Why the new book on former UCLA star Darryl Henley is called “Intercepted” instead of “The Best and the Brightest”

The recently-released 511-page book “Intercepted: The Rise and Fall of NFL cornerback Darryl Henley (University of Nebraska Press),” the product of years of research by contributing Sports Illustrated writer Michael McKnight, is far from light reading if you’re looking for some more context to the  USC-UCLA rivalry game.

Yet it’s a powerful “fall from grace” page-turner for anyone still trying to put the pieces together on how the former Bruins All-American defensive back continues to serve a 41-year sentence at the low security federal prison in Seagoville, Texas, with no possibility of parole, after a conviction for cocaine trafficking, heroin dealing and a double murder plot that included the assassination of a federal judge and a witness in his case.

Henley, considered with Deion Sanders to be the best cornerbacks in the nation in 1988, was picked by the John Robinson-coached L.A. Rams in the second round of the 1989 draft.

With a four-year, $1.2 million deal, he was the team’s defensive rookie of the year, a starter for four years . . .

Then, craziness.

Long Beach Press Telegram columnist and former L.A. Herald Examiner UCLA beat writer Bob Keisser is quoted in the book: “When I think of Darryl Henley, I don’t think of everything they said about him in the mid-nineties. I think of an 18 year old kid with braces who always had a lollipop in his mouth, running around laughing.”

McKnight’s interviews include former UCLA teammates Karl Dorrell and James Washington, as well as Chris Hale, the former USC cornerback and Henley’s childhood friend from Duarte (Henley graduated from the private Catholic school Damien High).

There’s a brief mention of the 1988 USC-UCLA game, with the Rose Bowl on the line for both the No. 2 Trojans and No. 6 Bruins and best remembered as the contest where USC’s Rodney Peete lead his team to victory after recovering from the measles.

McKnight writes that Henley played “one of his more forgettable games” as Hale “played the game of his life” – including a hit on Henley on a punt return that forced a critical fumble. Fans of that game may remember Henley trying to hand the ball off to teammate Marcus Turner after he caught the punt in the fourth quarter, a turning point in the Trojans’ 31-22 victory. Henley was also deked out of a tackle on a second-quarter touchdown route by USC receiver Erik Affholter.

Most of the this book, of course, is devoted to the converging storylines that led up to Henley’s 1995 legal spiral, where he was once represented by Roger Cossack, the current ESPN legal expert analysis.

McKnight said he began working on the book in January, 2003 and “peeling open a 10-year-old drug trafficking conspiracy, with multiple characters involved, was an uphill climb.”

He knows of so many people who remember Henley as the friendly kid at UCLA rather than the one who got in way over his head.

“That’s why this story is so compelling,” said McKnight. “Darryl isn’t from South Central. He didn’t grow up around this stuff – which is what most folks assume about him.

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Coming Friday: How a “City Divided” by USC, UCLA can be united by a documentary, and cancer research awareness

Former UCLA quarterback and longtime radio analyst Matt Stevens tells his story above about being a cancer survivor and the importance of how Rivals United for a Kure in the days leading up the USC-UCLA football game can help raise money for under-funded cancer research projects.

More information: www.rivalsunitedforakure.org, as donations are being accepted on behalf of USC and UCLA campaigns, trying to see which school can raise the most money that will be used by each schools cancer research centers.

One of those who benefitted from the research: Samuel Godsey, who has fought a rare form of tissue cancer since the age of four:

The documentary “A City Divided,” spearheaded by USC grad Jack Baric, made its debut on Monday before a fundraising gala of Trojans and Bruins, provided a common bond to explain how the city, while united most of year, can enjoy the experience of taking sides for one day every fall when the two football teams renew their rivalry.

