Bush could earn Heisman in landslide

The first outbreak was reported in Southern California. Confirmed cases spread rapidly. It arrives in NYC on Saturday. The Reggie Bush epidemic should reach its peak at the 2005 Heisman presentation, writes Ivan Maisel.

Updated: December 9, 2005, 5:31 PM ET
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

The chills begin without warning. The muscles tense, the heart races, the body jerks forward. The victim usually barks out comments like, "Oh my God!" The episodes last no more than 15 seconds.

Epidemiologists pinpointed the first outbreak in Southern California a couple of years ago, with an increase in the last 15 months. They have confirmed cases up and down the West Coast, as well as in Miami and especially, South Bend.

Reggie Bush
Jeff Gross/Getty Images Reggie Bush's record-breaking performance against Fresno State ranks high on the list of his greatest games.
The disease is known as Bush fever, and its effects have changed the face of college football. No player in recent memory has had the impact that USC junior tailback Reggie Bush has had. He captured the imagination of the public as smoothly as he eluded capture by opposing defenses.

No player has combined style and production as seamlessly as Bush. No player has such a array of moves -- hurdles, stiff-arms, spins, starts, stops, or a combination of the above. It is fitting that the one statistical category in which Bush leads Division I-A is all-purpose yards (217.6 per game), numerical proof that no other player can do as many things on the football field.

There might be some more numerical proof of Bush's greatness Saturday at the Nokia Theater in New York, where the Heisman Trophy will be awarded. Voting has been closed for two days, and only the United States Congress could take these numbers and add them up so that Bush doesn't come out on top.

Kari Chisholm, an Oregon political consultant who runs the independent Web site stiffarmtrophy.com, polled 175 Heisman voters and believes that Bush may get the highest percentage of votes in the history of the award.

The record, set in 1998 by Texas tailback Ricky Williams, is 85.2 percent. Chisholm estimates that Bush's point total from the 923 Heisman voters (ballots are tabulated on a 3-2-1 basis, with the top choice getting three points) will fall somewhere between 82 and 86 percent.

His career began quietly, with 3 total yards in six touches at Auburn in the 2003 opener. It is ending anything but quietly. In three seasons as a Trojan, Bush has left an indelible footprint on everyone who has seen him play. It's not merely fans and sportswriters who collect the plays he has made as though they were living, moving, leaping stamps. Players and coaches, on his sideline and on the other one, have been doing so, too.

In the public eye, there seem to be two plays that stand out this season: the 36-yard touchdown run against Notre Dame that Bush punctuated by hurdling a tackler, a move that he went to more and more as the season wore on; and the 50-yard run against Fresno State when Bush, heading down the left sideline, came to a complete stop, let a Bulldog pursuer sail past him, then circled all the way across the field and stepped into the end zone inside the right pylon.

I was lucky to see both in person, yet the memory I take away of Reggie Bush is not of any single play. Before this season, I only remember blurting out "Oh my God!" once while covering a football game. That happened in 1994 at Michigan Stadium, when Colorado quarterback Kordell Stewart flung a pass 64 yards into the end zone with no time remaining.

I saw USC play four times this season: at Oregon, at Notre Dame and against Fresno State and UCLA. At least three times, I blurted out, "Oh my God!" All three times, No. 5 had the ball, had crossed the line of scrimmage and committed one of those moves that defy belief, if not gravity.

ESPN.com asked current and former Trojan players, as well as those who have coached Bush and coached against him, for their favorite Reggie moment. The most striking aspect of their recollections is that there are so many different ones.

USC offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin
The Oregon game. We motioned him over and threw him a touchdown. It was only 19 yards. It's important to me because we were really struggling (the Trojans trailed, 13-0, when Bush scored with 5:08 left in the second quarter). He broke a guy on a shake slant route. He broke him and he scored. It's not about a long run. It's about when you really need him when you're struggling. That is the sign of a great player.

There have been two years of plays when you're down. The punt return at Oregon State (in 2004). When you're down at Notre Dame, when you're down and things aren't going well, you go to No. 5. It used to be No. 1, Mike Williams, when things weren't going well. Now it's No. 5.

USC safety Scott Ware
When I was getting recruited [from Santa Rosa Junior College in 2003], I came down for spring practice. I watched [Bush] make a fool of a couple of different guys. I said, "Whoa!"

