USC has been credited with sixteen national championships in its history. Unlike most other programs, they do not count all of them; they only count the legitimate eleven that they have earned. They do not try to say that the 1929, 1933, 1976, 1979, or 2002 Trojans were that year’s best, even though some organization or service did see fit to declare them just that. They do not use the perverse logic that a “national championship” can be awarded prior to a bowl loss, which if they did would theoretically let them print T-shirts proclaiming that in 1968 or 2005, for instance, well by gum the Trojans were “national champs.” Their eleven national titles tie them with Notre Dame, who also do not claim some of the national titles they could because they are not, as is the case with USC’s extra five, historically recognized as legitimate.
University of Southern California
Los Angeles, California
Colors: Cardinal and gold
Stadium: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (built: 1923; capacity: 92,000)
All-time record (1888-2006): 743-300-54
All-time bowl record: 29-16 (through 2006)
National championships: 1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978, 2003,
Pacific Coast-AAWU-Pacific 8/10 Conference championships: 36 (through 2006)
Heisman Trophies: Mike Garrett (1965), O. J. Simpson (1968), Charles Whites (1979),
Marcus Allen (1981), Carson Palmer (2002), Matt Leinart (2004), Reggie Bush (2005)
Outland Trophies: Ron Yary (1967)
Consensus All-American: 78 (through 2006)
First round NFL draftees: 67 (through 2007)
Web site: www.usctrojans.com
Notable alumni: First man on the Moon Neil Armstrong; astronaut Wally Schirra;
Academy Award-winning actor John “Duke” Wayne; actors Robert Stack, Ward Bond, Marlo Thomas, Henry Winkler, John Ritter, Ally Sheedy, John Berardino, Tom Selleck, Forrest Whittaker and Will Ferrell; Star Wars director George Lucas; Academy Award-winning directors Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg; directors John Singleton and Paul Mazursky; producers Kerry McCluggage, David L. Wolper and Barney Rosenzweig; Dirty Harry screenwriter John Milius; Academy Award-winning composer John Williams; The OC creator Josh Schwartz; theatre producer Darren Lee Cole; author Steven Travers; Secretary of State Warren Christopher; California Attorney General Dan Lungren; California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh; Securities and Exchange Commission Chairman Christopher Cox; U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher; California Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Lucas; Los Angeles police chief Daryl Gates; Watergate figures Donald Segretti and H. R. Haldeman; White House aide Dwight Chapin; First Lady Patricia Nixon; U.S. Senator John McCain’s wife Cynthia McCain; General Norman Schwarzkopf; syndicated columnist Art Buchwald; sports columnist Mal Florence; public relations executive Carl Terzian; political consultant Joseph Cerrell; architect Frank Gehry; Public Storage founder Wayne Hughes; Coca-Cola/North America president Terry Marks; Flour Corporation founder Robert Flour; Dart Corporation president Justin Dart; Los Angeles Lakers’ owner Dr. Jerry Buss; opera star Marilyn Horne; singer Macy Gray; musicians Herb Albert and Lionel Hampton; secret service agent Bill Bordley; newscasters Sam Donaldson and Kathleen Sullivan; Chrsitian minister John Werhas; sports announcer Petros Papadakis; restaurateur John Papadakis; attorney Robert Kardashian; Hall of Fame baseball player Tom Seaver; baseball players Bill Lee, Dave Kingman, Fred Lynn, Mark McGwire, Randy Johnson, Bret Barberie, Jim Barr, Barry Zito, Don Buford, Stebe Busby, Rich Dauer, Dave Engle, Seth Etherton, Ron Fairly, Randy Flores, Eric Munson, Dave Hostetler, Tom House, Geoff Jenkins, Jacque Jones, Steve Kemp, Marcel Lacheman, Ray Lamb, Jason Lane, Bob Lillis, Pete Redfern, Tom Satriano, Bob Skube, Roy Smalley, Brent Strom, Gary Sutherland, Tim Tolman, Dave Van Gorder, Bret Boone, Aaron Boone, Jeff Cirillo, Morgan Ensberg and Mark Prior; USC baseball coach Rod Dedeaux; baseball general manager Pat Gillick; baseball manager Rene Lacheman; Hall of Fame basketball player Bill Sharman; Hall of Fame basketball coach Alex Hannum; basketball players Paul Westphal, John Block, Mack Calvin, Sam Clancy, Bill Hewitt, Bo Kimble, Hank Gathers, John Lambert, Dennis Layton, Harold Miner, Robert Pack, Cliff Robinson, Brian Scalabrine and Gus Williams; basketball coach Tex Winter; Olympians Charlie Paddock, Mel Patton, Frank Wykoff, Johnny Weismuller, Parry O'Brien, Bob Seagren, John Naber, Cheryl Miller, Pam McGee, Cynthia Cooper, Dan Jorgensen, Mike O’Brien, Lenny Krayzelburg, Steve Timmons, Lisa Leslie, Bruce Furniss, Lennox Miller, Don Quarrie, Randy Williams, Fred Kelly, Sammy Lee and Angela Williams; tennis players Stan Smith, Luke Jensen, Murphy Jensen, Rick Leach and Dennis Ralston; golfer Craig Stadler; sports agents Lon Rosen, Mike Trope and Ed Hookstratten; Hollywood agents Lloyd Robinson and Adam Novak; USC film school professor Andrew Casper; real estate executives Ed Roski, Jeffrey Cole, and James Connor; re-insurance executive Peter Cooper; financial advisor Len Gabrielson
Other programs count “national championships” from every Podunk “service” imaginable. They count those won when bowls were lost after the polls were closed; those won when they were on probation, and – perhaps the most rich of all – a consensus Associated Press and United Press International national title in a single season as two titles! Check the media guides and see for yourself.
None of USC’s titles were won in years in which they failed to win a bowl game. Each bowl victory was a major confrontation with a powerhouse from the Big 10, or in the early days with a powerhouse from the East or the South; always the very best that America had to offer. The challenge was met each time. In the years when bowl defeat against a worthy foe came the Trojans way, national championship glory did not. There is one exception to the Rose Bowl gauntlet; the 2005 55-24 BCS Orange Bowl victory over Oklahoma which, by the way, was referred to by longtime college football observer Lee Corso as “the greatest game I ever saw any team play.”
National champions – legitimate and historically revised
Modern era/post-World War I (1919-2006)
1. Southern California (7 Heismans) 11 legitimate
1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 1978, 2003, 2004
1. Notre Dame (7 Heismans) 11 legitimate
1924, 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949, 1966, 1973, 1977, 1988
3. Alabama 9 legitimate
1925, 1926, 1930, 1934, 1961, 1965, 1978, 1979, 1992
4. Oklahoma (4 Heismans) 6 legitimate
1955, 1956, 1974, 1975, 1985, 2000
5. Ohio State (7 Heismans) 5 legitimate
1942, 1954, 1957, 1968, 2002
6. Nebraska (3 Heismans) 5 legitimate
1970, 1971, 1994, 1995, 1997
7. Miami (2 Heismans) 5 legitimate
1983, 1987, 1989, 1991, 2001
8. Minnesota (1 Heisman) 5 legitimate
1934, 1935, 1936, 1940, 1941
9. Michigan (3 Heismans) 4 legitimate
1923, 1933, 1948, 1997
10. California 4 legitimate
1920, 1921, 1922, 1937
11. Texas (2 Heismans) 3 legitimate
1963, 1969, 2005
12. Army (3 Heismans) 2 legitimate
13. Florida (2 Heismans) 2 legitimate
13. Florida State (2 Heismans) 2 legitimate
15. Louisiana State (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
15. Penn State (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
15. Pittsburgh (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
15. Stanford (1 Heisman) 2 legitimate
20. Georgia (2 Heismans) 1 legitimate
20. Auburn (2 Heismans) 1 legitimate
22. Brigham Young (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Syracuse (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. UCLA (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Texas A&M (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Texas Christian (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Princeton (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
22. Colorado (1 Heisman) 1 legitimate
29. Tennessee 1 legitimate
30. Michigan State 1 legitimate
30. Clemson 1 legitimate
30. Illinois 1 legitimate
30. Washington 1 legitimate
30. Georgia Tech 1 legitimate
35. Maryland 1 ILLEGITIMATE
36. Arkansas 1 revised
If there is a single piece of evidence that nudges Southern California over Notre Dame for ultimate historical supremacy, it is the fact that their national championships came with the price tag of bowl victory while seven of the Irish titles did not. From 1925 to 1968, Notre Dame was the champions of 1929, 1930, 1943, 1946, 1947, 1949 and 1966. Their “bowl game” was always against USC. USC, champions in 1928, 1931, 1932, 1939, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, 2003 and 2004, always had to beat not just Notre Dame in Los Angeles and South Bend, but UCLA, too. No bowl defeats mar there national title record.
The second factor favoring Southern California is the commonsensical notion that greater credence be placed on modern events as opposed to “ancient history.” There is no question that Notre Dame is the Rock <ED: CAPITALIZE Rock FOR KNUTE ROCKNE> that college football is built on, but much of that foundation is the sturdy rivalry with the Trojans that, along with the Rose Bowl, nationalized the game.
USC has the edge in that they were a power in the early years after World War I (the best record in the nation, 1920s; three national titles, 1930s); a steady power in the 1940s and 1950s; the greatest dynasty ever in the 1960s and 1970s; usually a top twenty-five, bowl-bound team in the 1980s and 1990s; and now the champions of the twenty-first century (2000s). They are not a nineteenth century Ivy League relic, nor do they do build their record on the backs of championships won in the rugby era (1900s, 1910s). They earned four national championships to Notre Dame’s three prior to World War II. In the decade in which Knute Rockne reigned supreme, it was the Trojans who actually had a better record than the Irish.