More on “A City Divided” coming in Friday’s column. Until then, check out the trailer for the film:

 

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Five things we learned this past weekend: Nov. 9-11

Lakers interim head coach Bernie Bickerstaff argues a call during Sunday’s game against Sacramento at Staples Center. (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)

Just a little help staying ahead of the sports world learning curve heading back into the work week:

1. So Phil Jackson can do home games, Mike D’Antoni is cool with the roadies, Mike Dunleavy has the second game of a back-to-backs, Kurt Rambis is available on Sunday afternoons,  Jerry Sloan has every game against the Jazz, Nate McMillan has odd-numbered holidays and Bernie Bickerstaff takes only games involving Golden State or Sacramento, especially when Devin Ebanks is not available. The Lakers just ask Time Warner Cable for more money so they can pay everyone to coach this team, and the deal is done. Oh, wait. You’ve got another plan? D’Antoni, by himself, for four years? And everyone’s on board? Especially Nash, who may not even be around past this year? Let us know when Laker fans start chanting “D’Antoni” when Kobe’s at the free-throw line.

2. Who killed Mike Brown? A series of tweets from Magic Johnson began Sunday as he was at Staples Center for the Lakers-Kings game: “I’d like to address some rumors related to my role in the firing of Mike Brown. I had NO conversations w/ Dr. Buss, Jim Buss or Mitch.” Followed by: “I’m not involved w/ the @Lakers day-to-day, only the @Dodgers.” And:  “The last time I spoke to Dr. Buss, was 3 months ago & we were merely reminiscing about the Showtime @Lakers days.” The grand finale: “If I was involved w/ the firing of Mike Brown, I would own it like I did w/ Paul Westhead.” So there. And what again was the lesson from that Twitter response? Magic can type fast with his thumbs when he feels he needs to defend his untarnished image.

49ers quarterback Alex Smith gets hit bySt. Louis linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar during a run in the first quarter Sunday. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

3. Michael Vick, Alex Smith and Jay Cutler were all knocked out of games in the first half Sunday because of a concussion, and their teams aren’t sure if they’ll be around for next week. Nick Foles, Colin Kaepernick and Jason Campbell aren’t the guys that fans really pay to see. Or start for fantasy teams. What’s Roger Goodell supposed to do? Make sure more people see these things happen in stadiums rather than on TV. The NFL commissioner lamented this past week that high-def TV is one of the biggest challenges facing the league. “HD is only going to get better,” he said. He may have also overlooked that because of TV improvements, the league receives billions more per year in rights fees. Or maybe a better comeback to that was delivered by Seth Meyers on “Saturday Night Live.” Reporting that Goodell said HDTV is hurting attendance at games “since the experience of watching at home is so good,” Meyers added: “‘Is it, though?’ said guys with wives.”

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4. Nice window dressing on the new Pauley Pavilion. We gotta admit, there didn’t seem to be all that much of a change in watching a game from inside the basketball shrine on the UCLA campus. Maybe the seats were new, and a few closer to the baskets underneath. The scoreboard, bright and brassy, still took awhile to figure out what size of numbers to use to tell everyone what the score was in the Bruins’ season-opening win over Indiana State. Structurally, the outside presents a stunning, visual change, with the glass shell over the previous structure, more room to maneuver around and a bigger place to shop for team gear. Otherwise: $136 million for that kind of facelift? Might have found a surgeon to do it cheaper in Beverly Hills.

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5. Get to know the legend of “Johnny Football.” Texas A&M freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel wasn’t the clear starter when the season began. But by the time he was leading the Aggies to an upset over No. 1 Alabama on Saturday, his family and the school were scrambling to protect the trademark of his new-found nickname, “Johnny Football.” ESPN.com business writer Darren Rovell reported that in order to keep Manziel’s eligibility, neither his family nor the school can sell products with the “Johnny Football” slogan that connects it to Manziel, but it can at least stop others from doing so. The 8-2 Aggies, in their first year playing in the SEC, jumped up to No. 8 in the latest BCS poll, still four spots below Alabama, heading into a game against (for real?) Sam Houston State, which isn’t even on any national TV carrier. Neither will A&M likely get a sniff at the BCS title game – heck, there probably won’t be any SEC team near it now, as long as Kansas State and Oregon (as well as perhaps Notre Dame) remain undefeated.

