<
>

The man who would tame Notre Dame

During a golden age of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry in the 1970s, no player stood out more than legendary Trojan tailback Anthony Davis.

People say to me, 'A.D., to be called the greatest player in the Notre Dame rivalry, that's your Heisman.'

-- Anthony Davis

In three seasons rushing the ball and returning kicks, A.D. often shined at an opponent's expense but was particularly brutal to the Irish: 11 touchdowns; six TDs in the 1972 game alone; three kickoffs taken to the house; and 68 total points. All were iconic moments off the charts.

Ultimately there weren't enough heroics up Davis' sleeve for a perfect 3-0 clip against Notre Dame, but USC's 1972 and 1974 wins Davis helped secure are considered some of college football's greatest classics.

Likely the best player in USC history never to win the Heisman, Davis' legacy would be secured by the havoc wreaked on South Bend alone.

Over a pair of conversations, Davis shared reflections on each game:


1972: USC 45, Notre Dame 23. Davis scores a mind-boggling six touchdowns, two of them returned kickoffs. Even more amazing than those numbers? Davis had no idea there was even much of a rivalry between these teams.

I didn't even know the significance of the USC-Notre Dame rivalry. It was naive of me. I really didn't study it. I didn't care about 'SC-Notre Dame. I was trying to find a place where I could demonstrate my talents and a place to go to school. People kept saying, 'You don't understand. We're not playing UCLA. We're not playing Cal. We're playing Notre Dame. The No. 1 collegiate team of all time.'

That's the rivalry of all rivalries, because it had all the Heisman winners on both sides. The All-Americans. The personalities of both coaches. The Knute Rocknes. The Gip. The movies made. Pat O'Brien. Reagan. It was huge. USC-UCLA is city bragging rights. This here is national. From a historical standpoint, I got into it after that game.

One guy came up to me [after the game] and said, 'Do you realize what you just did?' All I know is I scored six against Notre Dame and we're on our way to a national title if we beat Ohio State. That's all I knew. Months after, I started getting it.

Guys said, 'You'll find out when you go to South Bend next year.'


1973: Notre Dame 23, USC 14. Davis found the end zone again, but a stifling Irish defense held him to just 55 yards. However, an ugly tone already was set for the Trojans -- and for the running back in particular -- well before the teams took the field. Davis arrived in South Bend to find students walking over pictures of him and his likeness hung in effigy.

I think it was too awkward for [my white teammates] to talk about. I think the blacks got it. They all got it. The brothers got it. But it was awkward for some of them to say that to me. None of the white guys ever said anything to me about it. But I knew they felt bad. Absolutely. That gesture, that was a monster. And I think some people thought of it as football fans [showing spirit]. A lot of them didn't realize that at the time, having a black guy hanging in effigy.

Now if it had been white guy hanging in effigy, it would have been a different connotation. But me being black, in the Midwest at that time, it resonated.

And when I came back, especially in my hometown and in South Central L.A., brothers thought, 'That's some racial s---.' And some of the white people who saw that said, 'I'm so embarrassed. I'm so ashamed.' Some have actually apologized to me. That was huge nationwide.


1974: USC 55, Notre Dame 24: In a comeback of epic proportions, the Trojans overcome a 24-point deficit by scoring 55 unanswered points. USC's 49-point outburst in the second half began with Davis returning a kickoff 102 yards, which accounted for six of his 26 points on the day. He recalls what was said to the team at halftime.

So we all come back together and coach (John) McKay says, 'Gentleman ... 1964, we were down 17-3 to Notre Dame. If we can come back and win 20-17, we can come back and win today.' Right away, I look at Pat (Haden). I look at J.K. (McKay). I said, 'Your father is a great coach, but I think he's lost his mind.'

Notre Dame was No. 1 on defense and No. 2 on offense in the country. They were big and physical. I mean, they beat us up in the first half. [McKay is] pacing back and forth and says, 'Someone needs to make something happen.' All of a sudden out of the blue, he says, 'They're gonna kick the ball to A.D. and he's gonna bring it all the way back.'

I looked at him and said, 'You lost your mind! First of all, they're not kicking to us. And if they do, they're squibbing it.'

I went to the field. They teed it up, and it went out of bounds. Five-yard penalty. The guy had a strong leg. I told these guys in the huddle -- Ricky Bell, Dave Farmer, Dwight Ford, Bernard Tarver -- 'I want you to block one guy, and I'm gonna bring it all the way back.' And so they kicked off. It was an end-over kick. It was deja vu. I was thinking about '73, '72.

102 yards.

It was intense in the Coliseum. I felt the vibrations of the crowd hitting my body. It was like running through butter. That's how intense it was. We turned into madmen.

People identify me with [those games]. I don't care what I do, I'm always gonna be known for that. I'm the Notre Dame killer. People say to me, 'A.D., to be called the greatest player in the Notre Dame rivalry, that's your Heisman.'