National champions – chronological order, 1919-2006 (modern era)
1919 Harvard 9-0
Beat Oregon, 7-6 /Rose Bowl; unanimous
Other: *Notre Dame (Davis-tie, NCF-tie), *Illinois 6-1 (Davis-tie, FR-tie, Boand), *Texas A&M 10-0 (NCF-tie)
Beat Ohio State, 28-0/Rose Bowl; Helms, FR, Houlgate, NCF
Other: *Notre Dame 9-0 (Davis-tie), *Princeton 6-0-1 (Davis-tie, Boand-tie),
*Harvard 8-0-1 (Boand-tie)
1921 California 9-0-1
Tied Washington & Jefferson, 0-0/Rose Bowl
1922 *California 9-0
First Rose Bowl played in Rose Bowl stadium January 1, 1923 (Southern California defeated Penn State, 14-3); various other regional bowls played in 1920s
1923 *Michigan 8-0
1924 Notre Dame 10-0
Beat Stanford, 27-10/Rose Bowl
Other: *Pennsylvania 9-1-1 (Davis)
1925 Alabama 10-0
Beat Washington, 20-19/Rose Bowl; Helms, Billingsley, Boand, FR, Houlgate, NCF,
Other: *Dartmouth 8-0
1926 Stanford 10-0-1, Alabama 9-0-1 (co-national champions)
Stanford tied Alabama, 7-7/Rose Bowl; split – Billingsley, FR, Helms, NCF, Poling
1927 *Illinois 7-0-1
DS, Davis, Helms, NCF
Other: *Yale 7-1 (FR), *Notre Dame 7-1-1 (Houlgate), *Georgia 9-1 (Boand,
1928 *Southern California 9-0-1, Georgia Tech 10-0 (co-national champions)
Southern California (Dick/Rissman)
Georgia Tech beat California, 8-7/Rose Bowl
1929 *Notre Dame 9-0
Bill, DS, Dunkel, Boand, Helms, FR, NCF, Poling
Other: Southern California 10-2 (beat Pittsburgh, 47-14/Rose Bowl; Houlgate, Thes), Pittsburgh 9-1 (lost Southern California, 47-14/Rose Bowl; Davis)
1930 *Notre Dame 10-0, Alabama 10-0 (co-national champions)
Notre Dame; all but FR, tie/Davis
Alabama beat Washington State, 24-0/Rose Bowl; tie/Davis, FR)
1931 Southern California 10-1
Beat Tulane, 21-12/Rose Bowl; Dick/Rockne, Dunkel, Ann, Helms, Thes, Wms, FBR,
NCF, Poling, Bill, Mas
1932 Southern California 10-0
Beat Pittsburgh, 35-0/Rose Bowl; Ann, Dunk, Thes, Helms, Wms. Davis/Co, FBR, NCF,
Poling, Bill, Mas
Other: *Michigan 8-0
1933 *Michigan 7-0-1
Other: *Southern California 10-1-1 (Wms)
1934 *Minnesota 8-0, Alabama 10-0 (co-national champions)
Alabama beat Stanford, 29-13/Rose Bowl; Dunkel, Houlgate, Poling, Williamson
Sugar, Orange Bowls first played January 1, 1935; Cotton Bowl first played January 1, 1937
1935 *Minnesota 8-0
Associated Press poll begins, 1936-2006
Final rankings prior to bowls, 1936-64
1936 *Minnesota 7-1 (AP)
1937 *Pittsburgh 9-0-1, California 10-0-1 (co-national champions)
California beat Alabama, 13-0/Rose Bowl
1938 Texas Christian 11-0
Texas Christian beat Carnegie Tech, 15-7/Sugar Bowl; AP, WS, Helms, NCF; Heisman:
Other: Tennessee 11-0 (beat Oklahoma, 7-0/Orange Bowl; Bill, Dunkel, LS,
Boand, Houlgate, FR, Poling, Sagarin), *Notre Dame 8-1 (DS)
1939 Southern California 8-0-2, Texas A&M 11-0 (co-national champions)
Southern California beat Tennessee, 14-0/Rose Bowl; Dick/Rockne
Texas A&M beat Tulane, 14-13/Sugar Bowl; AP
1940 *Minnesota, Stanford (co-national champions)
Stanford beat Nebraska, 21-13/Rose Bowl
1941 *Minnesota 8-0 (AP; Heisman: Bruce Smith)
1942 *Ohio State 9-1 (AP)
Other: Georgia 11-1 (beat UCLA, 9-0/Rose Bowl)
1943 *Notre Dame 9-1 (AP)
Heisman: Angelo Bertelli
1944 *Army 9-0 (AP)
1945 *Army 9-0 (AP)
Heisman: Doc Blanchard
1946 *Notre Dame 8-0-1 (AP)
1947 *Notre Dame 9-0 (AP)
Heisman: John Lujack
1948 *Michigan 9-0 (AP)
1949 *Notre Dame 10-0 (AP)
Heisman: Leon Hart
United Press International poll begins, 1950-95 – final rankings prior to bowls, 1950-73
1950 Oklahoma 10-1 ILLEGITIMATE
Oklahoma lost Kentucky, 13-7/Sugar Bowl; AP, UPI
REVISED: Tennessee 11-1 (beat Texas, 20-14/Cotton Bowl)
1951 Tennessee 10-1 ILLEGITIMATE
Tennessee lost Maryland, 28-13/Sugar Bowl; AP, UPI
REVISED: Maryland 10-0 (beat Tennessee, 28-13/Sugar Bowl)
1952 *Michigan State 9-0 (AP, UPI)
1953 Maryland ILLEGITIMATE
Maryland lost Oklahoma, 7-0/Orange Bowl; AP, UPI
REVISED: Michigan State 9-1 (beat UCLA 28-20/Rose Bowl)
Other: *Notre Dame 8-0-1 (FRI, INS, Berry; Heisman: John Lattner), Oklahoma
9-1-1 (beat Maryland 7-0/Orange Bowl; FR, Berry)
1954 *UCLA 9-0, Ohio State 10-0 (co-national champions)
Ohio State beat Southern California, 20-7/Rose Bowl; AP
1955 Oklahoma 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Maryland, 20-6/Orange Bowl
1956 *Oklahoma 10-0 (AP/UPI)
1957 Ohio State 8-1, *Auburn 10-0 (co-national champions)
Ohio State beat Oregon, 10-7/Rose Bowl; UPI
1958 Louisiana State 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Clemson, 7-0/Sugar Bowl
1959 Syracuse 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Texas, 23-14/Cotton Bowl
1960 Minnesota 8-2 (AP, UPI) ILLEGITIMATE
Lost Washington 17-7/Rose Bowl
REVISED: Mississippi 10-0-1 (beat Rice, 14-6/Sugar Bowl)
1961 Alabama 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Arkansas, 10-3/Sugar Bowl
Associated Press – Top 10, 1962-67
1962 Southern California 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Wisconsin, 42-37/Rose Bowl)
1963 Texas 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Navy, 28-6/Cotton Bowl
1964 Alabama 10-1 ILLEGITIMATE
Alabama lost Texas, 21-17/Orange Bowl; AP, UPI
REVISED: Arkansas 11-0 (beat Nebraska, 10-7/Cotton Bowl; Billingsley,
FR, Football Writers, Helms, Poling, NCF)
Associated Press poll – final rankings after bowl, 1965
1965 Alabama 9-1-1
Michigan State 10-1 (UPI) ILLEGITIMATE (co-national champions)
Alabama beat Nebraska, 39-28/Orange Bowl; AP
Michigan State lost UCLA, 14-12; UPI
Associated Press poll – final rankings before bowls, 1966-67
1966 *Notre Dame 9-0-1 (AP, UPI)
1967 Southern California 10-1 (AP, UPI)
Beat Indiana, 14-3/Rose Bowl
Associated Press – Top 20, 1968-88
Final rankings after bowls, 1968-2006
1968 Ohio State 10-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Southern California, 27-16/Rose Bowl
1969 Texas 11-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Notre Dame, 21-17/Cotton Bowl
1970 Nebraska 11-0-1
Texas 10-1 ILLEGITIMATE (co-national champions)
Nebraska beat Louisiana State, 17-12/Orange Bowl; AP
Texas lost Notre Dame, 24-11/Cotton Bowl; UPI
1971 Nebraska 13-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Alabama, 38-6/Orange Bowl
1972 Southern California 12-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Ohio State, 42-17/Rose Bowl
1973 Notre Dame 11-0
Alabama 11-1 ILLEGITIMATE (co-national champions)
Notre Dame beat Alabama, 24-23/Sugar Bowl; AP
Alabama lost Notre Dame, 24-23/Sugar Bowl; UPI
United Press International poll – final rankings after bowls, 1974-1995
1974 Southern California 10-1-1, *Oklahoma 11-0 (co-national champions)
Southern California beat Ohio State, 18-17/Rose Bowl; UPI
Oklahoma on NCAA probation; AP
1975 Oklahoma 11-1 (AP, UPI)
Beat Michigan, 14-6/Orange Bowl
1976 Pittsburgh 12-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Georgia, 27-3/Sugar Bowl; Heisman: Tony Dorsett
1977 Notre Dame 11-1 (AP, UPI)
Beat Texas, 38-10/Cotton Bowl
1978 Southern California 12-1, Alabama 11-1 (co-national champions)
Southern California beat Alabama, 24-14 on 9-23-78 @ Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.;
beat Michigan 17-10/Rose Bowl; UPI
Alabama lost Southern California, 24-14 on 9-23-78 @ Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.:
beat Penn State, 14-7/Sugar Bowl; AP
1979 Alabama 12-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Arkansas, 24-9/Sugar Bowl
1980 Georgia 12-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Notre Dame, 17-10/Sugar Bowl
1981 Clemson 12-0 (AP, UPI)
Beat Nebraska, 22-15/Orange Bowl
USA Today poll begins, 1982-2006
1982 Penn State 11-1 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Penn State, 27-23/Sugar Bowl
1983 Miami 11-1 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Nebraska, 31-30/Orange Bowl
1984 Brigham Young 13-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Michigan, 24-17/Holiday Bowl
1985 Oklahoma 11-1 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Penn State, 25-10/Orange Bowl
1986 Penn State 12-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Miami, 14-10/Fiesta Bowl
1987 Miami 12-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Oklahoma, 20-14/Orange Bowl
1988 Notre Dame 12-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat West Virginia, 34-21/Fiesta Bowl
Associated Press – Top 25, 1989-2006
1989 Miami 11-1 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Alabama, 33-25/Sugar Bowl
1990 Colorado 11-1-1, Georgia Tech 11-0-1 (co-national champions)
Colorado beat Notre Dame, 10-9/Orange Bowl; AP, USA Today
Georgia Tech beat Nebraska, 45-21/Citrus Bowl; UPI
1991 Washington 12-0, Miami 12-0 (co-national champions)
Washington beat Michigan, 34-14/Rose Bowl; UPI, USA Today
Miami beat Nebraska, 22-0/Orange Bowl; AP
1992 Alabama 13-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today)
Beat Miami, 34-13/Sugar Bowl
USA Today Hall of Fame poll begins, 1993-1996
1993 Florida State 12-1 (AP, UPI, USA Today, Hall of Fame)
Beat Nebraska, 18-16/Orange Bowl; Heisman: Charlie Ward
1994 Nebraska 13-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today, Hall of Fame)
Beat Miami, 24-17/Orange Bowl
1995 Nebraska 12-0 (AP, UPI, USA Today, Hall of Fame)
Beat Florida, 62-24/Fiesta Bowl
United Press International poll discontinued, 1996
1996 Florida 12-1 (AP, USA Today, Hall of Fame)
Beat Florida State, 52-20/Sugar Bowl; Heisman: Danny Wuerffel)
USA Today Hall of Fame poll discontinued, 1997
1997 Michigan 12-0, Nebraska 13-0 (co-national champions)
Michigan beats Washington State, 21-16/Rose Bowl; AP; Heisman: Charles Woodson
Nebraska beats Tennessee, 42-17/Orange Bowl; USA Today
Bowl Championship Series (USA Today poll) begins, 1998-2006
1998 Tennessee 13-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Florida State, 23-16/Fiesta Bowl
1999 Florida State 12-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Virginia Tech, 46-29/Sugar Bowl
2000 Oklahoma 13-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Florida State, 13-2/Orange Bowl
2001 Miami 12-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Nebraska, 37-14/Rose Bowl
2002 Ohio State 14-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Miami, 31-24/Fiesta Bowl
2003 Southern California 12-1, Louisiana State 13-1 (co-national champions)
Southern California beat Michigan, 28-14/Rose Bowl; AP
Louisiana State beat Oklahoma, 21-14/Sugar Bowl; BCS/USA Today
2004 Southern California 13-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Oklahoma, 55-19/Orange Bowl; Heisman: Matt Leinart
2005 Texas 13-0 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Southern California, 41-38/Rose Bowl
Bowl Championship Series championship game separates from traditional bowls, 2006
2006 Florida 13-1 (AP, BCS/USA Today)
Beat Ohio State, 41-14/BCS (Glendale, AR)
National champions were selected prior to bowl games: AP (1936-1964, 1966-1967); UPI (1950-1973)
Notre Dame won four in a decade (1940s) dominated by war, leather helmets, no facemasks, and almost no blacks. The great demarcation point of college football divides itself in 1960, which aside from being a nice round number separates the old days from the modern era. When John McKay took over at Southern California that year, the Trojans were still stuck on four national championships to Notre Dame’s seven. The Irish boasted five Heisman Trophy winners to USC’s grand total of zero. Somehow, Princeton’s Dick Kazmaier was deemed a more worthy recipient of the 1951 Heisman than USC’s Frank Gifford. In 1956, Notre Dame’s Paul Hornung won it when USC’s “Jaguar Jon” Arnett was forced to sit out half the season because of NCAA penalties.
When the landscape of college football tightened up beginning in the 1960s - color TV, big-time recruiting, big-time money, integration, wide-open offenses, modern equipment, diet and coaching – in other words, when a parity reared its head, when winning became a harder thing to achieve, winning was precisely what USC started to do more of than anybody.
Since 1962, USC has won seven national titles to Notre Dame’s four. When John Huarte won Notre Dame’s sixth Heisman Trophy in 1964, USC still had zero. Since then, Southern California has had seven Heisman winners to one for the Irish. A review of the Heisman winners from USC, Notre Dame and Ohio State (all with seven total), reveals that the “Trojan seven” is the most impressive of the bunch. They include:
1965 Mike Garrett set the NCAA career rushing record. He was a top pro running back
on two Kansas City Chief Super Bowl teams, including the 1969 world champions.
1968 O. J. Simpson set the NCAA single-season rushing record as a senior. He should
have won the award as a junior (1967), when he led Troy to a national title. They just missed a repeat in 1968. O. J. was the first pick of the 1969 draft. He became the all-time single-season NFL rushing leader with Buffalo when, in 1973 he became the first to break the 2,000-yard mark in a 14-game season. O. J. is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
1979 Charles White finished as the NCAA’s second all-time rusher with 5,598 yards.
White could have won the award in 1978 when he led USC to the national championship.
1981 Marcus Allen set or tied sixteen NCAA records, including most yards in a season
(2,342) and most yards per game (212.9). The first pick of the Raiders, Allen led Los Angeles to the 1983 world championship and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2002 Carson Palmer was the first pick of the 2003 NFL Draft by Cincinnati and is
currently a pro superstar.
2004 Matt Leinart was a three-time All-American, considered by many to be the
greatest player in the history of college football. A first round draft pick of the
Arizona Cardinals in 2006, he is currently a starter with the promise of becoming a superstar.
2005 Reggie Bush, a junior winner and two-time Heisman finalist, was the first pick of
the New Orleans Saints in 2006. As a rookie, he led New Orleans to the NFC championship game for the first time in club history.
USC versus conferences(through 2006)
Atlantic Coast (10-6), Big 10 (64-27-2), Big 12 (28-9-2), Big East (9-4), Big Sky/Mountain West (20-6-1), Pacific-10 (390-155-29), Southeastern (17-10-1), Western Athletic (27-1), Independents (115-62-13)
Notre Dame’s seven Heisman winners do include Paul Hornung (1956), who was a legend at Green Bay, and Tim Brown (1987), a surefire Pro Football Hall of Famer after a great career with the Raiders. But Angelo Bertelli (1943), Johnny Lujack (1946), John Lattner (1953) and John Huarte (1964) did not impact the professional game very much. Lujack was a particular legend for tackling Army’s Doc Blanchard in the open field of the famed 0-0 game in 1946. None of the others went on to the kind of pro fame as Simpson, Allen, or Palmer (or for that manner, the kind Leinart and Bush promise to achieve).
Elite Ten by the numbers
United Press International national championships (1950-95)
1. Southern California 5
1. Oklahoma 5 *
1. Alabama 5 @
4. Miami 4
4. Texas 4 #
6. Ohio State 3
6. Nebraska 3
6. Notre Dame 3 +
7. Penn State 2
10. Michigan 0
*1 lost bowl, 1 no bowl
@2 lost bowls
#1 lost bowl
+1 no bowl
Alabama (5): 1961, *1964 (split/Arkansas - Billingsley, Football Research,
Football Writers, Helms, Poling, National Championship Foundation), @1973 (split/Notre Dame – UPI), 1979, 1992
*Lost Orange Bowl
@Lost Sugar Bowl
Miami (4): 1983, 1987, 1989, 2001
Nebraska (3): 1971, 1994, 1995
Notre Dame (3): *1966, 1977, 1988
Ohio State (3): *1957 (split/Auburn – AP), 1968, 2002
Oklahoma (5): *1950, 1955, @1956, 1975, 1985
*Lost Sugar Bowl
Penn State (2): 1982, 1986
Southern California (5): 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974 (split/Oklahoma on probation/no bowl –
AP), 1978 (split/Alabama – AP)
Texas (4): 1963, 1969, *1970, 2005
*Lost Cotton Bowl
Ohio State’s seven winners are also, uh, a bit long in the tooth. They include Les Horvath (1944), Vic Janowicz (1950), Howard “Hopalong” Cassady (1955), Archie Griffin (1974-75), Eddie George (1995) and Troy Smith (2006). Cassady was a big name best remembered because he was “saddled” with the same moniker as a cowboy movie star. Griffin had a career like few others, but his 1974 Heisman should have gone to USC’s Anthony Davis. Davis led USC to one of the most extraordinary victories of all time, a 55-point comeback over Notre Dame after the ballots were mailed in. Griffin was a solid pro. George was the real deal in college and the NFL. If any Heisman winner ever looked worse than Troy Smith against Florida in the 2007 BCS championship game, I am unaware of it.
Finally, there are the national championships. Forget the no-bowl titles of Notre Dame’s salad days. In the late 1980s and early 1990s under Lou Holtz, the Irish bid for a return to greatness, perhaps beyond their best previous years. In the end they only captured the 1988 title, then went into a period of some funk. Under Charlie Weis they are contenders in a new football reality more Darwinian than any previously imagined. The masters of this new jungle: Pete Carroll’s Trojans.
One decade into the BCS era, the Trojans have firmly established themselves as the “new centurions.” Never has it been harder to win national championships, to maintain consistent excellence, than in this era. Since the initiation of the BCS, old champions Nebraska and Florida State have withered away. Miami was unable to sustain its run. Tennessee was a one-shot wonder. Oklahoma under Bob Stoops might have ascended to the top, but Carroll’s Trojans told them there was no room in the penthouse for two kings. Jim Tressel and Ohio State were thinking “Team of the 2000s” until Florida embarrassed them in the 2007 title game. Texas sunk under the weight of all that pressure.
In the midst of this maelstrom of Hollywood attention and high expectations; when the best juniors leave for the NFL (USC always has the best juniors, or in the case of Mike Williams in 2003, the best sophomores); when a title must be earned in the BCS world with multi-millions at stake; when every game is televised and every move scrutinized, the clear winner is Southern California.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Pro Bowl selections (through 2005)
1. Southern California 198
2. Notre Dame 135
3. Ohio State 122
4. Michigan 75
In the pre-BCS days, there would have been no possibility that LSU would have snagged that split title with them in 2003. In 2005, USC would have gone to the Rose Bowl, beaten Penn State 60-2 while Texas beat somebody by a similar score in the Orange or Fiesta Bowl, then taken a national title plaque back to Heritage Hall amidst great howls of indignant complaint from Austin (just like Ann Arbor ’47; Tuscaloosa ’66, State College ’94 . . .) In 2002, had there been a play-off, pundits agree that the best team in the nation at season’s end was the Carson Palmer-led Trojans, who killed Iowa in the Orange Bowl to finish fourth while Ohio State won a close but basically lackluster BCS Fiesta Bowl game over injured Miami.
USC started playing football in 1888, but by 1919 they were at best the sixth best team on the Pacific Coast. Washington, Washington State, Oregon, California and Stanford were all teams with national, or budding national reputations. USC did play Stanford until 1905 and California starting in 1915. The <ED: CAPS> Big Game between California and Stanford was the “big story.” Rivalries such as Washington-Washington State and the “civil war” between Oregon and Oregon State were already underway. UCLA did not even open its doors until 1919. USC was mostly reduced to playing small colleges in California’s Southland.
For various reasons, the top high school players were in the Seattle, Washington area. USC went after the best coach in Seattle, Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson. He brought with him to Los Angeles the best players from the Pacific Northwest. It immediately turned the Trojans into a “player.” From 1919-1924, Henderson’s teams were 45-7 (.865). They entered the Pacific Coast Conference in 1922. On January 1, 1923 USC defeated Penn State, 14-3 in the first game ever played at the Rose Bowl stadium. One of those Seattle-bed players, Brice Taylor, became USC’s first All-American in 1925. Taylor was a symbol of the new America, embodied by the West. He was of both African and Cherokee descent, and had only one hand. End Red Badgro became a Pro Football Hall of Famer with the New York Giants. Henderson was fired, however, because he could not beat Andy Smith and California’s <ED: CAPS> “Wonder Teams,” who lost to nobody for a 50-game stretch between 1920 and 1925.
Despise his “failure,” Henderson elevated USC football to a higher stage. His tenure was a very important one. In 1921, Stanford built Stanford Stadium. Shortly thereafter, California’s Memorial Stadium went up. Stanford bid hard for the Rose Bowl to be moved up north. The city of Pasadena stepped up, building the famed Rose Bowl stadium in the Arroyo Seco. One year later, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum was erected across the street from the USC campus. The Rose Bowl and the Coliseum had the effect of elevating USC while turning the city of Los Angeles and the state of California into the sports capital of the world. Nine years after the Coliseum was built, the Olympics were held there. USC served as the Olympic village.
On January 1, 1925, Notre Dame’s “Four Horsemen” defeated coach Pop Warner, running back Ernie Nevers and Stanford, 27-10 in the Rose Bowl. After the game Rockne made an off-hand remark to the writers about “coming out here to California” and “teaching USC” how to be a champion. This could have been interpreted as inviting a rivalry with the Trojans, or inviting himself to become their coach in the wake of Henderson’s firing.
Rockne’s wife indeed had a fondness for southern Calironia, and he did toy with serious offers from the USC administration. Notre Dame held his feet to the fire, however. He recommended Howard Jones, who had beaten him when Jones was at Iowa. Jones also won a national championship coaching at Yale almost two decades prior. He was hired. Jones then formalized the rivalry with Notre Dame, but not without a little help from Mrs. Rockne. She insisted that if Rock not move to the Golden State, he at least take his team there every two years, ostensibly so she could shop on Rodeo Drive.
The rivalry with Notre Dame started in 1926. It saw a brief interruption because the world decided to go to war in the 1940s. It is the greatest in all of college sports history and perhaps the entire athletic world. The Ohio State-Michigan, Alabama-Auburn, Oklahoma-Nebraska, Army-Navy, California-Stanford, Notre Dame-Michigan and even Southern Cal-UCLA rivalries all lack the kind of national prestige attached to the USC-Notre Dame event. Some are just regional. Some lack the tradition of eighty years. Some are played between teams that do not for the most part contend much. USC-Notre Dame has it all.
“It’s like Nick Lachey eyeing Jessica Simpson, each from across a crowded room for the first time,” was the way Sports Illustrated college football writer Austin Murphy put it in 2005.
“It’s like the Republican National Convention,” says J. Kevin McCormack, whose father graduated from Notre Dame, and who himself attended college there before transferring . . . to USC. “Private schools, lots of wealth, very classy, not a lot of swearing or class envy like UCLA or Cal; Democrat schools who hate USC instead of trying to upgrade themselves to that level of excellence. Obviously Notre Dame’s Catholic and USC is ‘Hollywood’s school,’ but it was originally a Methodist institution and remains a bastion of patriotism. Both schools are conservative by nature, a rare thing outside of the South. Both are mocked for it and remain above such unimpressiveness.”
Few “football schools” have such mutual respect for each other as USC and Notre Dame. Michigan can’t stand Ohio State; thinks the Buckeyes are lower class. Georgia fans think Florida graduates can use their degrees as handicap stickers. Nebraska and Oklahoma think of each other likes Bosnians and Croats. Alabama and Auburn are like the Hatfields and the McCoys. UCLA is just plain teed off that Trojans respect Notre Dame more, and too often tend to own the corporations they toil for.
USC lost to Notre Dame, 13-12 in front of 74,378 at the Coliseum in 1926, and 7-6 in front of an all-time record crowd of 120,000 at Chicago’s Soldier Field in 1927. Southern California finally won a national championship in 1928 on the strength of a 27-14 victory over the Irish in front of 72,632 at the Coliseum. It was the equivalent then of Florida State finally getting one for Bobby Bowden in 1993, or Tom Osborne at Nebraska in 1994. At the time, many pundits felt the Trojans to be the greatest college team ever assembled. In 1929, 112,912 attended Notre Dame’s 13-12 win over the USC at Soldier Field in a de facto national championship game. Also in 1929, USC destroyed UCLA 76-0 in the first meeting between the two schools. After a couple of games like that, the Bruins pulled out of the series in order to lick their wounds.
In 1931, Southern California traveled to the brand new Notre Dame Stadium. Trailing 14-0 entering the fourth quarter, they captured a thrilling a 16-14 comeback win on Johnny Baker’s last-minute field goal. The game was broadcast nationally and made USC instant American heroes. At least 300,000 met the team upon their arrival by train in downtown Los Angeles. Jones’s <ED: CAPS> “Thundering Herd” captured back-to-back national championships in 1931 and 1932. The 1932 team was considered Jones’s best, better even than the 1928 champions. Again, talk of “the best team ever” was entered into by pundits from coast to coast. USC football was doing as much or more to put their city and state on the map as Hollywood, or even the Olympics. Movie stars flocked to their games while writing fan letters to Jones. The film connection, started a few years earlier by ex-Trojan football player Marion Morrison, a.k.a. John “Duke” Wayne, was well underway.
Certainly until 1932, only Cal’s “Wonder Teams” and Rockne’s “Four Horsemen” of 1924 might have been considered as good. All-Americans of the 1920s and 1930s included Mort Kaer (the “Red Bluff Terror”), Jesse Hibbs, Morley Drury (the “Noblest Trojan of them all”), Erny Pinckert, Johnny Baker, Gus Shaver, Ernie Smith, Aaron Rosenberg, and Cotton Warburton. Rosenberg became one of Hollywood’s most successful television producers.
In the mid-1930s, USC experienced a downturn. The UCLA series was resumed for good. It was an immediate bloodbath. The Trojans and Bruins twice battled to a tie; 7-7 in 1936 and 0-0 in 1939. But the impact of the series went beyond the ferocity of the competition. Huge throngs sat in the Coliseum watching integrated teams play each other. The Bruins in particular featured the likes of future baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson, Olympic sprinter Kenny Washington, and Woody Strode, the back gladiator who dies so that Kirk Douglas may live in the 1960 Stanley Kubrick classic Spartacus (another gladiator in that film was USC’s Marv Goux).
The Howard Jones era
On January 2, 1939 USC battled unbeaten, untied, unscored-on Duke in the Rose Bowl. Trailing 3-0 with mere minutes remaining, Jones inserted substitute quarterback Doyle Nave and back-up end “Antelope Al” Kreuger. They engineered the winning drive, 7-3, achieving sports notoriety that today might be compared to Tom Brady or Derek Jeter; love letters, publicity and the like. An example of how different the world was then can be found a few years later. Nave found himself serving in the Navy alongside several of those Duke players during World War II.
In 1939, Jones’s Trojans captured the last of his four national championships. They beat Notre Dame, 20-12 at South Bend. Then they knocked off Bob Neyland’s unbeaten, untied, and also unscored-on Tennessee Volunteers, 14-3 in the Rose Bowl. Guard Harry Smith earned All-American honors.
Trojan consensus All-Americans of the 1940s and 1950s included Ralph Heywood, John Ferraro, Paul Cleary, Elmer Wilhoite and Jim Sears. Ferraro (whose college career was interrupted by military service during the war) became a respected Los Angeles city councilman. The most famed player was the golden boy Frank Gifford. Gifford went on to a Pro Football Hall of Fame career, leading the New York Giants to glory. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, coach Pappy Waldorf’s California Golden Bears went on a tremendous run, but in 1951 Gifford engineered a 21-14 upset victory at Berkeley.
In the two decades between Howard Jones and John McKay, USC won several conference championships. After the Rose Bowl was dominated by the Big 10 in the first six years of the arrangement, USC finally earned back some honor for the Pacific Coast Conference with a 7-0 triumph over Wisconsin on January 1, 1953. In 1954 an all-time college record fifteen Trojans were drafted by the NFL. In 1956, the Trojans traveled to Austin, Texas. USC’s black running back, C. R. Roberts, led the 44-20 blowout win by rushing for 251 yards in the first half. This occurred after USC was forced to leave their hotel the night before because Roberts was not allowed to stay there. After the game, Longhorn players, who had baited and spit at Roberts at the beginning of the game, extended handshakes. As athletes, Roberts had earned their code of respect. The fans, however, continued to catcall him. The time for major social progress was not yet at hand in the South.
USC’s coach was Jess Hill, known as “Mr. Trojan.” Hill did it all at USC. He ran track and played football before embarking on a Major League career with the Philadelphia Athletics. After retiring Hill coached track and football at his alma mater. He later became athletic director. Under his tenure in the 1960s and 1970s, the University of Southern California enjoyed the greatest run of sports success in all collegiate annals, before or since.
In the mid-1950s, a recruiting scandal hurt USC and the entire PCC. It ensnared Washington, UCLA and California in a “rent payment” imbroglio. It came about when the cost of housing went up exponentially in Westwood, Berkeley and other off-campus locations. It came to the NCAA’s attention when Stanford, who was just as guilty, decided to “self report” while turning their conference rivals in.
Willie Wood became the first major college starting black starting quarterback under coach Don Clark between 1957 and 1959. He went on to a Hall of Fame career playing defensive back for Vince Lombardi’s Packer dynasty. All-American lineman Ron Mix became a Hall of Famer with San Diego. An assistant coach during that era, Al Davis became a Pro Football Hall of Famer as commissioner of the American Football League, coach and owner of the Raiders.
