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Anthony Davis had just stepped onto the Southern Cal sideline at the Los Angeles Coliseum last Saturday when a security guard nudged him out of the way to make room for Traveler, the white horse that gallops around the stadium after every USC score. "I should have stayed up there," he said, motioning to the stands, where he had a seat on the 50-yard line. "It's too crowded down here. This is why I almost never watch games from the sidelines."
But this was the UCLA game, and everyone knows that's where USC royalty gathers when the Trojans meet the Bruins. Keyshawn Johnson, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers receiver who now has lots of time on his hands, roamed the area behind the USC bench wearing a Trojans jersey and chatting with Lisa Leslie, the former USC basketball star. Lynn Swann, one of the greatest receivers in school history, divided his time between doing sideline reporting for ABC and slapping the backs of former teammates, including the 51-year-old Davis, who finished second to Ohio State's Archie Griffin in the 1974 Heisman voting.
By the middle of the second quarter the Trojans were well on their way to an easy 47-22 victory that, combined with Ohio State's loss to Michigan earlier in the day, lifted them to second in the BCS standings. If USC wins its final game, against Oregon State on Dec. 6, and stays No. 2 in the BCS, it will, in all probability, play in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship. The Trojans were so thoroughly dominating the Bruins that Davis, like many of the other sideline observers, was only half-watching the game. "It's a shame, UCLA just isn't in our class right now," he said. "I remember when I was playing, we were both as good as anybody in the country. We beat them all three years that I played, and the scores weren't all that close, but it still felt like we'd been through a real battle every time. I bet if you ask our kids after this game, they'll tell you the same thing. There's just something about playing UCLA."
Davis, who now owns a real estate development company in Los Angeles, is best remembered for his six-touchdown game against USC's other big rival, Notre Dame, in 1972. But he saved some of his best games for the Bruins, with 178 rushing yards in 1972, 145 in 1973 and 195 as a senior in 1974. "It's funny that I'm standing on this field in the second quarter of this game," he said, "because in the second quarter of the UCLA game in '74, right here in this stadium, I broke O.J. Simpson's school [career] rushing record."
USC sophomore receiver Mike Williams, who was shredding the Bruins' secondary, had just caught a 31-yard pass when a big hand tapped Davis on the shoulder. Davis turned to see whom it belonged to, then hugged the man hard. "This," he said, "is Sam Cunningham, the hardest-hitting fullback there ever was." Better known as Sam Bam to Trojans fans, Cunningham was Davis's lead blocker in 1972. Many longtime USC followers believe that the '72 team, which won the national championship with Cunningham, Davis, Swann and quarterback Pat Haden, was the best in school history. There are also those who believe that that team would have been hard-pressed to beat the current edition.
"This team is definitely more creative on offense than we were," Cunningham said. "We pretty much just ran the sweep, but that's all we needed. The better the team, the simpler the scheme."
When the public address announcer informed the crowd that Ohio State had lost to Michigan, the fans cheered. Davis shook his head. "That's great for us, but I don't believe in the BCS thing," he said. "With two weeks of playoffs, you could wind up with a champion that nobody would argue with, a champion that won it on the field. The system we have now just doesn't make any sense, and I'll say the same thing even if we win the national title."
The Trojans' performance on Saturday made that seem like a reasonable possibility. At half-time the score was 33-2, and Davis headed back to his seat in the stands. "I've had my time on this field," he said. "Time to leave it to these kids."