Bush is a mystery for L.A. fans

Reggie Bush is still a mystery in the NFL.

The New Orleans Saints were essentially given the best player in the NFL draft four years ago after the Houston Texans passed on picking him No. 1 overall. But Bush's blinding speed, unparalleled elusiveness and uncanny vision in college have yet to transfer to the pro game, though he has shown flashes.

His place in the hearts of Los Angeles sports fans remains equally mysterious.

Despite being one of the most exciting players in college football history and leading USC's historic three-year run atop the sport, he remains the city's biggest sports enigma.

How are we supposed to feel about a player who gave us so much joy for three years but then was the focus of four years' worth of headaches and an ongoing investigation?

Bush's No. 5 USC jersey should have been spotted all over campus in the weeks leading up to his Super Bowl debut Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts, but you'll be as likely to find his jersey around Tommy Trojan as you would O.J. Mayo's cardinal and gold No. 32. The school and NCAA are investigating allegations that Bush and Mayo received improper benefits while at USC.

The Bush investigation hasn't led the football program to impose sanctions (yet), but his name no longer inspires the fond memories it once did. His place in USC's history is secure (for now) by the presence of his retired jersey and Heisman Trophy resting inside Heritage Hall. But his place in the hearts and minds of USC fans is, much like the athletic program, in limbo.

It's one thing for Bush to be the butt of jokes by skeptics who believe every player on USC's football team is under contract, but it's quite another if Bush actually causes USC to vacate wins and suffer sanctions, not to mention losing his Heisman Trophy.

No honor is held in higher regard at USC than the Heisman. The entrance to Heritage Hall is lined with the trophies of all seven winners, and the back of the brick-laced building is lined with their jerseys. On game days an oversized replica of each retired jersey is draped over a section in front of the peristyle entrance of the Coliseum.

USC will appear in front of an NCAA infractions committee from Feb. 19-21 to hear about possible sanctions for the athletic program stemming from the Bush and Mayo investigations. While it is unclear whether anything will be decided during those meetings, one potential outcome could be USC having to forfeit Bush's Heisman and the school's 12-1 season that culminated in a memorable Rose Bowl loss to Texas.

That scenario might allow USC to move on without facing any further sanctions, but would be a death blow to Bush's legacy at the school. His Heisman and retired jersey would be gone from Heritage Hall and his oversized jersey at the Coliseum would no longer cast a shadow over standout running backs vying to be the next Reggie Bush. One of the greatest seasons in college football history could very well be erased from the record books.

But the NCAA couldn't erase Bush's junior season from the minds of USC fans. Not the memories of the "Bush push" at Notre Dame, or his performance against Fresno State where he had a Pacific-10-record 513 all-purpose yards, or his pair of diving, twisting touchdowns in a 66-19 win over UCLA.

Those highlight-reel moments will linger forever. But if the NCAA infractions committee rules Bush received improper benefits, those moments would also be forever tainted. It would be a sad conclusion to a spectacular collegiate career.

Until the investigation is complete, L.A. fans will continue to wonder how to root for one of their former favorite sons.

Arash Markazi is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.