USC Celebrates National Championship

    Jan. 21, 2005

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    AP Sports Writer

    LOS ANGELES (AP) - Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart took his time before throwing his final passes of the season.

    His receivers were Southern California fans and students, not teammates.

    And he tossed oranges instead of footballs.

    The USC quarterback was joined by coach Pete Carroll and several teammates in tossing the oranges Friday during an hour-long ceremony on campus, where the Trojans celebrated their national championship 2{ weeks after beating Oklahoma 55-19 in the Orange Bowl to complete a perfect season.

    A crowd estimated at 7,000 attended the ceremony.

    The oranges came from the Orange Bowl trophy and Leinart's MVP award, which he earned by throwing a record five touchdown passes.

    "It's just really an honor to be here," Leinart said. "I'm so happy with what we've accomplished. Never in a million years did I imagine this would be happening.

    "This is the greatest time - that's why I'm staying in school. There's a lot of people questioning my decision. In reality, that's what's best for me."

    Just a week earlier, Leinart announced he was returning to USC for his senior year to try and lead the Trojans to an unprecedented third straight national championship rather than enter the NFL draft.

    Had he turned pro, Leinart figured to go high in the first round and become an instant millionaire.

    The Trojans, whose 13-0 record was the best in school history, received several national championship trophies Friday - a year after splitting the honor with LSU.

    A fan held up an appropriate sign: "Last year, we were left out. This year, there was no doubt. Next year ..."

    Leinart's Heisman Trophy was also on display.

    Pro Football Hall of Famer Marcus Allen, who won the Heisman Trophy as a USC running back in 1981, served as master of ceremonies.

    "We expect not only to three-peat, but four-peat," Allen told the crowd. "This year's theme was leave no doubt, and the Trojans left no doubt as to who's No. 1."

    Athletic director Mike Garrett, who won the Heisman as a USC running back in 1965, ignited the crowd when he said: "January Fourth, I think we dominated, didn't we? Thank God for Pete Carroll."

    Carroll took over a sagging program before the 2001 season, and his first team went 6-6. His last three were a combined 36-3.

    "We are so proud to be national champions," Carroll said. "We're going to keep this thing going for a long time."

    Among the fans on hand was 35-year-old Grant Nichol, a USC graduate who lives in Long Beach.

    "It's amazing," he said of USC's recent domination. "We had so many dark years. I had season tickets the whole time. I couldn't get anybody to go to the games. It's an incredible feeling to be back where we belong."