It was billed as AD versus TD. Tailback Anthony Davis of USC and Tailback Tony Dorsett of the University of Pittsburgh, meeting last Saturday on the bright green AstroTurf of 50-year-old Pitt Stadium. The fantastic AD, who scored six touchdowns against Notre Dame as a sophomore, who ran a kick-off 106 yards for a score against Arkansas, who could dart around the drops in a severe rainstorm and never get damp. And the fabulous TD, who made All-America as a freshman, who gained 209 yards against Notre Dame, who could dodge between the bullets on a machinegun practice range. It would have been an even jazzier promotion except that the NCAA cracked down at the last minute and insisted that USC and Pitt also suit up all those dull tackles, fullbacks and linebackers and have a regular football game.
Davis and Dorsett were never on the field at the same time, but it was an entertaining afternoon anyway. Like Astaire and Kelly taking turns dancing on a crowded stage, both showed flashes of genius before being caught up in various melees. The final score was: Davis, 149 yards; Dorsett, 59. And about that little matter of the football game occurring simultaneously, USC won 16-7.
Of course, Davis vs. Dorsett was just as much a contest between their supporting casts up front, and USC's line (and depth and defense) was better. Davis' complete running record was 149 yards in 33 carries for a 4.5 average and a touchdown. His longest single run was 16 yards. He had the additional satisfaction—and frustration—of watching the prudent Panthers keep the ball as far away from him as possible the two times they kicked off. Dorsett, who did not return punts or kickoffs, had never been held to as few as 59 yards. He made them on 15 carries for a 3.9 average. His longest gain was 23 yards. Not only did he have a weaker offensive line blocking for him, but his team was on defense for 44 minutes.
Almost lost in the statistical shuffle was Allen Carter, Davis' senior classmate and backup tailback, who averaged 7.3 yards a carry, better than either of the two stars. Carter comes from Bonita High, the same California school that produced Army's Mr. Outside, Glenn Davis. USC Coach John McKay thinks Carter is the best high school runner he ever saw, but his college career has been hampered by a series of maladies—two pulled hamstring muscles, a deep charley horse, a sprained toe and a groin pull—not to mention the presence of Davis.
Still, this particular weekend belonged to the two tailbacks who like to be called by their initials. The hoopla in Pittsburgh was wonderful, competing nicely with that engendered by the Pirates, involved in a pennant race, and the Steelers. Everybody seemed to be talking about AD and TD, Mr. Touchdown West and Mr. Touchdown East. The fact that Davis and Dorsett had met in Chicago at a preseason All-America promotion took on all the significance of another Yalta Conference. They were regularly quizzed on what had passed between them.
"I heard I was Tony's idol, and I could see it in his eyes when I walked into that hotel," said Davis. "He asked for a lot of advice on running and how you gain weight and stuff like that."
"I mentioned that I was putting on some weight for this season," said Dorsett, "and Davis asked me if I was sure I wanted to do it. He said he put some weight on last season and it slowed him down."
Part of the pregame fun was to dissect the two runners' styles or listen with rapt attention to someone who had. For a man lucky enough to have a ticket in his pocket, comparing AD and TD made the anticipation of the game even more delicious, like an automobile buff with $20,000 to spend considering the merits of a Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes. Pitt Offensive Backfield Coach Harry Jones, once the Philadelphia Eagles' top draft choice (out of Arkansas), seemed to have examined the pair movie frame by movie frame, wearing out the film the way an opera fan might wear out his old Caruso records.
"Pitt and USC are pretty similar in offenses, so it is relatively easy to compare the two runners," said Jones. " USC runs the same plays—dives, sweeps, the isolation play, counters and the spring draw—that they made famous with Mike Garrett and O. J. Simpson. Davis is more of a choppy runner, more power. He's an inch or two shorter than Dorsett, but he's also 10 to 15 pounds heavier. This physical difference emphasizes Davis' jitterbug style. He's definitely a stronger runner. But Dorsett is as fluid and smooth as anybody I've ever seen on a football field. He's so smooth that it doesn't look like he's even running. He's gliding.
"I'd say Dorsett has the quicker feet. It may not seem that way, and perhaps you couldn't tell who was quicker until you timed them in the 40. But Dorsett, to me, looks lighter on his feet."