10 years later, the highlights from Reggie Bush's career as a USC Trojan are still breathtaking. From the time he put the ball behind his back, and ran from sideline to sideline for a touchdown against Fresno State, to the Bush Push against Notre Dame, the early YouTube clips show just how unstoppable Bush was. Bush played running back as if he had turned the world's gameplay settings to Rookie Mode.
He was unstoppable, and so was USC.
USC made it to the National Championship Game in two of the three seasons Bush played for them. USC only lost twice in the regular season during that three-year stretch. After being a first-team Freshman All-American selection in 2003, Bush exploded in 2004. He rushed for 908 yards with 6 touchdowns, and caught 43 passes with 7 touchdowns. USC went undefeated and obliterated Oklahoma 55-19 in the BCS National Championship Game.
From there the legend only grew. Playing in the shadow of Hollywood, the hype around Bush in 2005 reached Johnny Football-levels. Snoop Dogg and Will Ferrell came to watch practice, and the Trojans regularly packed the L.A. Coliseum as Angelenos came to watch The Reggie Bush Show. Bush responded with possibly the best year by a college running back ever. Ever. He rushed for 1740 yards, caught 37 passes, and had 18 touchdowns as USC went undefeated in 2005. Bush ended up with the second-most first-place Heisman Trophy votes ever, and his legacy was secure as one of the best players to ever play for the University.
Then came the NCAA investigation.
The 2006 USC investigation kicked off an era in which the NCAA dished out punishment like an angry parent trying to regain control over a rebellious teenager. Before the University of Miami was penalized for players receiving improper benefits and Penn State went down for the Sandusky scandal, USC "received some of the harshest penalties ever meted out to a Division 1 program." They were forced to vacate the final two wins of its 2004 national championship season. They were forced to vacate all of their wins in 2005. They were banned from bowl games for two years and docked 30 scholarships over three years. A large percentage of this because of Reggie Bush.
Some of the best seasons of USC football have been reduced to four pages of YouTube videos. That's the real legacy of Reggie Bush.
After sports agent Lloyd Lake sued Bush for not repaying $209,000 in gifts, he went crying to the NCAA. Lloyd told them everything, including that Bush had illegally accepted hotel stays and a home for his family, along with limo rides and new suits.
The punishments to the program were unprecedented. Along with all of USC's vacated wins and lost bowl opportunities, Reggie Bush became the first person ever to get stripped of his Heisman. For reference, to this day O.J. Simpson is still officially the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner. Reggie Bush's infractions were not taken lightly and USC entered what became known to many as the Lane Kiffin Dark Ages.
Looking back on it now, it's easy to process the high's and lows for USC football over the last decade. The Trojans went from having one of the most sustained periods of dominance ever to losing to UCLA three years in a row. They went from the Rose Bowl to the Holiday Bowl. And as they attempt to move forward from the recent disappointments, they've decided to leave some of the past behind.
That means pretending that Reggie Bush never existed. He's become He Who Must Not Be Named at the University of Southern California. His jersey doesn't hang in Heritage Hall, USC's football museum. His image has been scrubbed from the Coliseum. The Heisman Trophy copy that the school was given has been returned. On game days it's borderline impossible to spot anyone wearing his old number 5 jersey, and there are no videos or pictures of Bush to be found anywhere on campus.
"He was a once in a lifetime athlete, but the cloud of speculation around his recruitment has forced a discouraging separation between Bush and USC," says Evan Budrovich, who covers USC football for SBNation and is a play-by-play broadcaster for the team. "It's almost as if Bush never happened."
The separation between Bush and USC is so rigid that Bush has never once been invited back to campus, even though Pete Carroll and Matt Leinart are both still involved there regularly. Leinart has led the football team out of the tunnel various times, and Pete Carroll will be accepting an honorary degree from USC in May. Yet it's as if Bush was never a part of the team, it's as if he had no role in one of the best stretches of Trojan football ever.
In fact the only real evidence that Bush played for SC are the YouTube videos. On the Internet at least, there’s no denying that then top-ranked USC beat ninth-ranked Notre Dame in 2005. There's no denying that Bush won the Heisman Trophy, and the Trojans won the 2004 Orange Bowl. Some of the best seasons of USC football have been reduced to four pages of YouTube videos. That's the real legacy of Reggie Bush.