Over the next two decades, relations between USC, Stanford and California soured. When USC established dominance in the early 1930s, the northern universities accused USC of cheating and letting players into school with questionable academic credentials. Over the next years many of the “questionable” players went from football to successful careers as lawyers, writers, movie producers, architects, and like professions. This eliminated Cal and Stanford’s argument, but they continued to argue it anyway
In 1959, USC featured the “Twin Holy Terrors of Mount Carmel,” linemen Marlin and Mike McKeever. Unable to stop the McKeever’s, California instead accused them of dirty play, even going so far as to sue USC when Mike’s hard hit of a Bear player resulted in an injury. The case got big play in Sports Illustrated. Eventually, film was produced exonerating McKeever. California, exposed as a loser, decided that sports was not so important after all. They de-emphasized athletics in the 1960s and 1970s. Their students, humiliated in yearly drubbings at the hands of Trojan powerhouses, took to dumbly waving credit cards because USC’s students tended to come from wealth.
Elite Ten by the numbers
First round pro football draftees (through 2007)
1. Southern California 67
2. Ohio State 65
3. Notre Dame 59
4. Miami 59
5. Michigan 42
6. Oklahoma 39
6. Texas 40
8. Alabama 33
9. Penn State 32
10. Nebraska 33
The term “University of Spoiled Children” emanated out of the political 1960s, when USC was a campus that actually rooted for America in their struggle with an ideology (Communism) responsible for the murder of 100 million human beings in the twentieth century. On the football field, the beatings went on with California and Stanford falling like Eastern Europe under Stalin. Humiliated by this fact, the supposedly enlightened Stanford student body took to running USC’s players through a gauntlet when they made their way from the outside dressing rooms into Stanford Stadium. McKay and his great players, many of whom were black, were pelted with the “N-word.” McKay was called a “n----r lover.”
“It made my blood boil,” said McKay. “That’s why I said I wanted to beat Stanford by two thousand points.”
The Stanford student newspaper ran an editorial prior to the 1972 game stating USC was a school that failed to learn how to put the game of football in proper perspective. The old same old accusations – academic fraud, stupid athletes – was leveled at USC, as had been done in the 1930s. Over the years, when many members of that team became corporate attorneys, network broadcasters, schoolteachers, entrepreneurs, Christian ministers and a Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania, it had the same effect as before, which was of no benefit to Stanford.
In 1960 McKay took over a program that was certainly one of the best in the nation, but had been underperforming. In 1962 USC went 11-0, defeating Notre Dame and UCLA, then Wisconsin in a wild Rose Bowl to capture the national championship. In 1963, Mel Hein, a Pro Football Hall of Fame center with the New York Giants, became an assistant coach at Southern California. In 1964, Ara Parseghian brought his first Notre Dame team into Los Angeles with an unbeaten record. Leading 17-0 at the half, he told his players they were “thirty minutes from the national championship.” It seemed to have the effect of getting the Irish, as UCLA basketball coach John Wooden would put, “playing not to win, but rather playing not to lose.”
Number one versus number two
The Trojans are 3-3 in number one versus number two match-ups through 2006 . . .
USC has seven victories over number one-ranked opponents and has ended nine perfect seasons (through 2006) . . .
USC battled back. Late in the fourth quarter quarterback Craig Fertig hit receiver Rod Sherman on a clutch fourth down pass called “84-Z delay,” giving Troy the 20-17 upset victory.
In 1966, USC again opened the season at Texas. This time the focus was on former USC football star John “Duke” Wayne, who was filming War Wagon in the state at the time. Events of that weekend are momentous, probably enough for a book or a documentary. In a nutshell Wayne, his Hollywood cohorts, sportswriters and well-heeled USC alumni did a fair amount of drinkin’. There were fistfights and Wayne’s make-up man died of alcohol poisoning.
In the morning Fertig – now an assistant coach – was put in “charge” of Wayne, doing the job of the dead make-up man (although Wayne was not yet aware of his demise). Fertig dressed The Duke in a black business suit, white ten-gallon cowboy hat, boots with spurs.
“I had him lookin’ good,” recalled Fertig.
Wayne was then brought before the USC football team to give them a pre-game pep talk. According to legend, Wayne gave them a rip roarin’ exhortation filled with war references hinting at what America would do to the Communists in Vietnam, which was raging at the time. There are rumors that George C. Scott’s speech at the beginning of Patton was patterned after Wayne’s 1966 pre-game talk in Austin. Wayne was then taken to the field, where he was hauled around in a golf cart driven by Fertig’s father, Henry “Chief” Fertig, head of the Huntington Park, California (L.A. County) Police Department. Apparently still intoxicated from the night before – he slept little if at all and just kept drinkin’ – Wayne was fortified by a clandestine whiskey bottle that Chief kept pouring into a Dixie cup he drank out of. The Texas fans saw The Duke and cheered. Duke then gave ‘em the “hook ‘em, ‘Horns” sign, but according to Fertig was saying the whole while, “F—k the ‘Horns.” USC won the game, 10-6. They never ever lost to Texas until the 2006 Rose Bowl game.
Later in 1966, Notre Dame was humbled by a 10-10 tie against Michigan State at East Lansing in which Ara Parseghian was disparaged for not going for the win late in the fourth quarter. The next week, the Irish played for “poll position” in a 51-0 drubbing of USC. The media prodded McKay in an attempt to get him to complain about Notre Dame running up the score. He was not of that bent. His contention was that it was USC's job to stop them. Besides, he said, "There’s a billion Chinamen who could care less who won this game.”
After the 51-0 loss to Notre Dame, McKay vowed “never to be beaten like that again.” Over the course of the following sixteen years, USC under McKay and John Robinson lost just twice to the Irish. The Trojans’ dominance inspired many to remember McKay only saying “we’ll never be beaten” by Notre Dame again. Close enough.
The comparison between McKay and Parseghian is best exemplified by events within less than two months of each other in 1966. Parseghian was derisively said to have “tied one for the Gipper” when he settled for the 10-10 tie in the “Game of the Century” against Michigan State. On January 2, 1966 USC trailed Purdue 14-7 in the Rose Bowl. Troy drove for a last-minute touchdown. The “gunslinger” McKay avoided playing for the tie. The two-point try failed, giving victory to Bob Griese and the Boilermakers, respect for the men of Troy.
In the dressing room that day a young junior college recruit named O. J. Simpson told his future teammates “don’t worry about it, we’ll win the national championship next year.” O. J. was attracted to USC by their famed white horse Traveler. He watched Traveler romp around the field on a color TV when USC beat Wisconsin in the 1963 Rose Bowl. O. J. immediately transformed Southern California from excellent to dominant. His two years at USC mark the dividing line between all that came before and all that came after.
When he entered school in 1967, Notre Dame was the king of college football. The battle for “second” was an open war between USC, Oklahoma and Alabama, which the Irish were happy to see fought, like the Romans encouraging skirmishes against Carthage so as to weaken their rivals. It is likely an exaggeration to say that USC was winning that “war.”
O. J. started a period of Trojan success resulting in the school assessing, at the end of the 1982 season, either they had caught Notre Dame for all-time collegiate football supremacy, or were on the verge of doing so. Whether they did or not is immaterial, since over the next twenty years they fell well behind their rivals in the historical pantheon, but that is not for now.
The numbers are discussed in various sections of this book. Besides, football statistics do not resonate like, say, Barry Bonds hitting seventy-three homers, or Wilt Chamberlain averaging fifty points a game. Suffice to say that O. J. had the best season ever up until 1967. He was even better in 1968.
The junior transfer from City College of San Francisco announced his presence with authority when he led Troy first to a hard-fought 17-13 win over Texas. Then he and linebacker Adrian Young (who was born in Dublin, Ireland) starred in a huge 24-7 victory at Notre Dame. It was USC’s first victory in South Bend since the 1939 national championship campaign.
In 1967 Southern California beat UCLA, 21-20 at the Coliseum. There have been many incredible games over the years; since then the 1969 Texas-Arkansas, 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma, and 1993 Notre Dame-Florida State battles. Only the 2006 USC-Texas Rose Bowl game seems to feature the hype, the match-ups and the ultimate result rivaling the 1967 “city game.”
It was for the Rose Bowl and the national championship, no questions asked, played between two teams ten miles apart in the same city. Both wore their home jerseys in a stadium they shared. It was for the Heisman Trophy, too, which makes it very rare. Both UCLA’s Gary Beban and USC’s Simpson played their best games of the season. O. J.’s 64-yard run to win it late in the fourth quarter was pure magic. O. J. should have won the Heisman, but the senior Beban was so noble in the titanic struggle he ended up the winner.
In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, the UCLA game was often more competitive than the Notre Dame battles. These were golden years at UCLA. First, there was the great Red Sanders, who said “the USC-UCLA game is not a matter of life or death; it’s more important than that.” Then there was Tommy Prothro and McKay, two Southerners from the old school who adjusted nicely to California sensibilities in the 1960s. McKay despised characterizations of Prothro out-coaching him. Later, Pepper Rodgers and Terry Donahue of UCLA, and John Robinson of USC, battled each other in fierce manner. Had USC not stood in their way, the Bruins may well have added national championships (to the one Sanders brought to Westwood in 1954) in 1967, 1969, 1972 and 1973.
O. J. led USC to a 14-3 victory over Indiana in the 1968 Rose Bowl, capping McKay’s second national championship. When the season ended, a record five Trojans (Outland Trophy winner Ron Yary, Mike Taylor, Tim Rossovich, Mike Hull, Earl McCullough) were chosen in the first round of the NFL Draft. All-American linebacker Adrian Young was among the overall eleven USC players selected. Despite the talent drain, Southern California came back in 1968 challenging to be one of the great teams in history.
Number one overall pro football draft choices
1. Southern California 5
1. Notre Dame 5
1. Alabama 5
4. Miami 3
4. Ohio State 3
4. Oklahoma 3
4. Nebraska 3
8. Michigan 1
Southern California (5): Ron Yary (Minnesota, 1968), O.J. Simpson (Buffalo, 1969),
Ricky Bell (Tampa Bay, 1977), Keyshawn Johnson (New York Jets, 1996), Carson Palmer (Cincinnati, 2003)
Alabama (5): Vaughn Mancha, Boston (1947); Butch Avinger, Pittsburgh (1951); Bobby
Marlow, New York Giants (1953); Lee Roy Jordan, Dallas Cowboys (1962); Joe Namath, St. Louis Cardinals NFL/New York Jets AFL (1964)
Miami (3) Bernie Kosar, Cleveland (1985); Vinny Testaverde, Tampa Bay (1987);
Russell Maryland, Dallas (1991)
Michigan (1): Tom Harmon (Chicago, 1941)
Nebraska (3): Sam Francis (Philadelphia, 1937), Irving Fryar (New England, 1984), Mike
Rozier (Houston, 1984-supplemental)
Notre Dame (5): Angelo Bertelli (Boston, 1944), Frank Dancewicz (Boston, 1946), Leon
Hart (Detroit, 1950), Paul Hornung (Green Bay, 1957), Walt Patulski (Buffalo, 1972)
Ohio State (3): Tom Cousineau (Buffalo, 1979), Dan Wilkinson (Cincinnati, 1994),
Orlando Pace (St. Louis Rams, 1997)
Oklahoma (3): Lee Roy Selmon (Tampa Bay,1976), Billy Sims (Detroit, 1980), Brian
Bosworth (Seattle, 1987)
O. J. set the NCAA single-season rushing record with 1,880 and won the Heisman Trophy in a runaway. USC blasted through the season, but at the Rose Bowl met their match: a talent-laden group of Ohio State sophomores ended USC’s bid for hegemony, 27-16. At that moment, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes was sitting on top of the world, with any talk of hegemony centered on the Buckeyes. In the next two years, his great teams somehow managed to get upset by Michigan, 24-12 (1969) and Stanford, 27-17 (1971 Rose Bowl). There would be no repeats or three-peats; in fact, mostly more disappointment in Pasadena. This served only to demonstrate just how darn hard it is to keep winning every year in college football.
O. J. was the first pick in the draft by the Buffalo Bills. He was the greatest pro football player of the 1970s. In his prime, many argued he had passed or was close to passing Cleveland’s Jim Brown as the all-time best running back – and football player – in history. Ultimately that would be an overstatement. O. J. was the leading commercial pitchman in the country for many years during and after his playing career. He was a member of the Monday Night Football broadcast crew, also working as an analyst and sideline reporter. O. J. enjoyed a modicum of success in Hollywood, most notably in The Naked Gun comic turns. In 1994, his wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were brutally stabbed to death in Los Angeles. O. J. was accused, tried and found “not guilty.” A civil trial, however, found him liable. The overwhelming public sentiment is that he is guilty regardless of the verdict. He has been basically disowned by USC, a school he loved and who loved him back. In the 1990s, opponents taunted USC with placards featuring O. J.’s photo. In the Pete Carroll era Trojan success has thankfully made the O. J. issue an old one.
