Fabled as this football rivalry between USC and Boston College already is--dating back, as it does, all the way to September of 1987--the bad feelings that surfaced during Saturday's game at the Coliseum were not as nasty as they might have been, considering the mood Marcus Cotton was in most of the day.
He wanted to mash somebody. He wanted to bash somebody. And, the unfortunate somebody at the top of the Trojan linebacker's hit list was, not surprisingly, Boston College's quarterback, Mike Power, because Cotton has this thing about quarterbacks. He hates them. He hates the ones he's played against, hates the ones he's never met, and ain't even too crazy about the ones on his own team.
Power, in particular, had gotten on Cotton's nerves.
Said Cotton: "I think it was all that stuff we were hearing about 'I'm another Doug Flutie,' and 'USC doesn't have a defense; they just wait and see what their offense can do.' Talk about putting the fire out with gas!"
Possibly this explained what happened after Power's five-yard touchdown run with 7:43 remaining in the game, which turned out to be the last points scored in USC's home opener, a 23-17 success.
After Power crossed the goal line on a bootleg, his momentum carried him practically to the Rekortan-surfaced running track that surrounds the field, maybe five yards beyond the end zone. When he turned around, though, Cotton was still coming. USC's All-America candidate even gave him another little shot, whereupon Power went toward him to have a few words, face-mask to face-mask.
"Yeah, I gave him a little shove," Cotton said.
Well, you never did care for quarterbacks too much, somebody said.
"Not too much," Cotton agreed.
This thorny 6-foot 4-inch, 220-pound senior is lean, mean and a lot harder than his name. Standing there after a game, when he is a lot more pleasant than he ever was on the field, you can see just how tough. He's got a body made out of beef jerky. Wearing nothing more than skin-tight boxer briefs and ankle tape, the first things you notice are the scars and scratches that streak his upper torso. The guy's got more stripes than a Cincinnati Bengals helmet.
Some of them come from offensive linemen who will try anything and everything to stop him. When Michigan State went after Cotton in the Labor Day season opener, they made sure the USC outside linebacker always had somebody in his face, and usually more than one somebody. They sent tackles after him, tight ends after him, everybody but Bubba Smith after him. No matter where he went, somebody picked up Cotton.
As a result, he disappeared. They blocked and knocked him right out of the game. Wherever the action was, he wasn't. And, when a man who makes no secret about wanting to be thought of as the classiest linebacker in America fails to help his team win a nationally televised game, it ticks him off, royally.
"I admit that after Michigan State, my head was really upset," Cotton said. "It's been that way for two weeks now. I have never been this fired up for a game. I was so intense, my eyes were watering."
Cotton was so eager to show what he and his teammates could do, he said he didn't even want Boston College to win the coin toss. This is a player who likes the spotlight, craves it, doesn't mind telling you that his goals this season are to "make the covers of national magazines and be on Bob Hope's television show," the one featuring college football's All-Americans. Knowing Cotton, he'd probably be willing to do a road picture with Hope, too.
As for his sentiments about quarterbacks, he has made himself quite clear. "For some reason, I don't like quarterbacks. I don't even like our own quarterback when he's on the field." The fact that Rodney Peete passed for 248 yards and 2 touchdowns Saturday is all the more impressive, then, seeing as how poor Rodney had to keep checking to make sure Cotton wasn't charging after him from his own sidelines.
USC's defense had something to prove on this day--even more so after Boston College powered to the Trojan 37 on its first series, then drove 68 yards for a score on its next series. The touchdown pass was a classic, by the way: Mike Power to Ivan Caesar, covering nine yards. Once again, history buffs, score that one Power Unto Caesar at the Coliseum.
After that, the Trojan defense toughened up. Cotton led the way, with 10 solo tackles and a couple of sacks, but everybody seemed to play pretty well. Well, at least to everybody except Cotton.
"I keep hearing how great our defense played today," he said afterward. "Well, I'm not satisfied. We made the big plays when we needed them, that's all. It was impressive sometimes, but it wasn't satisfying."