where the writers are
CRAIG FERTIG TALKS ABOUT 1964 USC-NOTRE DAME GAME

 

 

Quarterback

1962 - 1964

 

I came out of Huntington Park High School and John McKay recruited me in his first year, but USC was after me before he was hired. Guess who came out to look at me first? Al Davis, that's who. Al was trying to get the job that McKay got. It dawned on McKay early on that Davis was after that job and he didn't retain him on the staff after Don Clark left, because he knew Davis would be maneuvering behind his back the whole time. It worked out for both guys.

       My father was Henry Fertig, the chief of the Huntington Park Police Department. They called him "Chief." He also owned the same little beach house down in Balboa Bay that I live in now. My dad was "Mr. SC." He went to USC the same time I did. When I was a senior, he took classes there too and we ended up in the same class together. I asked if he was checking up on me. Heck, he was more into partying than I was. Once he urged me to miss class or blow off studying or something; he said, "Let's go to the 901 Club and get a beer." I said, "I need to study, Dad," and he just laughed and said, "The professor's the chief of police down in Hermosa Beach, a pal of mine, and I take care of all his parking tickets so we're in." And we were. If you ever had parking problems, just call the Chief!

       Chief was the "chief of security" for Trojan celebs and the like. At Austin, Texas he was with John "Duke" Wayne, pouring whisky into his plastic cup while driving the Duke around Memorial Stadium, and Duke's givin' 'em the "hook 'em horns" sign. The Longhorn fans are all cheering Duke, see, because they know he's this cowboy guy and figure he's rooting for Texas. They don't know he played at USC, and the whole time Duke's telling Chief what the Texas fans can do with his middle finger. I'm keeping that clean for ya.

       Coming out of high school, Notre Dame recruited me. I'd never been on a plane. I also visited Stanford, Washington and Wisconsin. I read all the letters schools sent me, but I just wanted to travel and Dad was set on SC, and I wanted to go there. Dad had taken me to my first USC game in 1948. We tied Notre Dame, 14-14 to deny them the national championship and I just said, "I wanna be part of this."

        I played in the California Shrine high school game at the Coliseum. Craig Morton also played in that game, and Steve Thurlow, who went to Stanford. Baseball might have been my best sport in high school but it was not like it is today, where kids concentrate on just one sport. I was not fast enough for track. Remember what McKay said about me? "He's awfully skinny but he made up for it by being slow."

       Pete Beathard was ahead of me. We're lifelong friends, we were recruited together. Assistant coach Dave Levy said, "If we could have Beathard's body and Fertig's brain we'd have the most unique quarterback in nation." Beathard was a great athlete.

      So Pete and I played baseball for Rod Dedeaux when we got to USC, but one day McKay's secretary, the lovely Bonnie, strolled on out to the field and told Rod, "Coach McKay wants to see Beathard and Fertig." Well Rod knew where his bread was buttered. He had a great program but it was all paid for by football, so he said, "Take 'em." I look at Pete and he looks at me, we're trying to figure out what we did wrong. Beathard says, "I'm your roommate, I haven't left your side." We walk in and McKay's sitting there reading the sports section, so all we see is smoke drifting up from his cigar. He just says, "You guys aren't very good at either sport. Make a decision." We said, "Well, we'll play football," and he just said, "That's being smart, boys."

       In 1962 we were the national champs and I was the third string quarterback, but Coach stole something from LSU, called the "Chinese bandits." The first team offense and defense would play seven minutes in the first quarter and then he'd send in these "specialists," mostly sophomores, and we'd play the rest of the first quarter, play the last four minutes or so, and we'd do this most every quarter. 33 guys all knew they would play, and that was just great for morale. I never started but I did play. I was deeper than the deepest wide receiver. I mean the only way I could go deeper was if I was running to Julie's Trojan Barrel. I'd run to the track and then up the peristyles. I was never a threat to catch the ball but I took a defender off somebody else way down field, and we were a ball control offense, run and short passing.

       That unbeaten season saved McKay's job. They were gonna fire his behind. Dr. Norman Topping verified this; we all knew it. When we beat Notre Dame, 25-0 that just solidified the national title. I scored the last touchdown in that game, it was a bootleg run for the last six points.

       In 1963 Beathard was the first draft choice by the AFL and the NFL, the Lions and Kansas City. I suggested to him that he sign with Henry Ford and Detroit, but Al Davis and Sid Gillman were making the AFL an exciting league, so he went with Don Klosterman and the new league.

       1963 was a disappointment but a lot of guys were hurt and we were 7-3. Washington won the conference. I'd had to block Dick Butkus of Illinois the year before and I said, "This isn't in my contract." Thankfully they made me the quarterback after that.

       In 1964 we were not really sure what we would have. We were supposed to win the conference but we lost to Washington, 14-13 and didn't play Oregon State, so it went to a vote. They told us if we beat Notre Dame we'd go to the Rose Bowl. After the Notre Dame win we had a party after the game. One of our guys had just been drafted and we went to a steakhouse, it was a big celebration. The TV was on but nobody was really listening, then Fred Hessler, the voice of the Bruins, came on TV and we all saw he was talking about the Rose Bowl selection. We turned on the sound and heard him say, "This is a crime," and we knew right away we'd been robbed, and he said Oregon State, who'd beaten Idaho, 7-6, God bless 'em, was going to the Rose Bowl and we were done.

