He was on Trojan teams with great personnel--Todd Marinovich, Mark Carrier, Junior Seau and many other stars--and as a junior he averaged 5.2 yards while gaining 1,395. But somehow, the spotlight that had beamed so brightly on Simpson and Allen was more diffused at USC in Ervins' day.
In his senior year, Ty Detmer's year, Ervins could have been heading toward the Heisman, conceivably, when he was injured at Ohio State during USC's fourth game. He had gained 199 yards that day when he suffered a severe ankle sprain during the third quarter.
A seriously sprained ankle, the trainers say, can be worse than a broken ankle. And Ervins' was. So there went his shot at the Heisman as well as the NFL's first round. Nobody would even take him during the second. He went to Washington during the third round, but he regards that, not as a knock on his talent, but as a big break, because it united him with Rypien.
Later, he will make up some of the lost salary, he knows. He is earning about $500,000 now.
There was a time in his Pasadena boyhood when, to Ervins, 50 cents looked like a fortune.
"It was a hard life--one parent supporting three kids," he said of the years when his father stayed on in the Ft. Wayne tire plant and he lived in California with his mother and two sisters.
Without a trace of nostalgia, he said: "It was almost like living in poverty."
Always fast on his feet, he kept running away from the drugs that darkened his neighborhood.
"My drug of choice was sports," he said.
And it still is. A sprinter in his school days, he still has acceleration, and his speed makes him what he is. That and his stature, which is the root of his agility and quickness. The finest running backs in the NFL today are all well under 6 feet: Sanders, Thomas, Ervins and Emmitt Smith.
If Ervins is the shortest of them all, it is only barely, and as a Gibbs employee he could be the luckiest.
There isn't a better way for a running back to come into pro football than to divide a one-back role with Byner, a 1,000-yard runner again this year.
One of the league's most selfless athletes, Byner, 30, befriended him last summer and has spent the season training Ervins, 23, as his successor.
One day, Ervins asked him: "Why are you doing this?"
Said Byner: "I want to win."
They are doing fine at that.