USC versus their biggest rivals
Versus UCLA 41-28-7
Versus Notre Dame 31-42-5
In 1969 USC did something few college teams are able to do. Despite losing their star player and most of his teammates, they re-loaded and probably were better. Only a tie with Notre Dame prevented Southern California from the national championship, or at least competing in an even struggle with Texas and Penn State for it. USC opened with a 31-21 win at Nebraska (a tie with USC in 1970 was the only blemish in the next thirty-two Cornhusker games). Last-minute thrillers over Stanford (26-24 on Ron Ayala’s field goal) and UCLA (14-12 on a Jimmy Jones-to-Sam Dickerson touchdown pass) earned Southern California the moniker “Cardiac Kids.” The defensive line, featuring Al Cowlings, Tody Smith and Charlie Weaver, was named after the Sam Peckinpah film The Wild Bunch. Michigan, fresh off a monumental 24-12 upset of “Team of the Century” Ohio State, was overwhelmed by the “Wild Bunch” in a 10-3 Rose Bowl loss to Southern Cal. The Trojans finished 10-0-1.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Bowl win-loss records
1. Southern California 29-16
2. Alabama 30-21-3
3. Penn State 25-12-2
4. Oklahoma 24-15-1
5. Miami 19-14
6. Texas 23-21-2
7. Nebraska 22-22
8. Michigan 18-20
9. Ohio State 18-20
10. Notre Dame *13-15
*Holds NCAA record, most consecutive bowl losses (9), 1994-2006
Southern California: 29-16 (Rose: 22-9, Orange: 2-0, Cotton: 1-0, Fiesta: 0-1)
Alabama: 30-21-3 (Sugar: 8-4, Orange: 4-4, Rose: 4-1-1, Cotton: 3-4)
Miami: 19-14 (Orange: 6-3, Sugar: 2-2, Rose: 1-1, Fiesta: 0-1)
Michigan: 18-20 (Rose: 8-12, Fiesta: 1-0, Orange: 1-1, Sugar: 0-1)
Nebraska: 22-22 (Orange: 8-9, Sugar: 3-1, Fiesta: 2-4, Cotton: 1-2, Rose: 0-2)
Notre Dame: 13-15 (Cotton: 5-2, Orange: 2-3, Sugar: 2-2, Fiesta: 1-3, Rose: 1-0)
Ohio State: 18-20 (Rose: 6-7, Fiesta: 4-1, Orange: 1-0, Sugar: 1-2, Cotton: 1-0, BCS: 0-1)
Oklahoma: 24-15-1 (Orange: 12-8, Sugar: 4-2, Fiesta: 1-2, Rose: 1-0, Cotton: 1-0)
Penn State: 25-12-2
Consensus USC All-Americans of the 1960s included Hal Bedsole, Mike Garrett, Ron Yary, Nate Shaw, O. J. Simpson, Tim Rossovich, Adrian Young, and Jim Gunn. The 1970s promised more of the same. The first game of the new decade certainly portended greater glory than ever before. Indeed, that glory was attained, but there were obstacles to overcome. On September 12, 1970 McKay’s fully integrated Trojans traveled to Birmingham, Alabama to take on Bear Bryant’s segregated Crimson Tide. Fourteen years after C. R. Roberts’s game at Texas, it was time for social progress in the South. The game was planned by Bryant and McKay as a demonstration of sorts in front of the ‘Bama faithful. The idea was to convince them that, in order to continue competing with the likes of USC on a national level, they would need to look more like USC.
USC versus Elite Ten (67-68-8)
Alabama (2-5), Miami (1-1), Michigan (6-4), Nebraska (2-0-1), Notre Dame (31-42-5), Ohio State (11-9-1), Oklahoma (6-2-1), Penn State (4-4), Texas (4-1)
Bryant had already recruited some black high school stars. He wanted to pave a smooth transition for them into the world of Alabama football and the Southeastern Conference. Sam “Bam” Cunningham, a black sophomore fullback from Santa Barbara, California ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns to key Troy’s resounding 42-21 win in front of a stunned, silent Legion Field crowd. According to legend, after the game Bryant brought Cunningham into the silent Alabama dressing room, perched him atop a stool, and announced, “Gentlemen, this here’s what a football player looks like.” It is a great story, preached as Holy Grail at USC for years, but is apparently an exaggeration. Exactly what happened is still hazy, but the full Cunningham-in-the-locker story is fairly mythologized. Alabama assistant coach Jerry Claiborne did say, “Sam Cunningham did more for civil rights in sixty minutes than Martin Luther King did in twenty years.”
The dye was cast. White fans were heard exclaiming after the game, “Bear better get hisself a few of them nigra players.” He did. The result was dominance in the 1970s at least at or maybe above USC’s level.
Joe Gibbs, an assistant coach on the 1970 team, became the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Washington Redskins and a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Filled with confidence after the Alabama game, the 1970 Trojans then experienced one of the all-time letdowns. It lasted for two 6-4-1 years. The irony is that while Alabama seamlessly transitioned black players into their system, going undefeated in the 1971 regular season and beyond, the Trojans were beset by racial tension. The bone of contention centered around black quarterback Jimmy Jones and his white back up, “blue chip” recruit Mike Rae.
In 1971 USC was 2-4. McKay’s shine was virtually gone. The week of the game at 6-0 Notre Dame, little-known offensive lineman Dave Brown approached McKay. He asked if he could bring in his friends from the Fellowship of Christian Athletes for a “demonstration.” The Catholic McKay, probably figuring nothing could hurt at that point, agreed.
“A lot of guys accepted Christ that day,” said Brown, who became a teacher and football coach at San Clemente High School in Orange County, south of Los Angeles. Several of the players, including All-American tight end Charles “Tree” Young, became Christian ministers later in life.
Fortified by The Word, Southern California marched into Notre Dame Stadium, ending Irish national title hopes, 28-14. That USC group never lost again. They remained unbeaten throughout the rest of the 1971 season. The 1972 Trojans are generally considered to be the greatest single-season team in history. They were unbeaten, ranked number one from the first poll until the last, and never were challenged despite playing a difficult schedule. After dismantling Ohio State, 42-17 in the 1973 Rose Bowl, Southern California won McKay’s third national championship.
USC’s College Hall of Famers (35)
John Baker 1929-1931
Brad Budde 1976-1979
Mike McKeever 1958-1960
Aaron Rosenberg 1931-1933
Harry Smith 1937-1939
Tay Brown 1930-1932
John Ferraro 1943-1947
Dan McMillan 1917,1919
Marvin Powell 1974-1976
Ernie Smith 1930-1932
Ron Yary 1965-1967
Paul Cleary 1946-1947
Charles Young 1970-72
Lynn Swann 1971-1973
Morley Drury 1925-1927
Cotton Warburton 1932-1934
Marcus Allen 1978-1981
Ricky Bell 1973-1976
Anthony Davis 1972-1974
Jon Arnett 1954-1956
Mike Garrett 1963-1965
Frank Gifford 1949-1951
Mort Kaer 1924-1926
Erny Pinckert 1929-1931
O. J. Simpson 1967-1968
Charles White 1976-1979
Ronnie Lott 1977-1980
Richard Wood 1972-1974
Bob Blackman 1939-1941 (assistant)
Don Coryell 1960 (assistant)
Mel Hein 1951-1965 (assistant)
Howard Jones 1926-1940
John McKay 1960-1975
Ken O’Brien 1998 (assistant)
Mike McGee 1984-1993 (athletic director)
Before starting his ministry, Young was a first round draft choice of Philadelphia, then played on two Super Bowl teams (1979 Los Angeles Rams, 1981 San Francisco 49ers). He was a key member of the world champion 49ers, blocking for and catching passes from the great Joe Montana. Quarterback Mike Rae played for the 1976 world champion Oakland Raiders. The All-American Cunningham was a first round draft pick of New England (1973) and ran behind the blocking of Alabama’s John Hannah with the Patriots. Lynn Swann was Pittsburgh’s first draft pick (1974) and the Most Valuable Player of the 1976 Super Bowl, when the Steelers beat the Dallas Cowboys, 21-17. He played on four Super Bowl winners in Pittsburgh. After retiring, he became a network sideline analyst. A College and Pro Football Hall of Famer, Swann ran as the Republican candidate for governor of Pennsylvania in 2006.
All-American defensive back Charles Phillips starred for the 1976 world champion Oakland Raiders. Three-time All-American linebacker Richard “Batman” Wood played for Tampa Bay. All-American guard Bill Bain played in the 1980 Super Bowl for the Los Angeles Rams. The Cleveland Browns drafted All-American offensive tackle Pete Adams in the first round.
All-American lineman John Grant played in Super Bowl XII for Denver. All-American lineman Booker Brown played for the Chargers. All-American safety Artimus Parker played for Philadelphia and the Jets. All-American offensive tackle Steve Riley was Minnesota’s first round draft choice and played in the 1977 Super Bowl.
Sophomore All-American running back Anthony “A. D.” Davis scored six touchdowns in USC’s 45-23 win over Notre Dame. That game is considered one of, if not the finest, single-day performances in college football annals. Other all-time great individual games include Red Grange’s performance for Illinois against Michigan in 1924, and Davis’s repeat effort against Notre Dame in 1974. Davis went on to play for the Rams.
Back-ups on the 1972 team included receiver J. K. McKay (Buccaneers) and quarterback Pat Haden, who led the Rams to the 1976 NFC championship game. Haden also was a Rhodes Scholar, studying political science at Oxford College in England. He graduated from Loyola University Law School and became a corporate attorney in Los Angeles. Haden also went on to a long career as a college football network broadcaster. Interestingly, he became the “voice of the Irish,” handling NBC’s games as part of their national arrangement with Notre Dame.
Overall, the 1972 national champions produced ten seniors drafted in 1973; nine in 1974; and fourteen in 1975. The Trojans of the early 1970s made up a large portion of the two teams which met, appropriately enough, at the Rose Bowl to play the 1977 Super Bowl. Key Oakland Raiders included former USC All-Americans John Vella, Clarence Davis, Willie Hall and Charles Phillips, plus Skip Thomas. Former USC Outland Trophy recipient Ron Yary, the first pick of the 1968 draft by Minnesota, was a Hall of Fame player for the Vikings. His teammate on the 1976 Vikings was Steve Riley. The Oakland Trojans, er, Raiders beat the Vikings, 32-14.
USC held the top spot in the Associated Press rankings for a then record seventeen straight weeks between 1972 and 1973. Their unbeaten streak from 1971 to 1973 reached twenty-three until Notre Dame knocked them off at South Bend, the first Irish victory in seven years.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Super Bowl appearances (through 2005)
1. Southern California 92
2. Miami 80
3. Michigan 62
4. Nebraska 58
5. Alabama 55
In 1974, USC beat Notre Dame in a game that defied description. Trailing 24-0, the Trojans scored fifty-five points in seventeen minutes to annihilate the Irish before a disbelieving Coliseum throng. Davis again spearheaded the victory, which ranks along with his 1972 effort versus the Irish among the all-time individual performances ever. It also proved to be the impetus behind USC’s second national championship in three years. Woody Hayes and Ohio State were waiting for them in the Rose Bowl. This time the Buckeyes did not get rolled like road kill under a Mack truck.
Trailing 17-10 late in the fourth quarter, Southern California drove the length of the field, with Pat Haden hitting J. K. McKay in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Coach McKay went for two, just as he had in the 1967 Rose Bowl versus Purdue, and as Parseghian had chosen not to do when the national title was also on the line. With everything riding on one play, Haden rolled to the right hoping to run it in. Met by a phalanx of Ohio State tacklers, he found Shelton Diggs “flashing” across the middle for the two-pointer, giving them victory and glory.
The 1974 team was one of the most exciting teams ever. Between 1964 and 1982, in a series of comebacks against Notre Dame; against Ohio State twice in the Rose Bowl; against Oklahoma, Stanford, UCLA and others; the Trojans thrilled their fans with improbable wins against all odds. A great program was elevated to legendary status during these years.
In 1975, USC was unbeaten, looking for a repeat national title when John McKay announced he was leaving at season’s end to take over the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It took all the air out of the USC tires. They finished 8-4. New coach John Robinson led USC to an 11-1 record in 1976, complete with season-ending conquests of UCLA, Notre Dame, and Michigan in the Rose Bowl. Only a season-opening loss to Missouri prevented that team from capturing the national championship, which went to Tony Dorsett and Pittsburgh.
In 1978, USC made a return trip to Birmingham’s Legion Field. The success of the 1970 “tackling segregation” victory over Alabama was apparent by what did not happen. Nobody who was there remembers anybody even bringing up the fact that Alabama’s team was fully integrated, as was the coaching staff, the student body, the crowd and much of the press corps. Unlike the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, Sam Cunningham’s game in 1970 seemed to have changed hearts and minds in the most peaceful way possible. On the field, the result was similar. Charles White ran for 199 yards, spurring Troy to an enormous 24-14 victory over the number one-ranked Crimson Tide.
After dispatching with UCLA, USC faced Notre Dame at the Coliseum in a game with major national championship implications. Quarterback Paul McDonald and White keyed Troy to a 24-6 lead in the second half. Irish quarterback Joe Montana put on a comeback display for the ages. He led Notre Dame all the way back late in the fourth quarter, but their two-point conversion try failed, leaving the score 25-24 Irish. Less than two minutes remained.
McDonald maneuvered USC into field goal range. Frank Jordan’s 37-yard kick won the game 27-25, ensuring his immortality. USC took care of Michigan, 17-10 in the Rose Bowl to give John Robinson what turned out to be his only national championship.
The 1979 Trojans entered the season ranked number one amid talk they might be the finest team ever assembled. A 17-12 comeback win at Louisiana State helped Troy start off 5-0. On October 13 they led Stanford, 21-0 at halftime. Most of the USC student body repaired to the beer aisles to talk it over with the opposite sex. The frantic sounds of Stanford coming back to tie it drew them back in. Momentum was lost, resulting in a 21-21 deadlock.
Otherwise unbeaten, USC blasted all opposition, including Notre Dame on the road, 42-23 and UCLA at the Coliseum, 49-14. Entering the bowls, USC was only halfway in control of their destiny. Ohio State waited for them at the Rose Bowl. New coach Earle Bruce (whose coaching staff included young Pete Carroll) had the Buckeyes at 11-0, ranked first.
Alabama was also unbeaten and untied. USC needed to beat Ohio State while Arkansas upset ‘Bama. The Trojans did their part. Trailing 16-10 with just minutes left, Charlie White spearheaded a ground-oriented attack, resulting in the winning touchdown, 17-16. Alabama beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl to capture Bear Bryant’s last national championship. White won the Heisman Trophy.