       Now, this is What It Means to Be a Trojan. After the euphoria of victory over Notre Dame, followed by the biggest letdown you ever saw learning the Rose Bowl had been denied us, there were two attorneys in the restaurant. They were USC guys, and they just opened up their wallets and the next thing we saw were two dollies with four cases of champagne, and they said, "We don't beat Notre Dame every day," and we just turned it into a party

       That game against the Fighting Irish featured us against a couple guys from Southern California. John Huarte had played at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana, and his favorite receiver, Jack Snow, he'd gone to St. Anthony's in Long Beach. St. Anthony's is where Dan Lungren went to high school. Lungren's father was Richard Nixon's doctor. Lungren went to Notre Dame and USC, then got elected to Congress from Long Beach and was the Attorney General of California.

       Huarte and Snow, they were lifeguards or something but they spent the summer right outside my door on these beaches here in Orange County, running routes and practicing, Huarte passing to Snow. I don't know how they concentrated. If you ever spend time on those beaches in the summer there's so many beautiful girls to distract you I don't see how you can get any work done, but that's there story, God bless 'em, and they stuck to it. McKay saw all these guys from California playing for Notre Dame. Nick Eddy was from Tracy. We hired Mater Dei's coach. McKay was Catholic and we brought in six players from Bishop Amat, too.

       Anyway, we were moving the ball in the first half and here is the key: on Thursday we had a chalkboard on the field and Coach takes the chalk and says Notre Dame's defense has thrown their opponent's quarterback's for 79 yards in losses, so we bring the flanker back in to block for me and I liked that, it was a damn good idea. Fred Hill was our split end and Notre Dame, stubbornly or arrogantly, insisted on playing him man-to-man. We moved and threw the ball, and Mike Garrett ran well, but he got tired. Rod Sherman shifted and coughed up the ball twice. We were on his ass after that. We'd been driving and he'd cough it up, and Huarte would eat up the clock. They went up 17-0 but then they fumbled on our five.

       That was the key. Otherwise it was an uphill battle, us down 24-0, but Coach at the half said, "We'll take their opening kick and if we just do what we can do we will score," and we did. Garrett took it in and we held, and I hit Fred Hill in "Sam Dickerson's corner" of the end zone, and we hold and now it's all about time because Huarte takes so much off the clock. I hit Hill on a post pattern, which was the big play on the drive, and then we're gonna go back to Sherman, whose fumbled the ball before this.

       We were on their 15 with a minute 50 left in the game. It was fourth and eight, we're trailing 17-13 so a field goal is not an option. McKay calls for "84 Z delay," which was designed not just for a first down but aimed for the end zone. The key to it was Garrett goes in motion, and as I say on that side Notre Dame, stubborn or arrogant or however you put it, their strong safety goes with him and I let them get enough past Sherman. I know if I can just hit that seam I know he's got a clear shot at the end zone. If you look at the photo, obviously I didn't see it because they knocked me right on my behind, but I heard that big Coliseum crowd roar and I knew something good had happened. There was a minute, 33 seconds left.

       Huarte was a ball control, play-action quarterback and not the kind of guy to take a team down the field in a two-minute drill. Notre Dame threw it with loft and our safety picked it off. Huarte has a place in Pacific Palisades and a tile business, he's successful, a member of the Jonathan Club with J.K. McKay, and we've been friends over the years. "The Game is On" is a banquet we started in the back room of Julie's, three Notre Dame guys and three Trojans. Tommy Hawkins and I exchange lettermen's sweaters. One year Regis Philbin was there and we did a comedy routine with him. We're different from any other rivalry. It's about mutual respect.

       Both USC and Notre Dame are about class. We can tell their a class program and they don't cause problems. The key word is tradition, both schools have it, they're steeped in it and so are we. As a player you want the guys who precede you to be proud that you are carrying on what they created, perpetuating what the other guys did. We have plenty of respect for UCLA, too. I'm good friends with a lot of ex-Bruins and most of us are that way. We usually root for 'em unless it's for the Rose Bowl.

       I got drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1965 but that was short-lived, and Coach McKay brought me in as a coach. I have as many great memories as a coach as I have as a player. One memory that isn’t so great was the 1966 51-0 loss to Notre Dame, but in a lot of ways, that game tells you What It Means to Be a Trojan. Ara Parseghian ran up the score, trying to impress the pollsters so he could win the national championship over Michigan State and Alabama, but one of the reasons we got blown out was because McKay never stopped trying to win. We've faced other coaches, Parseghian among them, who would just run the ball into the line when they were out of it late, hoping to avoid turnovers and keep the score respectable, but not McKay. He kept putting the ball in the air, and they kept getting it back and scoring off a short field, but we held our heads high.

            A month later we refused to settle for a tie and went for a win, a two-point conversion against Purdue in the Rose Bowl, and we lost, but you had to respect McKay for trying that instead of playing it safe, going for a tie like a lot of coaches did. 

Dick Coury was the coach at Mater Dei we brought in to get that connection and he brought in six players. Toby Page, who quarterbacked our 1967 national champions, was one of those guys. Bruce Rollinson, the coach at Mater Dei now, he played at USC. We just said, "Mater Dei's our Catholic school." Page called that audible against UCLA in 1967 that resulted in O.J. Simpson's 64-yard game-winning touchdown run. Half the guys on the field never heard him call it, the crowd was so loud. Toby always gave me credit for calling that audible but I never remembered giving those instructions.

       Coach Coury saw a seam in UCLA's line when they set up for kicks and brought in tall Bill Hayhoe to block Zenon Andrusyshyn, and that was the difference in a 21-20 win that gave us the national championship in 1967.

       Then in 1970 I was part of Coach McKay's staff when we went back to Alabama to play in that memorable game that is considered a pivotal moment in civil rights history. Coach McKay asked me to drive him to the Los Angeles Airport but I never knew what was up, but he was meeting Paul "Bear" Bryant. Coach Bryant invited the Trojans to come down to Birmingham to open the 1970 season. He knew we had a highly integrated team, which was a big testament to John McKay, who probably opened more opportunities for black athletes in the 1960s than any coach anywhere. Bryant wanted a classy Trojan team to demonstrate that an integrated program can work in college. He knew his fans and alumni would respect McKay because he respected him. I sat in on history when these men planned that game, but I didn't know it at the time. The idea of it was to pave the way for Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell to integrate 'Bama football in 1971. Sam "Bam" Cunningham had a huge game for us and after that recruiting black players in the South was just smooth, at least compared to the way it had been with Jackie Robinson and other milestones.

       The next year John Mitchell runs past McKay and I on the sideline on the first kick in the re-match at the Coliseum, and McKay wryly looks at me and says, "Well, that's what you get." We lost that game, and while McKay and all of us wanted the South to integrate, in a way it hurt us some because we had a pick of the great black athletes in the South, but now they'd go to places like 'Bama, Tennessee, you see, and the SEC built itself into the powerhouse it is today on the strength of this, but it's all worked for the best.

                   I understand a movie's gonna be made about that 1970 game based on the book One Night, Two Teams: Alabama vs. USC and the Game That Changed a Nation. J.K. McKay wants Kevin Costner to play his old man. Jon Voigt can play Bear Bryant. Colin Farrell can play me!

We did not know the ramifications of that game at first, we were just scared to death of a real good team and didn't realize what we accomplished by winning and helping them. Afterward Bear said thanks to Coach McKay at mid-field, and it was just amazing to me that he looked at a loss as something that helped his program, but it did. There was a consensus at 'Bama, but Pat Dye, who was a good friend and an assistant under Bear, knew it was Politically Incorrect if he came out and said they needed to get black players.

McKay wanted that re-match at the Coliseum because it was a big payday, and he knew Bryant could tell his group that they could come out and attend parties with Hollywood starlets in 1971. Corky McKay believed this, they worked it between themselves, and I just sat in as a needed witness. Notre Dame was the only other team Bryant could ask to come down to Birmingham at that time that would have the same national impact we had. He needed a big name, but they didn't have a lot of blacks and he thought he could beat us. Little did he know.

In 1971 we didn't know what they had. 'Bama didn't send us a whole lot of film the next year, but what they did send showed Scott Hunter passing the ball out of the "Green Bay offense," but they practiced the wishbone in secret and we were unprepared for it. It was 14-0 right away before we adjusted and then they just kept the ball away from us, played great defense and had a great place-kicker, which can be dangerous, and they beat us, 17-10.

The 1972 Trojans are the greatest college football team of all time. The 1971 Nebraska Cornhuskers were bigger but slower. We moved the ball better with the pass. The 1995 Nebraska team gets a lot of mention, and for me it's harder to compare eras because players got bigger and faster, but I can't think of a team that could beat the '72 Trojans.

 

Craig Fertig passed away in October 2008. This was his last interview. He was a member of USC's 1962 national champions, but became a certified Trojan legend in 1964 when he engineered a comeback from down 17-0 at the half to beat Notre Dame, 20-17 at the Coliseum, ending Fighting Irish hopes for their first national title in 17 years. The team captain and recipient of the Davis-Teschke award for most inspirational player his senior year, Craig was an assistant coach under John McKay from 1965-73, 1975, and was on the staff at the famed 1970 game at Birmingham. Craig entered the USC Athletic Hall of Fame in 2001. He was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers, was the head coach at Oregon State in the late 1970s, and was Tom Kelly's longtime sidekick on Fox Sports TV's football telecasts. He always joked, "Back to you, Tom," a phrase he repeated for years at speaking engagements. In later years he gave tours of the USC campus. His father, Henry "Chief" Fertig, attended USC and was considered one of the school's all-time boosters. His brother-in-law, Marv Marinovich was captain of USC's 1962 national champions. His nephew, Todd Marinovich led Troy to victory in the 1990 Rose Bowl. His son, Mark Fertig lettered four years (1989-92) on the SC baseball team.