For nine seasons, Rick Carr served as the security guard for Pete Carroll when he was at USC. Carr once again got the assignment when Carroll returned to L.A. as the coach of the Seahawks.
LOS ANGELES — For nine magical years, Rick Carr was the guy beside the guy.
He handled security for the USC football team, so he was a permanent game-day fixture at the side of Pete Carroll, matching the coach stride for stride onto and off of the field, and virtually everywhere else.
So when Carr got the call from the Seahawks last week, asking if he’d be willing to wear a team shirt and cap and shadow Carroll once more, he almost jumped through the phone.
“I felt really honored,” said Carr, who spent most of his 27 years at the Torrance Police Dept. as a homicide detective. His USC assignment was a side gig, although he’s now full time at the university and oversees security for all the sports.
Memory Lane turned out to be the 50-yard stretch, from the visitors’ locker room at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the slope down an artificial grass carpet, through an aging tunnel, and into the daylight of 91,000 supercharged spectators. The host Rams were playing the first regular-season NFL game in Los Angeles since the Raiders left the Coliseum in 1994.
As if the royal blue-and-yellow Rams throwback uniforms and matching end zones weren’t enough nostalgia, this was Carroll’s first game back in Los Angeles since leaving for the Seahawks in 2010.
It was here that Carroll’s USC teams staked a claim to a pair of national titles and won or shared seven consecutive conference titles. To many, he was the prodigal son returning, seeing as he left USC a few months before the NCAA handed down some of the most severe sanctions in the history of college sports.
Carroll, so ultracompetitive and deeply disappointed by his team’s performance, wasn’t in the mood Sunday to entertain questions about any sentimental feelings that might have welled up inside of him, either at the game or during the Coliseum walk-through the day before.
“Absolutely not,” Carroll said. “That had no factor in any of this, not for me and not for anybody else around here. That had nothing to do with it.”
Carroll might not have had flashbacks, but plenty of people did, especially watching him run around and throw the football during warmups, as was his habit at USC, and the welcome he got from the crowd — albeit one with plenty of Seahawks fans.
For Carr, the memories rushed back like an all-out blitz.
“Walking out of the tunnel today, we were talking about old times,” Carr said, standing in the doorway of the visitors’ locker room and back in his white USC shirt. “He had his arm around me, and I said: ‘You know what? This is pretty frickin’ cool.’ ”
He and Carroll used to have a routine just before every home kickoff. The coach would come out of his office in the locker room and gather the assistants, give them one last pep talk, then send them out onto the field. Then, for the remaining time — sometimes a few minutes, sometimes only seconds — he and Carr would sit in the calm and have one last chat.
“We’d talk about the game, maybe a game earlier in the day.” Carr said. “To me, that was always the best time. Just sitting there talking.”
This wasn’t coach to underling. This was two friends.
“When Pete came here in 2001, my daughter was just entering high school as a freshman, and I was a nervous dad,” he said. “I just wanted to talk to him dad to dad. I said, ‘I know your daughter’s already here and playing volleyball…’
“One day we sat and talked for an hour-and-a-half just about life, about parenting and all that stuff. I knew right then what a great guy he was. He didn’t have to do that. I’m just the security guy; I’m not important.”
It was a prime gig Carr had all those years. He was at the epicenter of college football for a long time, and he could soak it in. The hardest part wasn’t so much keeping the fans from Carroll, but keeping Carroll from the fans.
“I always tell people that getting Elvis out of a building had to be easier than getting Pete out of a place,” he said. “He’s just so ingratiating. Stops and talks to people, takes pictures. Unless the plane was leaving or something, he’d sign autographs until the pen ran out of ink.”
There was no big receiving line after the game Sunday, as Carroll, sharply dressed in a khaki suit and light blue tie, pulled his suitcase up the tunnel ramp and to a waiting bus. He was ready to leave, back to his home 1,000 miles to the north.
Carr waited around a little longer before leaving himself. The Coliseum had emptied, but for the echoes.