Rod was an African-American running back at USC from 1969–73, and he played in the NFL with the Saints and Buccaneers. He has worked for the better part of two decades in the technology industry, most lately with AT&T in Orange County, California.
On the tension before the game. We had safety concerns. I never heard any indication of any weapons whatsoever, but I was from North Carolina before we’d moved out West. I’d experienced segregation. When we lived there, my father and older brothers participated in marches, stuff like that. They spent an overnight in jail, did the sit-ins, and all the people in my neighborhood were black. I was never in contact with white people until we moved to California when I was 13. Suddenly I’m in a neighborhood that’s completely white, so it was from one section to another.
I had no trepidation, but I knew it would be volatile in Alabama. But it was business as usual, as far as the guys were talking. Getting off the plane, we had police escorts everywhere we went. What was overwhelmingly powerful was the anticipation, the feel to it, at the airport, the hotel. The majority of the hotel support staff was black, and you could sense the hope in their eyes. It was like we were down there and they wanted us to help ’em out; that in some way what we do in that game, that through our performance on the field, we could change their lives. I didn’t play that night, but I had a chance to have a bird’s-eye view from on the sidelines. It was very unique. Sam had an incredible game. Manfred and I were with Sam; we’d come together as freshmen, and we just had a feeling we’d be good. That became the 1972 national champs.
In 1969, we played the California North-South Shrine Game at the Coliseum. There was a huge crowd; all the high school players wanted to play that game. The majority of us met at that game and found ourselves at USC. The whole experience at USC was like a movie from start to finish; it was like “win one for the Gipper.” It was bigger than life.
At ’Bama, as I say, we had had police escorts. We were talented, but we had our struggles internally. As a team, there were racial things going on with us. Marv Goux dealt with it. We were all football players representing USC. We were supposed to do that the best possible way, never embarrass yourself, your university, or your family. He preached it over and over for all of us. I never saw Marv disrespect anybody except freshmen.
On his teammates. John Papadakis was a middle linebacker. I was a running back, and running backs and linebackers have a unique relationship, trying to make names on each other. I had a few head-to-head plays to see who’s the better player. He was the kind of guy you want to have on your team. As I watched USC, I saw guys with names like Rossovich, Vella, European kinds of names. It evoked that image, and Papadakis had the same ring to it.
He was a gung-ho player, he was. I never really saw John get in the middle between blacks and whites. Sometimes there’s automatic segregation that guys impose on themselves—white with white, black with black—but John was one of those guys who never let those barriers keep him from mingling or hanging with anybody he wanted. I tried to be the same. With my background, it was natural for me to want to have good race relations.
On Bryant’s statement. I’d have to go to the horse’s mouth to find out about whether Bryant ever said Sam’s “what a football player looks like.” Sam himself told me it never happened. More to the point is it demonstrated on the field, nothing should minimize what he did. We adequately demonstrated on the field. As far as [whether] it happened, Sam said it didn’t. But the stories demonstrate the reality of what that game meant. The whole of USC football is larger than life; it’s mythologized. Some stories are so good, people have it etched in their memories. My personal view is it would be unfortunate if it did come down that way because it would smack of a slave auction.
On the ’72 team. We had so much talent in 1972. Charle Young was at tight end. We had Lynn Swann, J.K. McKay, Edesel Garrison. The whole thing about USC is that it’s an opportunity to realize your fantasy in life. It’s a chance to win the Heisman and the national title; it’s all in your reach. I did get hurt and missed some playing time, but I wouldn’t trade the USC experience for anything. . . .
McKay was an icon. You like to put him in with the big names, in the same category with Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Dean Martin, the Rat Pack. He had a huge persona, a quick wit with that white hair and big cigar.
On football now. 35 years later, the game itself is evolving. Today it’s commercialized; it has lost some of the pristine aspects of it that existed when I was in college. The remarkable thing about Pete Carroll is he brings back the traditional values, a way of dealing with athletes, setting high standards and expecting guys to live up to it. That speaks to why he’s so successful there now. The game is a microcosm of life: struggles, ups and downs. It’s a ready example that if you stick to it and persist, through teamwork you can overcome all. That’s why sports are so great.
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism