part from a lawsuit filed by would-be marketing agents who were upset that they never wound up representing Bush, Ornstein -- who did succeed in landing Bush as a client during the football star's first couple of pro seasons -- also had been accused of providing improper benefits to Bush while he was still at USC.
Bush said he regretted "that this situation has occurred and was brought on USC because of me . . . and my name is dragged through this, their name is dragged through this, my family's name is dragged through this and it's really unfortunate."
Bush said Saints teammates have been supportive, as have his old USC teammates, even though the record may no longer show that the Trojans were national champions at the end of the 2004 season.
"My teammates have been none other than extremely supportive of me and even my teammates when I was there at USC, sending me text messages and just supporting me and having my back in this matter and that means a lot," Bush said. "That goes a long way, because once you go through those things that we went through together, once we built the relationships and the foundation that we built together, those are things you can never take away. That's what I look forward to the most, is just having that relationship forever with my USC family and with my current Saints family."
When the NCAA findings were released, Bush said he had feelings similar to bringing shame on one's father or family. Bush said he always wanted to represent his school with pride and hopes to strengthen his relationship with his former school whether the punishment stands or not.
"I'm going to do everything I can to make this right, some way, somehow, some shape or form, if it's the last thing I do," he said.