Oh, and one more thing …

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USC-UCLA got your attention this time around? It should

Why is this year’s 82nd edition of the USC-UCLA football battle for Los Angeles such the big deal this time around?

Where have you been the last three months?

Aside from some fake Twitter account sniping, deflated ball schemes and in-game jersey number changing, Saturday’s Trojans-Bruins scheduled meeting has too much at stake for the first time in a long while to allow for any petty distractions leading up to the noon kickoff at the Rose Bowl.

A BCS 18th ranked Trojans team that began the season in the No. 1 seat by the Associated Press voters with a Heisman Trophy candidate senior quarterback chomping at the bit after two years of NCAA probation matches up with a BCS-ranked No. 17 Bruins team that started off all the charts with a freshman quarterback and new head coach but suddenly has the better overall record.

To the victor, the Pac-12 South title and a road available to playing in the Rose Bowl.

It was Red Sanders, who helped put UCLA on the football map in the 1950s by leading them to their one and only national championship in ’54, who once said about the rivalry: “Beating SC is not a matter of life or death . . . it’s more important than that.”

This week, that’s far more apropos than it has been in the past. If the Trojans and Bruins were on “The Voice,” everyone would be turning their chairs around to see this one.

“This one really did come out of nowhere,” said Garry Paskwietz, longtime editor of the Trojan fan blog WeAreSC.com.

“At the beginning of the season, it just didn’t seem possible that USC and UCLA would be meeting with the winner advancing to the conference title game.

“No matter how each team got here, the fact that this game will include such high stakes for both teams is what makes it all the sweeter. This rivalry is enjoyable under any circumstances but when both teams have something real to play for, it takes it up another notch. The goal is clear and simple goal — the winner moves on, so it’s basically playoff football with the season on the line between the Trojans and Bruins.

“If you’re a fan of this rivalry, you can’t ask for anything more than that.”

Tracy Pierson of BruinReportOnline.com concurs.

“It’s the first time since 2001 that UCLA is ranked higher than USC going into the rivalry game,” he notes. “I think there are also some unique reasons in terms of the two coaching staffs and their programs. 

“For the first time in a while, there’s a perception that UCLA’s coaching staff is legit, and there’s possibly some legit questions about USC’s coaching staff.  I think many people in the city — USC and UCLA fans both — sense that UCLA and Jim Mora have a realistic chance to actually ‘end the monopoly’ — at least be competitive.  While USC fans would certainly like to keep down UCLA’s program for as long as possible, it’s not nearly as fun as both programs being good and the rivalry being competitive every year. “

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Play it Forward: Nov. 12-18

Highlights of the week ahead in sports, both here and afar:

UPDATED MONDAY, 8 AM:

THIS WEEK’S BEST BET

College football: USC at UCLA, Rose Bowl, Saturday at noon, Channel 11:

If Randall Goforth had a real Twitter account, what would he really want to say about what’s going to happen in this year’s annual renewal of the Bruins-Trojans rivalry? The deflating tweets apparently sent from a fake account attributed to the UCLA freshman defensive back were enough to rile up a couple of star USC receivers, which leads us to believe that the next phony social media story line generated from this meeting will have to do with UCLA’s Tevin McDonald announcing that he’s had un-friended his brother, USC’s T.J. McDonald, on his Facebook page. Lexus Gauntlets and Victory Bells aside, this meeting has a Pac-12 South Division title in the balance, one that UCLA danced away with a year ago despite USC’s 50-0 spanking at the Rose Bowl in the last regular-season game for both teams. No doubt, USC has dominated things with wins in the last five in a row and 12 of the last 1, by an average score of 34-13.The only blip: UCLA’s 13-9 upset over No. 2 USC at the Rose Bowl in 2006, sparing the Trojans from a national title game appearance. Goforth was just a 12-year-old living in Long Beach at the time that happened, and like the rest of the world, had no idea what a Twitter would be.

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