Between 1978 and 1980, USC featured a 28-game unbeaten streak. Consensus USC All-Americans of the second half of the 1970s and early 1980s included Ricky Bell, Gary Jeter, Dennis Thurman, Pat Howell, Brad Budde, Keith Van Horne, Roy Foster, Don Mosebar, Bruce Matthews, George Achica and Tony Slaton. Bell was the first pick of the 1976 NFL Draft (McKay’s Buccaneers). Other first round selections included Marvin Powell (Jets, 1977), Jeter (Giants, 1977), Clay Matthews (Cleveland, 1978), Anthony Munoz (Cincinnati, 1980), Budde (Kansas City, 1980), White (Cleveland, 1980), Ronnie Lott (San Francisco, 1981), Van Horne (Chicago, 1981), Dennis Smith (Denver, 1981), Chip Banks (Cleveland, 1982), Marcus Allen (Raiders, 1982), Foster (Miami, 1982), Bruce Matthews (Houston, 1983), Joey Browner (Minnesota, 1983), and Don Mosebar (Raiders, 1983)
Offensive lineman Anthony Munoz became a Hall of Famer with the Cincinnati Bengals. He played in two Super Bowls. Bruce Matthews of the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2007. Hall of Fame defensive back Ronnie Lott is generally considered the greatest player ever to play his position in the NFL. He spearheaded the 49ers to four Super Bowl victories in the 1980s.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Pro Football Hall of Fame
Southern California 14 (11 players, 3 coaches through 2007)
Notre Dame 9
Ohio State 6
Penn State 5
Defensive back Dennis Thurman starred for the Dallas Cowboys, playing in the 1979 Super Bowl. Lineman Brad Budde was a standout for Kansas City. Offensive lineman Keith Van Horne was a mainstay of the 1985 world champion Bears. Don Mosebar was a key member of the Los Angeles Raiders, who beat Washington in the 1984 Super Bowl.
Vince Evans became a starting quarterback in Chicago and with the Los Angeles Raiders. Mosi Tatupu was a standout running back in New England. Rich Dimler played for Cleveland and Green Bay. Dennis Johnson enjoyed success in Minnesota. Sean Salisbury was a “bust” at USC, but became a creditable quarterback with the Vikings before embarking on a successful career as an ESPN pro football analyst. Defensive back Jeff Fisher became the longtime head coach of the Tennessee Titans. All-American linebacker Jack Del Rio starred for the Saints, Chiefs, Cowboys and Vikings before becoming the head coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
In 1981, running back Marcus Allen set the NCAA record with 2,427 yards (219 per game). It earned him USC’s fourth Heisman Trophy. Allen went on to be the Most Valuable Player of the Raiders 38-9 1984 Super Bowl triumph over Washington, a perennial All-Pro, and eventually was elected into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Did you know . . .
That Marcus Allen of Southern California set the NCAA record for single-season rushing with 2,427 yards in 1981, the year he was USC’s fourth Heisman Trophy winner?
In 1982, after USC beat Notre Dame for the fifth consecutive time, the all-time record between the two schools was virtually even. The Irish had only beaten the Trojans twice in sixteen years. In that time, Notre Dame won two national championships and zero Heisman Trophies. In the previous two decades, USC won five national championships and four Heisman Trophies. The twenty-year run under coaches John McKay and John Robinson stands out as not just the most dominant of any collegiate dynasty, but the most exciting and momentous by far. World-shaking regular season victories over Notre Dame, UCLA, Alabama, and Texas; Rose Bowl triumphs over Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State; had elevated Troy to myth status.
“It was a Camelot time at USC,” was John Robinson’s description of the era.
In the early-evening gloaming of November 27, 1982 the historically conscious USC fan, leaving the Coliseum after Southern California’s 17-13 comeback win over Notre Dame, could not be blamed if he looked at the events of these two decades, especially the recent six-year run of John Robinson, and reached a few “conclusions.” Troy had not missed a beat after McKay’s departure. In comparing the program to Notre Dame, Alabama, Oklahoma, Nebraska – all the other giants of the college game – he concluded that maybe, just maybe, USC had ascended to a place where they could rightfully call themselves “college football’s all-time greatest tradition.”
Indeed, if this moment came, it also came to pass in what rocker Bruce Springsteen called, “The twinkle of a young girl’s eye.” The “Glory Days” ended with a resounding thud when the NCAA leveled penalties on USC for ticket scalping. Robinson left for the Los Angeles Rams, bringing legendary assistant coach Marv Goux with him. The Trojans lost to Notre Dame every single season from 1983 to 1993! Oh, how the mighty had fallen, or as it says in the Bible of empires from the Babylonians, the Persians, the Greeks, the Romans to the . . . Trojans, “Pride goeth before the fall.”
USC coaches/alumni who were also pro football coaches
Pete Carroll, John McKay, John Robinson (head coaches/USC-pro head coaches); Paul Hackett (head coach/USC-pro assistant); Jack Del Rio, Jim Fassel, Jeff Fisher, Mike Holmgren (players/USC-pro head coaches); Don Coryell, Norv Turner, Al Davis, Wayne Fontes, Joe Gibbs, Steve Mariucci, Dave Wannstedt, Lane Kiffin (assistant coaches/USC-pro head coaches); Jerry Attaway, Norm Chow, Mel Hein, Steve Sarkisian, (assistant coaches/USC-pro assistants)
Like the 1940s and 1950s, USC football in the 1980s and 1990s was competitive, entertaining and successful. It just did not reach the level of Miami, Oklahoma, Penn State, Notre Dame, Florida State, Nebraska or the other programs ascending to college football’s mountaintop over those years. USC won Rose Bowls in 1985, 1990 and 1996. They beat Texas Tech, 55-14 in the 1995 Cotton Bowl. After finally ending the nightmare run against Notre Dame they even managed to beat the Irish three straight years (1997-1999). In 1988, USC was unbeaten when they played UCLA at the Rose Bowl in a regular season game (reminiscent of the 1967 “city game”) which promised to decide the Rose Bowl invite and, at the time it was felt, the Heisman Trophy and national championship. Trojan quarterback Rodney Peete outplayed Bruin quarterback Troy Aikman, apparently securing the Heisman for himself. But Notre Dame destroyed USC 27-10, ending Trojan national title hopes (Lou Holtz’s Irish won it) and Peete’s Heisman campaign. He lost to Oklahoma State’s Barry Sanders. It was the last gasp of a dying “empire,” at least until Pete Carroll came along.
Nobody had an inkling of it in 1989, however. Succeeding Peete in that season was freshman quarterback Todd Marinovich. Marinovich was, quite simply, the most heralded high school football player who ever lived. He was to be a new “Trojan Moses,” leading USC to the promised land. Marinovich’s father, Marv was the captain of USC’s 1962 national championship team before playing for the Oakland Raiders. Marv’s brother coached Bishop Amat High School in La Puente, California, the nation’s best program in the 1960s. Out of Bishop Amat had come the likes of Pat Haden, J. K. Haden, Paul McDonald and UCLA All-American John Sciarra.
Marv Marinovich married Craig Fertig’s sister. Their son was Todd. He was raised by Marv to be, as the press dubbed it, “Robo QB” (from a film of the time, Robo Cop). He was groomed for greatness since the cradle. Despite being the most recruited player in history, young Marinovich’s only choices were USC, SC, Southern California or Southern Cal, take your pick.
Todd was a Freshman All-American in 1989, when he lived up to the promise by leading Troy to a 17-10 victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl. In 1990 national championship fever swept through Heritage Hall. Marinovich led Southern California to a resounding 34-16 victory over Syracuse in the Kickoff Classic, played at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey. There was also a dramatic 45-42 triumph over UCLA at the Rose Bowl. But All-American linebacker Junior Seau became one of the first players to take advantage of new rules, leaving school prior to his senior year. USC stumbled amid arguments between the hotshot quarterback and coach Larry Smith, who increasingly seemed to be in over his head. Marinovich left school early. Al Davis made him the Raiders’ first pick of the 1991 draft. He failed in the NFL, ending up a repeat drug offender and symbol of lost potential. An eight-year losing streak to UCLA commenced after that year. Marinovich set USC back ten years, literally and figuratively. That was the time between his last season and the hiring of Pete Carroll in 2000.
Despite their worst two decades on the field, USC produced talent. Consensus All-Americans included Jeff Bregel, Dave Cadigan, Tim Ryan, and Johnnie Morton. Ricky Ervins went on to star for the Washington Redskins; Jason Sehorn with the New York Giants; Derrick Deese in San Francisco. Rob Johnson and Chad Morton were solid NFL players.
Mark Carrier won the 1989 Jim Thorpe award. Tim McDonald was a star with the 49ers, credited with the famed Jerry Maguire saying, “Show me the money!” Chris Claiborne won the 1998 Butkus Award.
All-American wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson was the first pick of the 1996 draft by the Jets and became an NFL star. All-American lineman Tony Boselli, the second pick of the 1995 draft by Jacksonville, was a great pro player, too. Willie McGinest spearheaded New England’s Super Bowl champions of the 2000s.
USC featured the most first round draft picks of any college in the 1980s; the third-highest number of first round picks in the 1990s. Year after year, USC produced the most players on pro rosters, the most Super Bowl players, and the most players on winning Super Bowl teams. In 1999, SPORT magazine did a study determining that USC had no less than fourteen players represented in the Pro Bowl.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Super Bowl - winning team (through 2005)
1. Southern California 45
2. Notre Dame 38
3. Penn State 35
The pattern was developed. USC’s five first round draft picks in 1968 had set the record for the most of any college. When Carson Palmer went number one in 2003, it marked the fifth time a Trojan had been chosen first (tied with Notre Dame). USC had three of the most highly drafted classes in history (1953, fifteen; 1975 and 1977, fourteen each). While records are somewhat sketchy, USC and Notre Dame easily had the most players drafted, and the most players in the National Football League. Through the 2007 draft, USC’s sixty-seven first round picks were the most of any school. Among the leaders in Super Bowl MVPs: USC with two (Lynn Swann of the Steelers in 1976, Marcus Allen of the Raiders in 1984). NFL Players of the Year: two (O. J. Simpson of the Bills in 1973 and Marcus Allen of the Raiders, 1985). Pro Football Hall of Famers: Bruce Matthews became USC’s fourteenth (the most of any school) in 2007.
USC’s “teammate Heismans”
1979 Charles White
1981 Marcus Allen
2002 Carson Palmer
2004 Matt Leinart
2004 Matt Leinart
2005 Reggie Bush
That said, the “glittering statues that marked the historical lineage of Troy were beginning to fade,” as was stated in The History of USC Football DVD (2005). Had the game passed them by? In the early 1990s, Dr. Steven Sample took over as USC’s president. He hired Nobel Prize-winning faculty. Admissions standards were raised. By 2000, it was accepted as an article of faith among Trojan alumni that a great academic institution, which the University of Southern California had become, could not coincide with a great football program. A winning team, a solid program, maybe ranked in the <ED: CAPS, NUMBER 25> Top 25 with a trip to the Rose Bowl here and there; but a dynasty? No. Whatever it was that Nebraska, Florida State, Miami, Oklahoma and schools like that could do to make themselves dominant on the gridiron, would no longer be expected of a school like USC.
In 2000, the Time/Princeton Review College Guide rated USC as “College of the Year.” The 2001 Newsweek/Kaplan College Guide named it one of America’s nine “hottest schools.” Its dental school was world class. Its film school was unsurpassed, its graduates now dominating nearby Hollywood. Federal research money poured in, its endowment coffers filling to the brim. Only “straight A” students need apply for admission. The alumni had accepted the fact that great academics did not mix with great athletics. They were okay with that.
After going 5-7 in 2000, coach Paul Hackett was fired. Athletic director Mike Garrett, whose job hung precariously in the balance himself, went after the hot coaches of that year: Dennis Erickson, Mike Bellotti, and Mike Riley. The greatest job in college sports, or so it once seemed to be, was turned down by all of them. Then Pete Carroll walked into Garrett’s office. The New England Patriots had fired Carroll after the 1999 season. The serendipity was almost too much to bear, at least in retrospect.
Carroll grew up in California. As a teenager at Redwood High School, he had attended the Diamond B Football Camp, where he slept in a cabin not far from where Bear Bryant and John McKay are rumored to have planned the 1970 USC-Alabama game, and therefore the full integration of Southern football. They were there as “guest coaches” at the camp, organized by Carroll’s coach at Redwood, Bob Troppmann.
“I became a USC fan when Sam ‘Bam’ Cunningham integrated the South,” Carroll told a sports reporter as far back as the 1980s.
Carroll, the Trojan fan, was in the Coliseum stands the day Jimmy Jones hit Sam Dickerson with a last-minute winning touchdown pass to beat UCLA, 14-12 in 1969. He was an all-conference college player but not a professional. Carroll entered coaching and the nomadic life that goes with it. For twenty-five years Carroll coached from one end of America to another. Some jobs and cities were better than others. There were five years in New York, one of those as head coach of the Jets; two years in San Francisco; three in Boston where he was head coach of the Patriots. He took the team to the play-offs but not the Super Bowl.
In 2000, for the first time in his entire adult life, Carroll was not coaching football someplace. He and his wife, Glena chose to move to Los Angeles. Glena had grown up in the South Bay area of Redondo and Palos Verdes Estates. Her father had graduated from USC. Carroll’s daughter was a volleyball player at USC.
With time on his hands, Carroll was often on the USC campus, visiting with his daughter and watching her volleyball games. He often dropped in on the coaches and athletic staff at Heritage Hall; people he knew from his many years in football. Then the job opened up. Carroll let Garrett know he wanted it, but others were courted first. Carroll watched from the sideline while those deemed more attractive than he passed on the opportunity. Finally, Garrett went with Carroll. The enthusiasm level from USC alumni was none-too great. No matter.