Someone said to me, "He does that every day."

[So when did he do that to you?]

It didn't happen to me in practice. [Ware laughed.] I'm not going to admit to that.

Former USC offensive tackle Anthony Munoz
Fresno State, Notre Dame: If he's not in there, it's a different ball game. He's definitely one of the best I've ever seen. Barring injury, I think he's going to have a great, great NFL career.

The [36-yard] run against Notre Dame when he cut and hurdled the guy. His ability to accelerate through the cut and stop, to decelerate, like he did [on the 50-yard run] against Fresno State, that was just, just amazing. It's one of those things where you go, 'Whoa!'

USC guard Fred Matua
Mine had to be to be the Oregon game, when he came and reversed back. He came back my way and I was able to crack back and be a part of the highlight. Reggie saw me and I saw his eyes blow up. He saw that I was able to get that guy. That one was my favorites, because I was able to be a part of it.

Former USC quarterback Rodney Peete
Oh my God, there are so many moments. He's like Barry Sanders. Every time he takes the ball, it's a Reggie moment. Maybe the [84-yard] punt return against Washington when he came out of the pack and everybody thought he was tackled and he ran the punt back for a touchdown. The Notre Dame game. The Fresno State game when he cut back across the field. I saw the thing on ESPN where they showed the run alongside Gale Sayers running. It was basically the same run.

Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville
He's the best player I've seen in a while. I got five guys starting in the NFL at tailback. None of those guys can do what he does.

Washington defensive coordinator Kent Baer
[Baer recruited Bush to Stanford and to Notre Dame while working for Ty Willingham] When I saw that kid in high school, I remember calling Coach Willingham and saying, 'I think I just saw the best player I've ever seen in high school.'

He didn't want any part of Notre Dame. He talked to us. Once he got to USC, Reggie seemed to really get ready for Notre Dame. He had some great games. A year ago, we were playing him really well. I think his longest run was 14 or 18 yards.

They offset him to the weak-side. He would run a wheel route. The linebacker and the backfield would cover him. We were supposed to double him with the safety. The linebacker took an awful angle. Reggie ran right by him. They threw him the ball deep and he scored a [69-yard] touchdown. You need to know where he is, and once you know that, you need to understand what they're going to do. The safety didn't come over and double him. The other 10 guys knew what he was going to do.

This year [when USC played Washington], that was one of those things where we said, 'Don't kick him the football.' We did one time, made a mistake, and he returned it [84 yards] for a touchdown.

Former USC tailback Anthony Davis
He's unpredictable. That's what makes the game of football exciting. You always think something might happen. With opposing defenses, it's like you blow a balloon up and hope it doesn't burst. In most cases, it bursts. That burst off-tackle when he scored at Notre Dame is what I really remember. They lose that game, they don't play in that national championship game. Reggie Bush has played in two other games that way, or else they might have two other losses: Fresno State and Arizona State.

USC coach Pete Carroll
It would go back to when he was a hothead freshman with the unbelievable desire to prove he belonged. He tried to pick a fight [in practice] with [safety] Jason Leach. Jason wouldn't do it. That's not what we do. He was teaching Reggie a beautiful lesson about intensity, about competition and about how you vent. Reggie tried to pick three fights that day. Nobody would let him. It was kind of teaching him about honor and teaching him our philosophy. There's a philosophy and an approach that the guys need to buy into. When we were able to display that with Reggie, it meant a lot to the other guys. That was a really big moment.

Reggie Bush
I don't know. There are so many.

To most people it's the Fresno State run. The Notre Dame run was a good run. I'm sure there are others. Maybe the push into the end zone. That was a good moment. For us to win that game in that fashion was unbelievable.

Baer
He could be the best ever. There are just not enough words to describe what the kid could do. I've never seen anything like him. That's 34 years of playing against some awfully good running backs. We never beat him. I'm fortunate to have coached against him, to see what he could do. It's fun to game plan against him. It's fun as a defensive coordinator to really try to see what you could do to try to defend him.

I wasn't that interested in watching USC-UCLA. The only reason I watched the game was to watch him. I love to watch him. When he went into the game against UCLA, he seemed like he had it in his mind that he would prove once and for all who's going to win the Heisman Trophy.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ivan.maisel@espn3.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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