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Ex-USC Player Saunders, 81, Dies : Model for Tommy Trojan Statue Was a Star in Late 1920s

April 29, 1987|JERRY CROWE | Times Staff Writer

Russ Saunders, a former USC football player who was the model for the Tommy Trojan statue, died Tuesday at St. Joseph's Hospital in Burbank. He was 81.

Cause of death was unknown, a hospital spokesman said.

A three-year letterman at USC, "Racehorse Russ" played on the Trojans' first national championship team in 1928 and was the Player of the Game in the 1930 Rose Bowl, his last college game.

Although he played with All-Americans Morley Drury in 1927 and Don Williams in 1928, Saunders is 19th on USC's all-time career rushing list with 1,567 yards in 347 carries, a 4.5-yard average.

As a sophomore in 1927, he was used primarily as a blocker for Drury, who became USC's first 1,000-yard rusher. He played the same role in 1928, when the Trojans were 9-0-1 and won the national championship with Williams.

But in 1929, Saunders was switched to what was called quarterback in Coach Howard Jones' single-wing offense, but in essence was used as a tailback.

He rushed for 972 yards and scored 14 touchdowns for a 10-2 Trojan team that many believe was the best in the 16-season Jones era, despite its losses to Cal and Notre Dame. Saunders returned a kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown in the 13-12 loss to Notre Dame, which was played before a crowd of 112,912 at Soldier Field in Chicago.

In the Rose Bowl against Pittsburgh, he threw for touchdowns on his first three passes as USC won, 47-14. The Trojans passed for 297 yards, an unheard of statistic at the time.

"Never have I seen a game so dominated by the forward pass," said former Stanford Coach Glenn (Pop) Warner.

Although Saunders' passing was decisive, he also made a key defensive play on Pitt's Toby Yunsa, who swept end on the game's first play.

Initially knocked down, Saunders chased Yunsa and brought him down at the USC 14-yard line, ending a 68-yard run. Pitt failed to score and USC took command.

Saunders, who lived in the Hollywood Hills, played one year in the National Football League, helping the Green Bay Packers win the NFL title in 1931. He was an assistant director and production manager for 150 films at Warner Bros. from 1932-1964.

Saunders will be buried at sea. No services are planned. He is survived by his wife, Ann, and two daughters from a previous marriage.

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