Here's why an Arizona football player had a letter from President H.W. Bush
Before Cullen Plousha was a wide receiver on the Arizona Wildcats football team about a quarter century ago, he had been the Marine of the Year, dined at the White House, had chatted with the Queen of England.
He also had possession of a personal note from President George H.W. Bush.
It was a kindness that came after an embarrassing moment for Plousha.
Plousha enlisted in the Marines after graduating from San Lorenzo Valley High in Felton, Calif., and finished first among about 500 in his infantry training class at Camp Pendleton. He was chosen to train for the elite U.S. Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon.
Plousha was selected rifle inspector, the top post on the 24-man squad, in his third year with the squad, 1989. That earned him a five-minute solo in the platoon's 12-minute precision rifle exhibition, which that year included a performance in front of about 20,000 -- including President Bush -- in Washington, D.C.
"That was one of the scariest moments of my whole life," he told me in 1992.
With about a minute left in his routine, he tossed his M1 rifle in the air.
"I just missed it," he said. "It was the first time I had ever dropped a rifle. We practiced that routine three, four hours a day. Everybody knew I could do that throw, so I tried it again."
He missed it again.
"It definitely crossed my mind to try it a third time, but after that I continued on with the routine," he said. "I was embarrassed to turn around and face the crowd. I felt ashamed.
"They say Marines are supposed to be hard-core, mean tough guys, but I was hurt pretty bad. After the show, tears were coming out of my eyes."
Bush didn't have to do what he did next.
He penned a hand-written letter to Plousha, inviting him to breakfast at the White House.
The President wrote:
"Last night's drill was very special. I want to thank you and the others in the platoon for a super performance. Col. Pace told me that you were the guy selected by his peers for that key inspection role -- quite an honor, well deserved. Please thank all involved in the drill. Sincerely, G. Bush.
"P.S. Don't worry about anything. You did A-OK."
After four years in the Marines, Plousha -- who had never played football -- learned the game at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif., where his size (6-2) and speed caught the eyes of college recruiters, including those from Arizona.
He joined the Wildcats in 1992 and even started the game at No. 1 Miami, when the four-touchdown underdog Wildcats nearly pulled off the massive upset, losing 8-7. Later that season, he recovered an onside kick to preserve a 24-17 win at Cal.
Plousha redshirted in 1993 because of a shoulder injury and caught four passes in 1994.