LOS ANGELES -- At the end of the long tunnel leading from the football field to real life, a father waited.
Marc Tyler may have had a triumphant return Saturday night in USC's 23-14 victory over Utah, rushing for 113 yards and a touchdown in his first game back after serving a one-game suspension for his inappropriate comments, while apparently intoxicated, to TMZ outside a Los Angeles nightclub. But this was just a first step in the much longer, much more important, process of growing up.
"I can't watch the [TMZ] tape anymore," Tyler said as we walked up the tunnel of the Coliseum after the game. "I've watched it twice, but I can't watch it anymore. It makes me sick that I acted like that."
Which is part of the reason why Wendell Tyler didn't high-five his his son when he finally met up with him, long after the game Marc Tyler's powerful running helped decide.
He simply put his arm around him, gave him a bit of grief about his pedestrian 4.7 yards per carry on the night, and walked away.
"He needed to break off a long run to get that average up," Wendell said when I asked if he was proud of what his son did Saturday night.
He was joking, but he wasn't. Of course he's proud. But now is not the time to ease up on the kid. Not after how close Marc came to being kicked off the team, or out of school, this summer. And especially not after how well Marc has done in the weeks since.
Since that time, Wendell Tyler, USC athletic director Pat Haden and USC coach Lane Kiffin have spent long hours talking to Marc about the situation and helping him understand why it was so unacceptable.
They told him what to do and how to do it. They told him only to walk with those who want the best for him. But mostly, they told him that he was the only one who could dig himself out of this hole and earn his way back on the field.
It was tough love, but it came from a loving place. Which is why Kiffin was so emotional in describing Tyler's performance in Saturday's game.
"It was pretty neat to walk down the tunnel with him and tell him how proud I was," Kiffin said. "To have him come back and handle a game like this is a pretty good story.
"The most important thing with Marc was that he never made an excuse. He felt so bad for what he put the USC family through, he thought he didn't want to come back because he didn't want to drag the program down."
But Tyler didn't quit.
He went to counseling and alcohol recovery classes. He went to tutoring. He worked out in the mornings before the rest of the team. He trained alone, but enough to be in shape if he was ever reinstated.
He learned and he listened.
"I don't feel like I have a problem," he said Saturday night. "But what I've learned from going to these classes is that the problem is how I act when I drink. Some people act sad or happy or silly. I tend to do things that get me in trouble."
It was hard for him to talk about, but he seemed to know it was important for him to do so. He's not the first or the last young man who will face a situation like this, as the spotlight on college football players continues to grow more intense.
The experience has humbled him, but it did not break him.
He regrets everything that happened that night. What he said. What he did. How it embarrassed his family, friends and school.
He goes over every detail from that night. The fact that he left early -- before his best friend and high school teammate Jimmy Clausen -- because he had an early workout the next day. "Jimmy would've never let that happen. He would've kicked my butt."
Hard as it's been, he's learned from it. Learned to appreciate the opportunity he's been given. Learned to live up to the responsibility of playing for Tailback U.
"I didn't know how much people value this school," he said. "If you're just a student here, it's hard to get the whole concept of what it is to be a Trojan and how far back the tradition goes."
A small group of men helped him learn these lessons.
"Pat Haden, he really stood by me," Tyler said, starting to list them off. "Lane Kiffin, a lot of coaches would've had me in the doghouse, but he gave me another chance.
"[Running backs coach] Kennedy Polamalu, he was always there for me."
And, of course, the father, who was waiting for him at the end of the long tunnel, too.