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Anthony Davis, who off his track record as a tailback had figured to be the most devastating piece of live action in college football this fall, did more to disconcert than to devastate Georgia Tech in the outdoor sauna of Grant Field last week. Davis has what his coaches at USC call "great field presence," the ability to see in a wink all obstacles in his way. What Davis saw through the heat waves shimmering off the AstroTurf in Atlanta was usually three or four Yellow Jackets breathing hotly on his sternum and whamming away at his vital processes.
The fact that Davis (see cover) still wound up the most productive runner in a game enthusiastically but imprecisely played by both sides and won going away by USC 23-6—the 19th straight without a loss for the National Champion Trojans—is immaterial. Seventy-one yards is no more than a jigger by Davis' full-cup standards. What was material in the moist aftermath of the contest, made much closer than expected by the heroics of the Tech defense (big underdogs often rise to play inspired defense; it is offense, requiring a greater finesse, that usually does them in), was this: that for all the special effects—the hairy stunts that committed their smallish linebackers to the gaps in their five-man front, the reckless pursuit of outside plays—which the Yellow Jackets successfully employed to get their hands on A.D.'s hide, they were not able to get under it.
He sat there in the steaming dressing room, calmly stripping away his gear, and said, no, he did not at all consider this a bad game for him, that "it was frustrating at times when there was no place to run, but there were some good times, too." He said that it was actually an improvement over the previous week against Arkansas, that for every extra stinger Tech had used to stop him there had to be a weak point someplace else for USC to exploit. Which there was, and which USC did, belatedly.
And that was what USC came east for, Davis said. To win, not 50 to 0 as everyone had come to expect, just to win. There will, he said, be other days. Despite its eminence, this is a young USC team that is just gaining harmony, he explained. Eight of the 11 on offense did not start last year. The hottest licks are yet to come.
Anthony Davis will go on like that for an hour, if you want him to. As much as he talks, however, his voice never seems to get in the way of his hearing. He is one of those comforts that football coaches like to call a "coachable" player. This is not to say that John McKay's staff spends a lot of time advising A. D. on how to put one foot in front of another. Very few USC coaches ran for 1,191 yards last year or scored six touchdowns against Notre Dame, a day in the life of Anthony Davis that McKay recalls as the most sublime one-man ball-carrying parade ever put on.
Davis did all this as a 5'9", 185-pound sophomore, one built along the lines of Mike Garrett but split high to give him a stride even longer than O. J. Simpson's. It is with these two former USC Heisman Trophy winners that Davis is naturally compared, but as Simpson says, the comparison is not valid. "Anthony," says O.J., "has a style all his own." When Davis runs his knees prance high and seem to pump from under him, like a comic drum major's, and when it is time to turn it on in heavy traffic his knees leap ahead at erratic angles as if governed by independent, conflicting wills.
McKay says Davis is an almost endless talent. He was not only an All-America football player but he played on USC's NCAA championship baseball team, batting .346. Last fall, while watching the placekickers work out, he remarked offhandedly to McKay, "I can do that." McKay said he would gladly let him try. Davis quickly demonstrated the strongest leg on the team. McKay has not used him to kick field goals or extra points yet, but he says he would not hesitate.
Best of all from a coach's standpoint, Anthony Davis thrives on discipline, or any reasonable facsimile. For example, McKay's only lecture to him on conduct occurred two years ago and was more or less centered on the merits of neatness. Davis became the neatest guy in town, a style setter with his tasteful collection of double knits and high-heeled patent-leather shoes, and hats with varying wing spans. He wears his hair neat and his face shaved. Though he is at times playfully magniloquent, and is now laterally famous for his knee dances in the end zone, he resists the image of a hot dog. He drives a blue-and-white Cadillac convertible but is quick to point out that it is not a new one. He says people who see him flash by and say, "Yeah, man, he's got the big head" really do not know him. He paid for the convertible working the whole summer at the Museum of Science and Industry, near the Coliseum. He is proud of his work there, and takes friends to show them the museum.
Another example. Davis is the oldest son of parents who worked hard to get him educated—his father in the post office, his mother in the Head Start program—but he was raised in a tough neighborhood in San Fernando and learned the ins and outs of street culture. He picked up a chevron on his right elbow in a knife fight. He was shot at by a man wielding a .45. He says many of his former buddies are doing five-to-10 or are "completely out of it" on drugs.
His reaction has been to go precisely the other way. His grades (as an urban affairs major) are good, almost a B average. He gives freely of his time to lecture kids on their responsibilities. He does not smoke or drink. "Maybe a little wine," he says, "but I don't even like the taste of beer."