clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Luster is returning to Trojan football

LOS ANGELES — All you really need to know about USC football is that John Wayne played there. Before he was Rooster Cogburn, he was a little-known tackle on the 1925-26 teams.

But if you must know more, there's this: Mike Garrett, Marcus Allen, Charles White, Lynn Swann, Anthony Davis, Junior Seau, Ricky Bell, Ronnie Lott, Rodney Peete and Carson Palmer also played there.

That's a lot of star power, Pilgrim.

It doesn't hurt to know that USC has produced five Heisman winners, eight national championships, 124 All-Americans and 13 football Hall of Famers. Or that in 17 of the past 27 years USC had more players on NFL rosters than any other school. Or that the first time the Trojan mascot galloped into the stadium on a flashing white steed, in 1961, he was wearing Charlton Heston's battle gear from "Ben Hur."

Did we mention Ally Sheedy studied there? So did Ron Howard, Tom Selleck, George Lucas, Neil Armstrong, Art Buchwald, John Ritter, Norman Schwarzkopf and Herb Alpert.

If you want to get rich, powerful and famous, this is a good place to start.

USC's football has always been a big-budget production, from Rose Bowl appearances to national titles to O.J.'s famous runs and infamous run-ins. Current quarterback Matt Leinart's girlfriend, Veronica Kay, starred last year in "Boarding House: North Shore" on the WB television network. She is also a model for Roxy surf wear. Cornerback John Walker appeared in "ER" and "7th Heaven" as a kid. Linebackers coach Nick Holt is the grandson of Buster Crabbe, who went on to film stardom as Flash Gordon, Tarzan and Buck Rogers.

Trust USC to make everything so . . . Hollywood.

Though it has been more than two decades since USC's glory days — its last national championship was in 1978 — something is afoot in L.A.

After years of relative slumber, coach Pete Carroll's team went 11-2 last year, including wins over Notre Dame and UCLA and an Orange Bowl victory over Iowa. This year the Trojans are ranked No. 4, coming off a season-opening 23-0 win over sixth-ranked Auburn.

Not a likely time for the BYU Cougars to beat the Trojans.

But a great time to see their names up in lights.

For a couple of decades, USC looked a lot like Gloria Swanson in "Sunset Boulevard" — a faded star, living on memories of a once-glamorous career. After the 1978 season things began to gradually slip. By 1983 they had fallen to 4-6-1 and were banned from postseason play for NCAA violations. A 24-0 loss to Washington was their first shutout in 187 games.

There were still good years — such as 1984, which included a Rose Bowl win over Ohio State — but the days of dominance were over. The 1991 Trojans went 3-8, finishing eighth in the Pac-10. As recently as 2000 they went just 5-7 and finished last in the conference for the first time.

To quote the Duke himself in "Hondo": "Yup. The end of a way of life. Too bad. It's a good way. Wagons forward! Yo!"

USC hired Carroll in 2001 and his team went 6-6, losing to Utah in the Las Vegas Bowl. There was still little indication of what was the come. But last year Palmer won the Heisman, the Trojans beat all their biggest rivals and won their bowl game. Meanwhile, recruiting improved drastically. After years of watching top California players slipping off to UCLA, Arizona, Stanford and elsewhere, players started returning to USC.

Not only were some of the best recruits of the previous coaching staff maturing, but Carroll's success rate soared, too. USC had the best recruiting class of 2003, according to several publications.

This year's team is a defensive monster, with a line many consider the best in the nation. It hasn't allowed anyone to rush for 100 yards in 14 straight games. The Trojans are once again a captivating story.

As they say in the biz, they're box office — which doesn't bode well for the Cougars. BYU has taken a decidedly conservative approach to the game, keeping a low profile and avoiding brash predictions.

No reason to rile up the Trojans.

As the Duke himself once warned, "A big mouth doesn't make a big man, Pilgrim."


E-mail: rock@desnews.com