LOS ANGELES -- Although former USC Trojans former Heisman winning quarterback Carson Palmer and his Arizona Cardinals were completely dominated, 49-15, by the Carolina Panthers in the NFC Championship Game, it certainly won’t detract from Palmer’s place in the pantheon of Trojans football legends.
Despite a nightmarish performance on Sunday night he’d wish to forget, Trojans everywhere will always be appreciative of what Palmer meant in USC’s resurgence in the early years of the Pete Carroll era, especially during a time when many college football fans wondered if USC would ever return as a national power.
Having watched Palmer, the 13-year NFL veteran, dominate during his prep days at Santa Margarita (California) Catholic, he was always a man among boys. There are just some players that you look at during their prep careers, and you say to yourself this kid could be the real deal.
Upon entering USC as a freshman in 1998 through his 2000 junior season, Palmer, who redshirted his sophomore season after suffering a broken collarbone in 1999, showed promise, but some still questioned if he would settle on becoming good-but-not-great. Was he just another 5-star recruit who wouldn’t live up to the immense hype?
Of course it didn’t help Palmer that the Trojans were in the throes of a mediocre era that finally came to a close when controversial Paul Hackett was fired. Then, when it was announced that Pete Carroll, an out-of-work retread from the New England Patriots would be the new USC head coach, it appeared Palmer’s career would surely never meet expectations.
Palmer’s whole quarterback career took a skyward turn when Carroll persuaded quarterback and play-calling guru Norm Chow to hop on board as offensive coordinator.
The arrival of Chow not only helped revive the Trojans offense, but without question supercharged Palmer’s Trojans career. Chow streamlined the playbook, gave some fatherly advice to his quarterback project, and -- along with Pete Carroll’s input -- created a monster of an offense.
There were growing pains in Carroll’s initial season in 2001 when the Trojans finished a lackluster 6-6, and Palmer finished the season with 2,717 passing yards and 13 passing touchdowns in 12 starts.
With Carroll’s program now established, Palmer’s senior season and the Trojans erupted during the middle of the 2002 season. Named a captain on his team, Palmer supercharged the offense while safety Troy Polamalu was the lead enforcer on defense.
The glorious 2002 season saw the Trojans reestablish themselves as a national power, finishing 11-2, capping it all off with a convincing 38-17 victory over Iowa in the Orange Bowl. At the conclusion of the season, many across the country were convinced with Palmer at the controls, the Men of Troy were as good as any college team out there.
The 6-foot-5, 235-pound Palmer's individual statistics were out of sight. He established or tied 33 Pac-12 and USC total offense and passing records. Palmer also threw for 3,942 yards, 33 touchdowns, and completed 63 percent of his passes.
The former Orange County superstar prep quarterback became the Trojans' fifth Heisman Trophy winner and had finally fulfilled his immense talent.
Following his senior season, Palmer was also rewarded by being selected No.1 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals. However, somewhat like his college career, questions abounded about his consistency while again playing through a series of debilitating injuries.
Playing for the Bengals and Raiders and unable to win a playoff game, it appeared Palmer’s professional career was about to resemble his early seasons at USC. Palmer even contemplated retirement as an option in 2011, while seeking a trade from the Bengals.
Then, after being traded from the Raiders to the Cardinals in 2013, Palmer once again had to fight through inconsistency and a devastating, reinjured ACL knee catastrophe.
Fully recovered from his ACL surgery, Palmer has played the best football of his professional career this season. He finally won a playoff game (Green Bay) and is in the conversation for the league’s MVP.
During this season, Palmer was the NFL’s premier passer, leading the league in points per game (32.8), yards per game (426.3) and passing yards per game (292.8) on the road this season.
Although on Sunday Palmer fell short of his goal of reaching Super Bowl 50, he has shown remarkable resiliency throughout his career and remains a true role model for those who have had to navigate through a roller coaster of success and disappointment.
One thing, however, is for sure, if history is any indication: Carson Palmer will rebound from the tough loss to Carolina and will continue what he exhibited in college and the NFL and that is to “Fight On!”