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30 Years A.d.

November 28, 2002|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

Anthony Davis predicted a few scoring runs but could not imagine the results. Or the reaction.

Not every day. Not after 30 years.

In restaurants. In airports. In almost any social or business situation that Davis finds himself, the subject invariably comes up.

Six touchdowns in one game.

Two on spectacular kick returns.

Against Notre Dame.

"That game changed my life," said Davis, the former USC running back who became the Fighting Irish's arch-nemesis with his performance at the Coliseum in 1972. "It's amazing how it carries on with me."

Davis, 50, will be on the Coliseum sidelines Saturday when sixth-ranked USC plays seventh-ranked Notre Dame in the regular-season finale for both teams. The game, the most significant in the storied rivalry since 1988, includes several potential game-breakers.

But it is unlikely that any player will produce like the high-stepping Davis did on Dec. 2, 1972, when the top-ranked Trojans defeated the No. 10 Irish, 45-23, en route to an unbeaten season and undisputed national championship.

Davis, a 5-9, 185-pound sophomore from San Fernando High, returned the opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown and also scored on a one- and five-yard runs in the first quarter. He added a four-yard touchdown early in the third quarter and a back-breaking 96-yard kickoff return late in the period after Notre Dame pulled to within 25-23. His final touchdown came early in the fourth quarter on an eight-yard run.

Davis finished with 368 all-purpose yards, 218 from kickoff returns. He also rushed for 99 yards and led the Trojans with three receptions for 51 yards.

After the game, USC Coach John McKay said, "I've never seen a greater day by an individual than Anthony Davis' performance today."

Said Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian: "The worst part about him is that I have to look at him the next couple of years."

Davis also scored a touchdown in a loss to Notre Dame in 1973 and four more in USC's legendary 55-24 comeback victory over the Fighting Irish in 1974. But the 1972 game started his legacy.

"I was fortunate to be on a team with so many great players that season," said Davis, now a real estate developer. "That team was probably the best in the history of USC. Maybe the history of college football."

So talented were the Trojans, Davis began the season third on the depth chart behind junior Rod McNeill and sophomore Allen Carter.

"A.D. was lost in the shuffle a little bit initially," said John Robinson, the Trojans' running backs coach at the time. "He was cocky and not exactly an establishment guy, but he was good."

Davis had to be to play on a team that included tight end Charles Young, fullback Sam Cunningham, offensive tackle Pete Adams, linebacker Richard Wood and defensive tackle John Grant, all of whom were All-Americans that season. Young, Cunningham and Adams were chosen in the first round of the 1973 NFL draft and flanker Lynn Swann and offensive tackle Steve Riley were first-round picks in 1974.

"We weren't a boastful team, but we knew what we could do," Cunningham said. "Even when our offense had an off day, our defense shut people down. We would beat people up and the defense would beat people up. It really didn't make a difference."

USC, coming off consecutive 6-4-1 seasons, opened at Arkansas.

"We could have easily gone down there and laid an egg," recalled Mike Rae, the Trojans' quarterback and kicker who was selected as the team's most valuable player. "Instead, we went down and destroyed them."

USC won, 31-10, and reeled off six more victories with McNeill and Carter doing the bulk of the ballcarrying. But injuries to both provided Davis with his first career start against Oregon.

On a wet field in Eugene, Davis rushed for 206 yards in 25 carries and scored on runs of 48 and 55 yards as the Trojans won, 18-0.

"The next week, John Robinson walked into the hotel room before the game and said, 'You're starting,' " Davis said.

After victories over Washington State and UCLA, the Trojans had two weeks to prepare for Notre Dame. The previous season, USC and Notre Dame brawled on the field in South Bend, Ind., during a 28-14 Trojan victory.

"I can remember us being worried," Robinson recalled. "It was like you can run on everybody but you can't run on the Irish."

Davis wasn't concerned.

"They're big and strong," Davis had told The Times' Jeff Prugh, "but if I can get outside -- get into the open -- I think I can go all the way a few times."

USC players emerged from the Coliseum tunnel riding a wave of emotion from a pregame speech delivered by assistant Marv Goux. After the starters were introduced to the national television audience, teammate Charles "Sugar Bear" Hinton approached Davis.

"He said, 'I'm going to try and get you a good block so we can get good field position,' " Davis said.

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