EL PASO, Texas - The University of Southern California football team arrived in El Paso on Wednesday and is already making an impression on the city and football fans - a bad impression.
Late Wednesday night, USC freshman defensive end Leonard Williams tweeted "Out here in El Paso. Shitty city but glad I can enjoy this moment wit the USC family."
Williams tweeted an apology and deleted the original tweet shortly before 8 a.m. Thursday.
"Sorry about what I said last night. It came out wrong. I'm so grateful to be a part of this bowl and looking forward to a great game," Williams said in the apology. "I was saying I'm just proud to be here with my family. ... I also think the people in El Paso are very welcoming and made me feel at home. Once again I apologize for speaking with out thinking."
In response to a person asking him why he took down his original tweet, Williams tweeted back that "I took it down because it was not how I really am and shouldn't be presented in that way."
Williams' original tweet came just a few hours after USC showed up an hour late to the Sheriff's Posse dinner for the Hyundai Sun Bowl teams. According to 600 ESPN El Paso's Duke Keith, who attended the dinner and posted a picture of the dinner on Facebook, Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson was upset about the late showing and took his team and left.
"Wow! Gonna dispose of my USC gear. Great show of sportsmanship after the first bowl eligible year. My west coast teams are disappointing," Audrey Sanchez said in a comment on Keith's picture.
Joel Gonzales, also commenting on Keith's photo, said "They should be fined and never invited back F USC I hope they get whooped."
A USC athletic department spokesman told the Los Angeles Times that the Trojans' tardiness for the dinner was because of their late arrival at the airport, which pushed back the start of practice and its return to the team hotel before departing for the dinner. The spokesman said USC apprised bowl officials of its delays.
Kiffin told the Orange County Register on Thursday that USC went "as fast as we could" but were 30 minutes late to dinner. The OC Register said he apologized and said there was no disrespect intended.
Sun Bowl officials offered an explanation Thursday morning for why USC was late to the dinner.
"Here's what happened: USC practiced at SAC, for out of towners that's on the other side of town! Then practice ran late and they had to haul 100+ people to the other side of town. Best scenario? No. Did GT leave? Yes," Sun Bowl officials tweeted Thursday morning. "Now let's move on, nothing to see here. Tomorrow we have GT at hospital visits and both teams meeting real heroes at Fort Bliss."
USC and Georgia Tech arrived in El Paso on Wednesday. USC's appearance in the Sun Bowl is the team's first bowl game after a two-year ban.
This isn't the first time social media has gotten a USC player in a bit of hot water with El Pasoans.
Earlier this month, USC linebacker Tony Burnett apologized to El Pasoans after he received criticism for his remarks.
"Earlier today I made some tweets I regret," he wrote on his Twitter account the afternoon of Dec. 3. "To the city of El Paso and representatives of the Hyundai Sun Bowl, I apologize for my remarks. My team and I are grateful for the opportunity to play in our first bowl game in three years and we are appreciative of all of the hard work that goes into making the game happen.
"What I tweeted was not representative of my team or my university. I sincerely apologize and hope my apology is taken at its word. I am excited for the bowl game and I hope we can give you a great show. Thank you for your support and Fight On! I am not perfect. When a mistake is made you apologize. it is the simplest complexity of life."
Earlier on Dec. 3, tweeting under the name Benjamin S. Button, Burnett wrote "Georgia Tech!? El Paso, Texas!? New Years Eve!? FML" about the Dec. 31 Sun Bowl matchup. That tweet and two other tweets about El Paso that were posted early Monday were deleted in the afternoon. Burnett had also tweeted, "El Paso "if you never seen a real life giant tumbleweed get ready," and, "Well on the bright side get a chance to go out a winner so hey. Work my ass off 15 more times then one last go round in the card n gold."
USC was ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press preseason poll and projected by some to contend for the national title. They did not qualify for a Bowl Championship Series bowl game and were invited to the Sun Bowl.
During the Sun Bowl coaches' news conference in early December, USC head coach Lane Kiffin apologized for Burnett's comments.
"First off I want to open up with an apology from myself and on behalf of our whole university. One of our 120 players put something on Twitter that is not representative of how we feel. That's been addressed since and I would like to, myself, apologize to everybody down here," Kiffin said in early December news conference. "We are extremely excited about this. We haven't been to a bowl game in three years and it was a long two years and our players are really excited. They don't know much about this bowl game having not been here before or SC not been here for a number of years. We talked to our kids about it and went ahead and had a good practice. We're excited for the matchup, playing a team that has done a phenomenal job. We're excited for a great week down here at the Sun Bowl."
During the coaches news conference, Johnson said "I heard a lot of positive things from our fans that came to El Paso about the hospitality in the time they got to spend here. The neat thing I think about what (Sun Bowl Association Executive Director) Bernie (Olivas) and the people at the Sun Bowl have done is they have such a great local following and such a good nucleus of fans and support here in El Paso that the teams feel like whichever side that the locals decide to get on certainly gives you some kind of home field advantage and that kind of atmosphere. I thought last year there was a great atmosphere at the game. I thought the fans were into it and it ended up being an exciting game all the way through the fourth quarter and it went great except at the end when we didn't stop them on fourth down.
"I think the biggest thing I took from the game was just the people," Johnson said. "I think the people of El Paso are great, the bowl people from Bernie (Olivas) to everybody involved, the hospitality that was shown I think that was probably the one thing we took more so than anything else."
Sun Bowl, El Paso Take Some Lumps
Not long after Burnett's apology, the Bleacher Report website started getting some digs in on our fair city.
Sports writer Lisa Horne wrote a snarky article touting things USC fans could do in El Paso while in town for the Hyundai Sun Bowl. She based the recommendations on posts about El Paso on TripAdvisor. The No. 1 destination? A movie theater (actually, the Plaza Theatre, which is much more than a movie theater-though Horne wouldn't know that). Another El Paso hot spot? Hanging out with ghosts of cowboy outlaws at the dusty ol' Concordia Cemetery.
Some people didn't like the joke and took to social media to blast Horne and her screed. Horne tweeted that she received death threats from El Pasoans who claimed to be gang members, and later took the article down.
"First of all, to those people in El Paso, I apologize. I did not mean to do that. I did offend you, but on the other hand-and this is not to take away from the apology-but I think people overreacted and didn't realize it was satire," Horne said in an on-air phone call with 600 ESPN Radio El Paso.
And before we could recover from that drama, the Wall Street Journal delivered a virtual kick to the crotch, and nicknamed this year's Sun Bowl the "Flatliners Bowl."
Still, Bill Blaziek, general manager of the El Paso Convention and Visitors Bureau, is took it all in stride.
"We have the opportunity to change (Burnett's) opinion and that's really where we shine," Blaziek said earlier this month. "If we could package the qualities of El Paso and market it out in front of their visit, they'd have a completely different attitude."
Blaziek said the City has hired a media house out of New York to handle public relations. He said they are "garnering or generating positive media for El Paso and the Sun Bowl is surely one of those opportunities. We've employed them in Los Angeles to help with this week and they're very engaging and given us sharp and clear direction on how to respond to media."
Blaziek said that outsiders don't have a perception of the city before they arrive. However, year in and year out, the teams and their fans love the city after the game, he said.
"They leave with a different attitude," Blaziek said.
Sometimes, attitudes make a complete 180.
Berry Tramel would not have been mistaken for an ambassador for El Paso in 2009. In the lead-up to that year's Sun Bowl, Tramel, a sports writer for The Oklahoman, said El Paso was "not a great tourist destination."
He also said faulted the city for its weather, and its lack of things to do.
"El Paso might be a fine place to live, but I'm in no hurry to return," he wrote in 2009 as Oklahoma was getting ready to face Stanford in the Sun Bowl.
He did return, however. This time he was a bit more complimentary, even calling it a good trip.
"I enjoyed it. I hope to be back soon," Tramel wrote in his blog this past September after Oklahoma defeated UTEP at the Sun Bowl.
Tramel wrote about Marty Robbins' ballad "El Paso," describing it as "one of the best ballads ever written, and that it would make a great screenplay with just a few pieces of dialogue thrown in."
He said he felt safe in El Paso, but when he looks over the border at Juarez, he is reminded of the violence and its gloomy designation as the "murder capital."
Maybe most perplexing, he said Oklahoma's Mexican food is better than El Paso's. Still, Tramel liked the sopapillas at Leo's Mexican restaurant so much, he said he could have inhaled 30 of them had he been there with an empty stomach.
His colleague, Stephanie Kuzdym, the beat writer for the Sooners, posted several pictures and a couple of videos from the trip, saying she loved how the Sun Bowl is carved into the mountain.