“Just days before Christmas in the year 2000,” stated The History of USC Football DVD, “USC found its savior.” Indeed, what Carroll did over the next years was nothing less than a football resurrection.
Trojans on the run
S/start season; F/finish season
Year Record Run
1920 6-0 6-0 (1920)
1921 10-1 16-1 (1920-21)
1922 10-1 26-2 (1920-22)
1923 6-2 32-4 (1920-23)
1924 9-2 41-6 (1920-24)
1925 11-2 53-8 (1920-25)
52-8 (1920-25) 60 games
1926 8-2 61-10 (1920-26)
59-11 (1920-26) 70 games
1927 8-1-1 F/1-0 68-11-1 (1920-27)
67-12-1 (1920-27) 80 games
1928 9-0-1 77-11-1 (1920-28)
76-12-2 (1920-28) 90 games 17-1-2 (1927-28)
1929 10-2 F/5-0 88-13-2 (decade: 1920s)
85-13-2 (1920-29) 100 games
1930 8-2 96-15-2 (1920-30)
94-14-2 (1920-30) 110 games
1931 10-1 F/10-0 107-16-2 (1920-31)
113-15-2 (1920-31) 120 games
1932 10-0 117-16-2 (1920-32)
112-16-2 (1920-32) 130 games
20-0 (1931-32) 20 games
1933 10-1-1 S/5-0, F/6-0-1 127-17-3 (1920-33) 147
121-17-2 1920-33 140 games
20-0 (1927-32) 20 games
1934 4-6-1 S/3-0 131-23-4 (1920-34)
130-17-3 (1920-34) 150 games
Year Record Run
1967 10-1 10-1 (1967)
1968 9-1-1 19-2-1 (1967-68)
1969 10-0-1 29-2-1 (1967-69)
1970 6-4-1 S/1-0, 3-0-1 30-2-1 (1967-70)
Year Record Run
1971 6-4-1 F/4-0-1, 0-0-1 6-4-1 (1971)
1972 12-0 16-0-1 (1971-72)
1973 9-2-1 S/1-0, 5-0-1 21-2-1 (1972-73)
1974 10-1-1 31-3-2 (1972-74)
1975 8-4 S/7-0 39-7-2 (1972-74)
1976 11-1, F/11-0 50-8-2 (1972-76) 60 games
1977 8-4 58-12-2 (1972-77)
56-12-2 (1972-77) 70 games
1978 12-1 F/8-0 70-12-2 (1972-77)
66-12-2 (1972-77) 80 games 31-6 (1976-78)
1979 11-0-1 81-12-3 (1972-77)
85-12-3 (1971-79) 100 games
75-12-3 (1972-77) 90 games
1980 8-2-1 S/5-0, 7-0-1 89-14-4 (1972-80)
88-12-4 (1972-80) 100 games
92-12-5 (1971-80) 100 games
Year Record Run
2001 6-6 F/4-1 6-6 (2001)
2002 11-2 F/8-0 17-8 (2001-02)
2003 12-1 F/9 29-9 (2001-03)
2004 13-0 42-9 (2001-04)
29-1 (2002-04) 30 games
29-1 (2002-03) 30 games
20-0 (2003-04) 20 games
2005 12-1 S/12-0 54-10 (2001-05)
50-10 (2001-05) 60 games
46-4 (2001-05) 50 games
29-1 (2002-05) 30 games
48-2 (2002-05) 50 games
47-3 (2002-05) 50 games
30-0 (2002-05) 30 games
2006 11-2 S/6-0, 10-1 65-12 (2001-06)
60-10 (2001-06) 70 games
63-7 (2001-06) 70 games
55-5 (2001-06) 60 games
46-4 (2002-06) 50 games
38-2 (2002-06) 50 games
56-4 (2002-06) 60 games
48-2 (2002-06) 50 games
55-5 (2002-06) 50 games
48-2 (2002-03) 50 games
56-4 (2002-06) 60 games
The program he took over that December day had slipped. If in fact they had “caught” Notre Dame at the end of the 1982 season, that short-lived stay was long forgotten. Little by little, USC’s historical edge had begun to fade away. In 1985, a disappointing USC team met a disappointing Alabama team in an otherwise-meaningless Aloha Bowl. However, when ‘Bama polished off Troy, 24-3 it had the effect of pushing the Crimson Tide over the Trojans for most all-time bowl victories, a record USC had held since its first Rose Bowl win in 1923.
In 1992, Alabama won the national championship, very likely passing USC into second place behind Notre Dame as the greatest tradition. In the 1990s, as USC lost year after year to Notre Dame and UCLA, the cracks in their “historical lineage” widened. When the New Millennium began on January 1, 2000 USC was not mentioned among the powers that made up the collegiate landscape. Notre Dame, by virtue of its great record, still clung to their all-time number one spot, but they too were struggling to maintain equal footing with the upstarts from Virginia Tech; Bobby Bowden’s Florida State dynasty; juggernauts at Nebraska; and a Miami program that more resembled the National Football League than college ball.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Pro football draft choices (through 2006)
1. Southern California 458 (430 (NFL, 28 AFL)
2. Notre Dame 453
3. Oklahoma 327
4. Alabama 301
5. Ohio State 316
6. Miami 283
In 2000, the crack widened further at USC. While Hackett’s team struggled to a losing record without a bowl invite, Oklahoma – a program that like USC had seen hard times – made their big comeback. When the Sooners captured the national championship, they could make a good argument that they too had passed poor old USC into third place in the historical pantheon. The Trojans could only hope to still call themselves an all-time top five program. How could they, with a straight face, still claim a greater tradition than Nebraska, or even Miami and Florida State? These guys were the New Millennium, champions of the BCS era, winners of a long Darwinian struggle for supremacy in one of the most competitive arenas in American society. USC could only offer faded video of Anthony Davis in 1974, featuring crowd shots of fans with bad hair and flared pants.
But Hackett, to his credit, did not leave the cupboard bare. Quarterback Carson Palmer, the top high school recruit of 1997, had disappointed but had two more years of eligibility. Defensive back Troy Polamalu was a force. In 2001 under Carroll, USC started 2-5. They traveled to Arizona for a meaningless game in the excessive desert heat. Nobody cared. Trailing late, Kris Richard picked off a Wildcat pass, returning it for a touchdown to give USC the 41-34 victory. Carroll calls that the “turning point.” They managed to shut out UCLA, 27-0 and by the reduced standards of USC football at that time, the invite to the Las Vegas Bowl did not seem bad.
In 2002, USC rallied late but came up short at Kansas State, 27-20. Then they lost in overtime at Washington State when an extra point was missed. After that, USC was as dominant in the final eight games of the season as Carroll’s subsequent teams. Their 2002 schedule was the toughest in the nation and one of the most competitive of all time. They annihilated UCLA, 52-21 in one of the most impressive performances imaginable, then exploded past Notre Dame, 44-13. The co-Pacific 10 champions destroyed Iowa in the Orange Bowl to finish 11-2. Palmer won the Heisman Trophy. They were again a dominant program; could they be number one?
In 2003, the Trojans were just that when they went 12-1. They opened at Auburn, ranked number one in Sports Illustrator’s pre-season poll. USC won 23-0. They destroyed Notre Dame at South Bend, 45-14 and UCLA at the Coliseum 47-22. After polishing off Oregon State, 52-28 while Oklahoma lost to Kansas State, 35-7 in the Big 12 championship game, USC ascended to the top of all the polls. They defeated Michigan, 28-14 in the Rose Bowl to capture their first national championship in twenty-five years.
Consensus All-Americans included wide receiver Mike Williams, offensive lineman Jacob Rogers, and defensive lineman Kedeche Udeze. Sophomore All-American quarterback Matt Leinart, the MVP of the Rose Bowl, led the team. Freshman running backs Reggie Bush and LenDale White were sensational. It was a young squad that promised to be the best in the nation not just for one more year, but for two more years at the least. Carroll got on a recruiting roll, bringing in classes that would be ranked number one in the nation by at least one service in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007.
In 2004, USC entered the season ranked number one by every pre-season magazine as well as by the Associated Press. Leinart was the prohibitive Heisman favorite. The talk began.
Is this the greatest team of all time?
As the season played out, the answer to that question came back, Probably not. Number two, or three, or top five? Very likely. USC generally dominated but was pushed several times, unlike the 1972 Trojans who rolled through their entire schedule without a test. The 1995 Nebraska Cornhuskers did the same thing. Other great teams, such as Army (1945), Notre Dame (1947), Michigan (1948) and even the 1932 USC national champions won by more impressive margins.
That said, this was a new era; of parity, of the BCS, of big-time pressure. Notre Dame came to town but were no match for Leinart, who passed for over 400 yards in the 41-10 drubbing. After beating UCLA at the Rose Bowl, Leinart won the Heisman in a New York ceremony featuring his teammate, Reggie Bush; Bush’s teammate from Helix High School near San Diego, Alex Smith; and two players Troy would face in the BCS Orange Bowl, quarterback Jason Smith and running back Adrian Peterson.
Elite Ten by the numbers
National championships (1970-2006)
1. Southern California 5
1. Nebraska 5
1. Miami 5
4. Alabama 4
4. Oklahoma 4
6. Notre Dame 3
The Orange Bowl was the most hyped college game ever played up until that time. Aside from featuring four of the top five Heisman finalists (Smith was the NFL’s number one draft pick when Leinart opted to return in 2005), the game matched teams that had been ranked one and two since the pre-season. It was USC’s shot at a repeat title. These were two of the most storied traditions.
When it was over, only one team was left standing. Leinart threw three touchdown passes and caught another in USC’s 55-19 pounding of OU. ESPN’s Lee Corso called it the finest game any college team had ever played. It certainly was up there with Nebraska’s 62-24 pounding of Florida in the 1996 Fiesta Bowl; not to mention USC’s 42-17 1973 Rose Bowl triumph over Ohio State, or that memorable 55-24 win over Notre Dame in 1974.
Leinart, the game’s Most Valuable Player, did something that Heisman winners rarely do: live up to their billing in a national championship bowl game. In so doing, he put himself in discussion for the “best single-season player ever” and, if he could do it again in 2005, the “best college player of all time.”
Mel Kiper Jr. stated that Leinart would be the number one pick in the 2005 NFL Draft, but he decided to return for his senior year. The San Francisco 49ers chose Alex Smith first. There is virtually no possibility Smith would have been picked ahead of Leinart had the USC quarterback made himself eligible.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Bowl Championship Series national championships (1998-2006)
1. Southern California: 1, 2004 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Ohio State: 1, 2002 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Miami: 1, 2001 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Oklahoma: 1, 2000 (1-1 in BCS championship games)
1. Texas: 1, 2005 (1-0 in BCS championship games)
6. Nebraska: 0 (0-1 in BCS championship game)
10. Alabama: 0
10. Michigan: 0
10. Notre Dame: 0
10. Penn State: 0
Shaun Cody and Matt Grootegoed were consensus All-Americans. Mike Williams (forced to sit out 2004 because he had tried to declare early) and Mike Patterson were both selected in the first round of the draft. Lofa Tatupu chose to leave school early. He immediately led the Seattle Seahawks, whose coach Mike Holmgren had been a back-up USC quarterback, to the Super Bowl. They lost to Pittsburgh, led by Troy Polamalu. Other stars included Tom Malone, LenDale White, Dwayne Jarrett, Taitusu Lutui, Darnell Bing, and Sam Baker.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Playboy Pre-Season All-Americans (through 2005)
1. Southern California 65 (2 Coach of Year, 1 Scholar-Athlete)
2. Michigan 46
3. Texas 45
4. Notre Dame 40 (1 Coach of Year)
5. Nebraska 33 (2 Coach of Year, 1 Scholar-Athlete)
6. Oklahoma 32 (2 Coach of Year)
In 2005, all bets were off. In the entire history of college athletics, no school ever achieved the kind of attention, notoriety and celebrity status of Trojan football. It was all part of a growing trend extending beyond University Park. Once the sports capital of the world, Los Angeles had fallen on hard times in the 1980s and 1990s. The city’s shine had tarnished in other ways, too. USC and UCLA once dominated California and Stanford, but a sense of parity had been achieved in the Pacific-10. The Dodgers no longer held the hammer over the Giants. The San Francisco 49ers had become a dynasty while the Los Angeles Rams had moved to St. Louis. The Los Angeles Raiders moved back to Oakland. The Lakers fell on hard times. Southern California was once a political juggernaut, producing Presidents Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan. In 1992’s “year of the woman” elections, two liberal Jewish Democrats, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of San Francisco, were elected to the U.S. Senate.
In 1991, video captured white L.A.P.D. officers beating black motorist Rodney King. In 1992, responding to their acquittal by a white jury in suburban Simi Valley, L.A.’s black neighborhoods exploded in riot. In 1994, an earthquake rocked the Los Angeles area. USC legend O. J. Simpson stood trial for murdering his wife. His acquittal created further racial divisions. A USC football player was grazed by a bullet during practice. Orange County declared bankruptcy. In the 1990s, the only championship won by a Los Angeles team was UCLA’s 1995 NCAA basketball title. An accounting scandal cost coach Jim Harrick his job shortly thereafter.
But the city began a comeback in the late 1990s. After the fall of the U.S.S.R. and America’s victory in the Cold War, the defense industry had cut back drastically. This had an enormous effect on the Los Angeles economy, since much of the aerospace industry is centered along a corridor of the 405 Freeway between Los Angeles Airport and the Port of Long Beach. But many of these smart technological types “landed on their feet,” fueling the Internet boom. Eventually, the “dot-bomb” disaster burst the techno-bubble, but in the wake of 9/11 a settled economy took shape, replacing the speculative nature of the 1990s stock market.
New regulations in industry, particularly auto emissions, created drastically cleaner air in the L.A. Basin. Fans in the 1970s could barely see the other side of the Coliseum. By the late 1990s, sitting high atop the stadium even in September, a fan could now see the Pacific Ocean and Palos Verdes Peninsula to the west; the Santa Monica Mountains, the Hollywood sign and Beverly Hills; the downtown skyline and, in the winter after rains, the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountain range to the east.
L.A. Mayor Richard Riordan led a major gentrification project of downtown Los Angeles. New skyscrapers were built. Streets were cleaned up, neighborhoods revitalized, crime reduced. All of these events manifested themselves in a sports comeback. First, Staples Center was built in downtown L.A. The Lakers immediately won three consecutive NBA championships (2000-2002). The Angels captured the 2002 World Series.
The building of Staples had a big effect on USC. The overall work on the two-mile corridor between Staples and the USC campus resulted in a huge cleanup and building project, improving USC’s surroundings. This helped to create a much more exciting football environment at the Coliseum, as well as the building of a gleaming on-campus basketball arena, the Galen Center.
Streaking Trojans in the Pete Carroll Era
29-1 (2002-04) 30 games
29-1 (2002-03) 30 games
50-10 (2001-05) 60 games
46-4 (2001-05) 50 games
29-1 (2002-05) 30 games
48-2 (2002-05) 50 games
47-3 (2002-05) 50 games
60-10 (2001-06) 70 games
63-7 (2001-06) 70 games
55-5 (2001-06) 60 games
46-4 (2002-06) 50 games
38-2 (2002-06) 50 games
56-4 (2002-06) 60 games
48-2 (2002-06) 50 games
55-5 (2002-06) 50 games
48-2 (2002-03) 50 games
56-4 (2002-06) 50 games
By 2005, fans attending USC games at the Coliseum were stunned by what they saw. First, without an NFL team, USC had become “L.A.’s pro football franchise.” 90,000 fans sold out the Coliseum for every game. The stadium was improved, modernized with a state of the art scoreboard and sound system. The campus became a true celebration prior to games. Everything associated with USC seemed touched by gold.
Its marquee names were now bigger than Hollywood celebrities. Sportstalk radio featured USC football night and day. Pete Carroll was referred to as the “prince of the city.” Matt Leinart was seen squiring hot starlets about town, his presence at parties and trendy clubs as requested as any actor.
Hollywood’s school . . .
USC has played 347 overall TV games (through 2005) . . .
Amidst all of this hoopla, USC entered the 2005 campaign looking to do things nobody had ever done. Everybody ranked them number one. They were out to win a first-ever third straight AP national championship (oddly, USC was prohibited from marketing the appropriately named term “Three-Pete” because Laker coach Pat Riley had actually copyrighted the term years earlier). The stars were aligned, all in their favor. The BCS national championship game was to be held at their longtime stomping grounds, the Rose Bowl. The Heisman seemed to be a fait accompli to be won either by Leinart or Reggie Bush, the greatest teammate combination since Army’s “Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside,” Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis.
The season seemed to play out according to form. The USC defense showed some vulnerability, but the offense was declared the best in history. Nobody really paid much attention to any flaws since USC averaged fifty points per game. Leinart was at least as good as he had been in his junior year, but Reggie Bush led the nation in all-purpose yards, ensuring the Heisman Trophy in his junior year. USC became just the second team ever to have back-to-back Heisman winners. The only other had been the aforementioned Army powerhouse of 1945-1946. The running back combination of Bush and White, known as “thunder and lightning,” was as lethal as any the game had ever seen.
USC repeated the act of 2004, ranked number one in every poll from the pre-season through the end of the regular season, thus setting an all-time record of thirty-three straight weeks at the top of the Associated Press rankings. They ran their winning streak to thirty-four games, tied for the second longest in the history of modern football (behind only Oklahoma’s 47-game streak of 1953-1957). At South Bend, the Trojans rallied in one of the most intense environments imaginable to beat the Irish, 34-31 in a game for the ages. Against Fresno State, Bush demonstrated moves reminiscent of O. J. Simpson in a Heisman-guarantee 50-42 USC win. He accumulated well over 200 first half yards alone in USC’s insane pounding of UCLA, 66-19.
The Four Horsemen of Southern California
Outlined against a blue, gray October sky the Four Horsemen rode again. In dramatic lore they are known as famine, pestilence, destruction and death. These are only aliases. Once named Stuhldreher, Miller, Crowley and Layden, the gladiators of the New Millennium are men of youth, color and American diversity. Their real names are: Leinart, Bush, Jarrett and White. These new Four Horsemen of Southern California came to the land of destiny riding their famed white steed Traveler, that dreaded Coliseum sight of Irish past. They relegated the old Notre Dame ghosts to their place and time, a time when the only color was white, myths were protected, lies told as <ED: CAPS> Truths. They formed the crest of the South Bend cyclone before which another Fighting Irish team was swept over the precipice at Notre Dame Stadium on the afternoon of Saturday, October 15, 2005. 80,795 spectators peered down upon the bewildering panorama spread out upon the green plain below.
- Excerpted from The USC Trojans: College Football’s All-Time Greatest Dynasty by Steven Travers, describing USC’s 2005 victory over Notre Dame
The Heisman ceremony featured the victorious Bush winning over teammate Matt Leinart and Texas quarterback Vince Young. This set up a Rose Bowl showdown unlike anything yet seen. It overshadowed the hype of the previous year’s Orange Bowl encounter. Aside from the Heisman match-ups, the game featured four players who would be chosen among the first ten picks of the 2006 draft: Bush (Saints), Leinart (Cardinals), Young (Titans) and his teammate Michael Huff (Raiders). It was again a game between two unbeatens averaging over fifty points a game, who had held the number one-two spots since the pre-season, which is completely rare. Its Rose Bowl location added to the sense of history, pomp and circumstance. If that was not enough, it was the final game announced by the venerable Keith Jackson.
Elite Ten by the numbers
Heisman Trophy winners
Southern California 7
Notre Dame 7
Ohio State 7
Penn State 1
If a greater college football game has ever been played, I do not know of it. Considering first the pressure and expectations, then the performance of its stars – Leinart was spectacular, Young may have played the best game of all time – and the dramatic, comeback, last-second nature of Texas’s 41-38 victory, the game must rank above all others. This includes the 1967 USC-UCLA, 1971 Nebraska-Oklahoma, 1969 Texas-Arkansas, 1963 USC-Wisconsin, 1931 USC-Notre Dame, 1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State, or any other “Game of the Century” ever played.
In the end, what USC lost, aside from the 2005 national championship, was immeasurable. An enormous amount of history was taken from them when Young crossed the goal line with nineteen seconds left to play. There was USC’s:
· Passing Notre Dame to establish itself as the all-time leader with twelve national titles (not to mention passing UCLA’s eleven in basketball, and tying USC’s twelve in baseball).
· Historic three straight national championships.
· The title “greatest college football team of all time” (which ESPN had already awarded them via a computerized pre-game analysis).
· The chance to go after Oklahoma’s 47-game winning streak in 2006.
· The opportunity to add to their already-record thirty-three straight weeks atop the AP poll.
Whether Leinart was the greatest player of all time now went from being accepted fact to a worthy debate. Whether the 2000s Trojan dynasty was better than Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners (1950s), Frank Leahy’s Notre Dame Fighting Irish (1940s) or Knute Rockne’s Irish of the 1920s; it was now a much harder argument to make.
Bush and LenDale White both declared for the 2006 NFL Draft. This also cost them enormously in that, had either one returned, one of them probably would have won USC’s third straight Heisman, fourth in three years, and an all-time most eighth overall in 2006. USC likely would have been ranked number one throughout the 2006 season on the way to its twelve national title, thus increasing their AP streak to fifty. If they had beaten Texas, this would have meant their thirteenth national title and fourth straight (meaning seniors would have won each of their years at USC). In so doing, USC might have captured their forty-eighth straight victory, passing Oklahoma on the way to fifty and beyond.
All-Time USC Team
From The USC Trojans: College Football’s All-Time Greatest Dynasty by Steven Travers
Pos. First Honorable Mention
QB Matt Leinart Pat Haden, Carson Palmer, Paul McDonald, Rodney Peete
TB O.J. Simpson Charles White, Mike Garrett, Ricky Bell, Frank Gifford
FB Marcus Allen Sam "Bam" Cunningham
WR Lynn Swann
WR Mike Williams Keyshawn Johnson, Erik Affholter, Bob Chandler, Dwayne
TE Charles "Tree" Young
OT Anthony Munoz
OT Ron Yary Tony Boselli, Ernie Smith, Don Mosebar, Pete Adams,
Keith Van Horne, John Vella
OG Brad Budde
OG Bruce Matthews Aaron Rosenberg, Roy Foster, Johnny Baker
C Stan Williamson Ryan Kalil
Pos. First Honorable Mention
T Marvin Powell John Ferraro
DT Shaun Cody
DT Ron Mix ` Mike Patterson, Tim Ryan
DE Tim Rossovich
DE Willie McGinest Mike McKeever, Charles Weaver, Keneche Udeze
LB Junior Seau
LB Richard "Batman" Wood
LB Clay Matthews Dennis Johnson, Chip Banks, Adrian Young, Charles
Phillips, Chris Claiborne
DB Ronnie Lott
DB Tim McDonald
DB Troy Polamalu Dennis Smith, Dennis Thurman, Joey Browner, Mark
Pos. First Honorable Mention
KR Reggie Bush Anthony Davis
P Tom Malone
PK Frank Jordan Ron Ayala
OFFENSIVE PLAYER Matt Leinart
DEFENSIVE PLAYER Ronnie Lott
COACH John McKay
Honorable Mention Coach Pete Carroll, Howard Jones, John Robinson
The 2006 team, led by All-American receiver Dwayne Jarrett and quarterback John David Booty, still went 11-2, beat Notre Dame and then Michigan in the Rose Bowl. But a stunning loss to UCLA denied them the national championship they probably would have won over highly-overrated Troy Smith and Ohio State in the BCS title game played in Pac-10-friendly Glendale, Arizona.
Considering that the Trojans were expected to enter the 2007 season ranked number one while Booty was the pre-season Heisman favorite, this creates the unbelievable possibility that, if they had beaten Texas, and if Bush, White or both had returned, the team could have:
· Surpassed Washington’s all-time record 63-game unbeaten streak (1907-17).
· Been ranked number one in the AP poll eighty straight weeks.
· Won six straight national championships.
· Won their fourteenth national championship.
· Won the Heisman four straight years, five of six, and ninth overall.
These are accomplishments that no football team has ever approached. John Wooden and UCLA had this kind of run in basketball. USC under Rod Dedeaux and Dean Cromwell had this kind of record in baseball and track, respectively. To do it in football, particularly in the BCS era, is somehow unthinkable. Still, some do think about it.
“I don’t see any reason Pete Carroll can’t win five or ten national championships,” stated national sportstalk host Jim Rome.
These are the kinds of expectations the University of Southern California now deals with. As Carroll himself says of all “the hype, national championship talk, the Heismans; we embrace it.”
It is why USC has surpassed Alabama, Oklahoma and even Notre Dame in a 2000s stretch run firmly supporting the premise that they are now indeed college football’s all-time greatest dynasty! USC has a tradition combining all the necessary elements. They have been a national power since the 1920s. They dominated the two decades prior to World II, the two decades of the 1960s and 1970s, and now the 2000s. Their down years were never really down; they always had many pro stars, won conference titles and Rose Bowls, even when times were tough. They have played as strong a schedule as any team, traveling east, west, north and south to take on the best America has to offer. They have subjected themselves to eighty years of Notre Dame games, an almost equal number of “bloodlettings” versus UCLA.
No other conference features a single team that has dominated it as USC has the Pacific Coast, AAWU, Pac-8 and now Pac-10 Conference. It is historically the most successful football and overall athletic conference in the nation. The Trojans have dominated most all of the sports played in the Pac-10. The exceptions to that rule are schools that are number one among all collegiate programs: UCLA basketball and men’s volleyball; Stanford tennis. Outside of the Bruin basketball dynasty, in many cases the second greatest tradition in respective sports is USC’s, as is the case in men’s tennis just to name one example.
Southern California has established dominance of the very best bowl game – the Rose Bowl – against its most hallowed opponents (Ohio State’s Woody Hayes, Michigan’s Bo Schembechler, just to name two).
USC has always been an integrated program on the right side of history, walking proud with black players in the heart of Dixie. In viewing the ebb and tide of their history, they resemble in many ways a good baseball team that stays steady, winning six or seven of every 10 games to stay close even when opponents streak to ten straight, twenty straight, or more (think Oklahoma). When the others falter, the Trojans stay consistent, catch and then pass them. On occasion, USC has long, wildly successful unbeaten streaks of their own (the “Thundering Herd,” McKay’s champions of the early 1970s, Robinson’s 28-game unbeaten 1978-80 teams, Carroll’s recent 34-straight winners). In the end, the numbers add up in their favor; national titles, Heismans, pro stars. In no area of criteria do they trail by large margins. Michigan and Notre Dame have more all-time wins and higher winning percentages, but USC (who started playing later than those schools) hangs close to the top and is in the ultra-elite “.700 club.”
All-Americans, college and pro Hall of Famers? USC is always right up there or ranked first. Certain statistics jump out, emphasizing the Trojans’ status. Their bowl record, for instance, is impossible to dispute. While the Irish declined to accept the challenge year after year, the Trojans did and in so doing have put together the best bowl and Rose Bowl record in the country. Notre Dame is 13-15-with an on-going NCAA record for consecutive bowl defeats. For all these reasons and more, USC is “college football’s all-time greatest tradition!” May God bless America, and may the Trojans continue to . . . Fight On!
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism