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STEVE SOGGE excerpt from WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A TROJAN

STEVE SOGGE

Quarterback

1967 - 1968

 

I came to USC from Gardena High School. Toby Page and I played together. When he was a senior I was a junior. I started most of 1967. Toby got hurt in the first game of the year. It was unfortunate for him but fortunate for me that I had a chance to play.

O.J. Simpson was our star tailback both years. At times I thought they should charge me admission just for the pleasure of having him in the backfield to hand off to, or pitch or throw to him. He was a phenomenal athlete and the hardest-working player I ever played with. He certainly made my job easier than it would have been without him.

We played Ohio State in the 1969 Rose Bowl with a chance to get back-to-back national championships. It was one of the most ballyhooed games in college football history, and is still shown regularly on the classic college football station. It's one of the all-time most famous games ever.

 They were outstanding and we were not overconfident. Most of our games were not outright blowouts. We went down to the wire in most of our games. Anybody who played for John McKay played their hardest all the time. It was not a letdown scenario. One team has the edge, then the other team adjusts and counters the initial advantages, and realistically at the end of the game the best team usually wins. They had a great team and played better than we did, winning 27-16 to finish number one.

I never watched Woody Hayes on their sideline. I didn't know him at all. My only memory of him was at the kickoff dinner, and he spoke at it. I'd describe him as a unique personality and quite a history buff, a real World War II guy who coached football like George Patton directed military tactics. He had interesting stories and would have been an interesting guy to play for. McKay was a great football coach who got the best out of his players. He was extremely disciplined and knew what he wanted. He expected everybody to do their best at all times.

McKay and Woody were similarly conservative, although McKay was a little less rigid in terms of off-field behavior; haircuts, opinions and the like. Woody used the regional dissimilarities between Ohio and California as a motivational tool. He built California, and us I guess, as a symbol of New Age laxness, anti-war unpatriotism, "softness" and such, but in truth USC was not a hotbed of protest over Vietnam and we were every bit as tough in football.

I had a good baseball career at Southern Cal and played with fantastic players. In 1968 we won the College World Series. We lost the College World Series final to Ohio State, 1-0 in 1966. Tom Seaver signed with the Mets and was not with us, so that might have made a difference.

I caught Bill "Spaceman" Lee. What can I say about Spaceman? In summary there wasn't anything he'd do that would surprise anybody. At one point I think he disappeared a couple days and showed back up. He was a unique individual with great confidence in his pitching ability. He had absolute faith that any pitch he'd throw on any given count, any given pitch to any given hitter, would be a strike and would get the batter out.

 People talk of Spaceman as this crazy character, but he was very disciplined and knew what pitches he wanted to throw. Nothing I recall ever bothered him because of his confidence, his belief in his ability to pitch no matter how tight the situation.

He had the ability not to be too tense. He was never overstressed on the mound, which is a true advantage. He had the stuff to get anybody out at any given time. He'd throw a three-two curveball and not worry about it being a ball. He'd throw it for a strike.

He once said, "The three best teams I've ever seen were the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, the 1968 USC Trojans, and any Taiwan little league team." This was a testament to Rod Dedeaux, because our teams had talent but we had the discipline of those Taiwan teams. That's how we played the game.

We were always in the College World Series finals with great teams. It leads off with Rod, of course. He was probably the best psychological manager or coach I ever had the opportunity to play for. His ability to convince you no one would ever beat you was such that all we had to do was go out and play the game. Until the final pitch was thrown, we believed we'd win any game. There'd be two outs in the bottom of the ninth, and he'd say, "We're still in this thing." He was the leader of our team and had all of us convinced that nobody could beat us. We had some really good athletes, but I would not say we were so much better athletically than everybody, but we had a stronger belief that we'd find a way, somehow, to win the game.

Tom Seaver was my teammate but not for a full season. I was a freshman in 1965 when he was a sophomore. He was 10-2 with a 2.47 earned run average and established himself as one of the best prospects in the nation. I caught him with the Alaska Goldpanners, where he had the reputation of being an elite pitcher.

When I was a sophomore I caught him in the early part of the season. It was the first or second year of the winter draft and the rules were different. Milwaukee drafted him and he decided to sign in January or February, and forego the college season, but it violated NCAA rules and the signing was disallowed. He was no longer considered an amateur and was unable to come back and play for us, so he ended up going to the Mets and the rest is history, but had he been with us it might have made the difference since we lost the national title by one run.

Tom was different than Lee, who was more a finesse pitcher. Seaver was more overpowering, with great stuff. He threw what we call a "heavy ball" that had great movement on his fastball with control, but it beat my hand to death. He had phenomenal stuff. I was almost glad he'd signed because it was so hard to catch him.

After USC I signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers and I was in the minor leagues with that group of guys Tommy Lasorda nurtured from Ogden to Spokane to L.A. I was with Lasorda in Spokane. There's only so much I can say on the record about Tommy. I played with Steve Garvey, Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes, Steve Yeager, Joe Ferguson, Bobby Valentine, Bill Buckner; all those guys were similar. Some of the farm clubs Tommy managed with that group are among the best teams in the history of minor league baseball, and formed the core of Dodgers teams that won four National League pennants and a World Series.

Rod was close friends with Tommy. They hung out together a lot. Tommy had a great personality, he was funny and knew the game. He'd keep you loose in the dugout as well. Practicing, he'd say, "You guys make good money but not much of it, but it's all good."

I can't overstate the role of USC in my life. That experience in school, opportunities I had, winning two national championships, in baseball and football . . . I was on a team and I have lifelong memories that you carry with you for all time. I learned a work ethic, I learned confidence; my confidence grew. I grew up in an athletic environment where you learn that just because it's tough, it doesn't mean you won't win. It's not just the memories, it's my self-worth, my ethics, my confidence and belief in yourself. These are the intangibles of a college education. It's great, but in true life scenarios, there are plusses you pick up from the experience.

I was fortunate to play for two outstanding coaches, Rod Dedeaux and John McKay. I learned different things from both of them, and these are lifelong lessons.

 

Quarterback Steve Sogge played for the 1967 national champions and was the team captain in his senior year (1968).  He was all-conference, won the Trojan Club award (for most improved player), the Davis-Teschke award (for most inspirational), the Howard Jones/Football Alumni Club award (for the senior player with the highest grade point average), and was a two-time Academic All-American. He was also selected to the Hula Bowl. A star for Coach Rod Dedeaux's baseball team, Sogge caught two future big leaguers, Tom Seaver and Bill "Spaceman" Lee, and was a member of the 1968 College World Series winners. Spaceman once said, "The three greatest baseball teams I ever saw were the 1975 Cincinnati Reds, the 1968 USC Trojans, and any Taiwanese little league team." Sogge played in the Los Angeles Dodgers' organization.