1974 - 1977
I played at the University of Southern California from 1974-1978, two years for John McKay and two years for John Robinson. I had gone to high school in Arcadia, California, but in my senior year my father got a promotion and we moved to Illinois. I went to New Trier East High School in the Chicago suburbs. We had lived in a lot of places. I was born in California, but we'd also lived in North Carolina around 1970. I had played linebacker, on the offensive line, and also at fullback in high school, but USC brought me in as a linebacker.
You know, coming into USC in 1974, I knew of Anthony Davis because of his great game against Notre Dame in 1972, when he scored six touchdowns, but I was not as familiar with the players as a kid might be today, where they know each other from camps and in the Internet. I had just come back out with my family to Southern California and USC offered a scholarship but at first, to be honest, I didn't know all the guys. But it seemed to be the right geographical area and I became a Trojan.
I got a lot of playing time as a freshman in 1974. Until recently, freshmen had been ineligible, but Mario Celotto, who was also a freshman linebacker; he and I got a lot of time. I came in with no pre-conceived notions about red-shirting or playing time. It was a little different back then. You did what they told you. I came in and had some early success, and as the season went on played more and more, especially on special teams. I was on the kick return team when A.D. made that touchdown return against Notre Dame.
That day was just incredible. We won, 55 -24. There's so many distractions in Southern California that the fans are not quite as vocal as other fans. There are more things to spread their attention to, but there could not have been a more incredible atmosphere than the Coliseum on that day. You couldn't have found a fan or a stadium in the country that commanded more noise and greater attention than in the second half of that game. It was almost electric.
We were getting killed but scored late in the first half. McKay comes in to the locker room. We're down 24--6 at halftime. He carried himself in a certain way, where he had a certain amount of clout. He says, "They're gonna kick it off to us, A.D. will run it back, and we'll proceed to win this game."
I thought, "What is this guy taking about?" and I thought, "This is bold," but that's what happened. Craig Fertig tells a story, or maybe it was McKay himself, where Coach McKay says something like, " 'Gentlemen, we're behind . . .' and three math majors raised their hands and said, 'Yes we are.' " If Fertig tells the story it may be subject to embellishment.
Anyway, after A.D. ran the opening kick of the second half for a touchdown, then David Lewis stopped them on an incredible play, and we got on a roll where we were at twice the speed we'd been on. We became unstoppable and absolutely killed Notre Dame. That game gave us the momentum to beat Ohio State in the Rose Bowl, and after a couple of the right teams lost bowl games we won a share of the national championship.
My memories of McKay; again, he was not the "warm and fuzzy" type. He ran a good program. I came in, they brought me to him and he said, "How's your visit?" and I said, "Fine." He said, "I'm not one for big pep talks. I let the school and our players sell themselves." He asked, "Do you have any questions?" and I said I didn't, and it lasted a few minutes but he didn't have to put on a big sales pitch to get guys to play at USC.
Assistant coach Wayne Fontes did most of the recruiting of me. Later he became head coach of the Detroit Lions. I'd been in Illinois but his brother was at Michigan State and they recruited me. It was more regional then than now. Fontes's brother recruited me but I said, "To be perfectly honest I'm probably going to USC." He asked if there was anything he could do to change my mind, but I was set. Stanford was also in the running, but I chose USC.
His brother had called Wayne and said that USC should take a look at me. Wayne Fontes said, "I've heard good things from my brother," and he offered me a scholarship. His recruiting pitch to me was, "You'll marry a cheerleaders and get a job in the movies."
Marv Goux was a tough man who treated everybody the same. He was very fair, a real equal opportunity guy who just loved being a Trojan. He was just a delight. You either loved or hated Marv, and I loved him.
I made all-American in 1977. My last two years, 1976 and '77, I played for John Robinson. He was extremely well organized. He had been in the NFL and was very aggressive with his practices and overall approach, but I don’t remember it being a difficult transition. I'd not really dealt with McKay that much. I'd already been recruited and there was no real change. Robinson's personality was different but the program was still run decently, maybe a little more progressive on offense.
In my senior year, 1977, our quarterback was Rob Hertel. He was the starter for only a year and is not one of USC's more recognized names, but he was a very good athlete, a baseball player whose father was a scout or something, and that season was one in which we just missed having a really good year. We were 4-0, ranked number one in the nation, when Paul "Bear" Bryant and seventh-ranked Alabama came to the L.A. Coliseum on October 8.
Bryant and his team had lost to McKay and Sam Cunningham's Trojans in that famed 1970 game that is considered such a big moment in integrating sports, so beating us was kind of revenge for their fans. They ran that triple-option, which you didn't see much of in the Pacific-8 Conference. They were good. They had great athletes like Ozzie Newsome and Johnny Davis. Alabama rolled out to a 21-6 lead in the fourth quarter, but Hertel did a great job and brought us back. It was a typical USC game, but we fell just short, 21-20. Two weeks later we traveled to Notre Dame, where Joe Montana and Notre Dame came out with their green jerseys and beat us on the way to the national title.
Hertel was a fine quarterback who later played for the Cincinnati Bengals. I remember he did a real good job, but I never analyzed what they did on that side of ball. At that time I was not equipped to analyze the offense. He had a strong arm, and if we win a game here and there, we could have made it different, but we got into a little slump, lost to Warren Moon and Washington, and finished 8-4. But we beat UCLA and killed Texas A&M, 47-28 in the Bluebonnet Bowl to finish 12th.
I was drafted in the first round by the Browns and played 16 years with Cleveland, and later for the Falcons. My brother, Bruce, was also an All-American at USC, although I didn't influence his decision to come there. By that time our family was living in Arcadia and he'd seen me play at USC, so the choice was an easy one for him. He played for the Houston Oilers and is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
My son Kyle played for USC from 2000 to 2003. My youngest son, Clay III, is enjoying his stay at USC. He was smaller, around 160 pounds as a junior, but he decided to play there and compete with the best. He dedicated himself and now he's 6-4, 247 pounds and doing really well.
Clay Matthews played on the 1974 national championship team that beat Notre Dame, 55-24 and Ohio State, 18-17 in the Rose Bowl. He was All-Pac-8 (1976-77), played for two Rose Bowl champions (1975, 1977), was team captain (1977) and a consensus All-American (1977). Matthews was selected for the 1978 Hula Bowl and is a member of the USC Athletic Hall of Fame. A first round draft choice of the Cleveland Browns, Clay was a mainstay for the Browns and Atlanta Falcons (1978-96). His brother, Bruce was a USC All-American and Hall of Famer, a first round draft pick of the Houston Oilers who played for the Tennessee Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV, and is a Pro Football Hall of Famer. Both of Clay's sons played for the Trojans; Kyle (2000-03) and Clay III (2004-08).
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism