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For former USC star Anthony Davis, college football fame never translated into fortune

The legendary 'Notre Dame Killer,' who scored a combined 10 touchdowns in the 1972 and 1974 games against the Irish and was runner-up in the '74 Heisman vote, has struggled with debt and bad business deals while trying to trade on the name he made for himself as a Trojans tailback.

November 22, 2010|By Lance Pugmire

This is the week the " Notre Dame Killer" comes to life.

Anthony Davis, on a late fall Saturday 38 years ago, led USC to a rout over the Fighting Irish with six touchdowns. Two years later, after the Irish took a 24-0 lead late in the first half, he ran for four more touchdowns in what became known as "The Comeback."

Davis is 58 now, but his achievements are never far from his thoughts.

"Obviously, I'm someone of interest . . . I'm a name," says Davis, who now works as a part-time security guard and lives in his mother's Sylmar apartment. "I played at the greatest time in the school's history — the [John] McKay era and five national-title teams [two in football, three in baseball]. For me to be the focal point of that and be the greatest player in the USC-Notre Dame rivalry . . . I'm proud of that."

A.D., as he likes to be called, sees himself as a brand, even though the glory days of being Heisman Trophy runner-up are long ago.

And by repeatedly trading on that college fame, one of the greatest tailbacks in NCAA history has been engulfed by debts, controversy and conflict in recent years.

Consider:

--Davis' autobiography, released late last year, is out of print and hard to find while the man who financed the project has stopped speaking to him.

--Davis still is more than $9,000 in debt to a jeweler who, at Davis' request, crafted blinged-out replicas of the five championship rings.

--Davis took a $4,000 car loan from a devoted USC booster and was given more money to pay for "A.D." lithographs and pillows that were a bust on the memorabilia market. He still owes the booster more than $7,000.

"There's a natural tendency among Trojans to overestimate who we are," says Marvin Cobb, Davis' longtime friend and former teammate. "It comes with the swagger, the legacy, the tradition you try to live up to.

"You can get carried away sometimes."

In the spotlight

There is no question Davis was an elite athlete. Recruited from San Fernando High School, he led USC in rushing, scoring and kick return yardage for three consecutive seasons and helped the Trojans win two national championships — in 1972 and 1974. A speedy outfielder and switch-hitter, Davis also was a key member of USC's championship baseball teams in '72, '73 and '74.

With so many titles, Davis says, he could have been a two-sport standout in the pros and is frustrated he wasn't, the way Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders were more than a decade later.

"I could've done all those things," Davis says. "Wow!"

Although Davis fell short of his goal to graduate — he majored in communications, he says — that didn't dim his ambition.

He was selected by the Minnesota Twins in the fourth round of the 1975 baseball draft and by the New York Jets in the second round of the NFL draft. The Jets, with quarterback Joe Namath, would have given Davis a grand stage.

But the Jets balked at his contract demands and Davis spurned the Twins — "I didn't think they could pay me enough," he says.

Instead, he signed a five-year, $1.7-million deal with the Southern California Sun of the World Football League. The deal reportedly included a $200,000 cash bonus and a Rolls-Royce.

But the WFL soon folded and he jumped to the NFL. But his numbers were grim: one touchdown in 15 games for three teams in 1977 and '78.

For Davis, what-might-have-beens are part of the practiced script.

The Heisman race his senior year is a case in point. The voting deadline was Dec. 3, though many of the ballots were already in before the No. 5 Irish came to the Coliseum to play the No. 6 Trojans in 1974. In the end, Davis made the cover of Sports Illustrated but in the balloting was a distant second to Ohio State's Archie Griffin.

"If they had waited a week, everything would've been different," Davis says. "I think about it. Archie Griffin's a guy who gets high praise. . . . He's wanted around Ohio State. It resonated for him."

Former teammate Allen Carter says there is good reason Davis is the way he is.

"He always told me you've got to fight for what you get," Carter says. "He'd tell certain teammates, 'Things were handed to you, I had to go get mine.' That made him hard. He's felt he's had to fight for every inch."

Before the 1972 game against the Irish, Davis had said, "They're big and strong, but if I can get outside — get into the open — I think I can go all the way a few times."

Says Cobb: "I always appreciated his confidence in his high level of ability. The rest of us were afraid to talk about ourselves like that. He was like the Muhammad Ali of college football."

Money issues

Through the years, Davis pushed his brand.

"A.D. was a phenomenon who did 'SC and a lot of people there well, and the university pulled on him after he left to recruit and smile to alumni," Carter says. "A lot of that tugged on him, keeping him back at that level. That didn't help."

In the 1980s, Davis found success in real estate — an area in which he remains active. There were also occasional acting jobs.

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