USC upset Duke in the opening game, 14-7. Fertig remembers everybody saying, "Hey, this thing's going to work." In spades it worked. The Trojans won 11 straight games and the national championship, and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl. McKay gave the lion's share of the credit to the defense, justifiably, as it held opponents to 55 points during the regular season. But he was finding his offense too good to be true.
"We lucked into some big gains just because the defenses didn't adjust when we shifted. They just stood there. I'd see the films and I'd say, 'Oh, man, a gift.' It was ridiculous how easy we scored on some plays.
"Then when we were getting ready to play in the Rose Bowl, we needed somebody to run Wisconsin's plays. Garrett was a freshman. In those days freshmen couldn't play on the varsity. He'd been hurt most of the year, too, and we weren't so sure he was going to come around. Somebody brought him over, and he ran against our No. 1 defense. He embarrassed everybody. We couldn't tackle him." When that day was over, says McKay, the offensive coaches were winking at one another.
Garrett is the prototype USC Tailback. He brought to the new offense the quality a great actor brings to a great part—Olivier playing Othello, Bogart playing Charlie Allnutt. He was USC's leading rusher for the next three years, and capped his career with the Heisman in 1965. "With Garrett," says McKay, "we could expand. We could do things. The power I really begins with him."
Dave Levy remembers Garrett. "He'd come out to watch practice almost every day. Somebody said, 'There's that kid from Roosevelt High hanging around again.' Charlie Hall [an assistant coach] took him to lunch. He said Garrett told him Willie Brown was great, that he'd watched and wanted to play like Brown. He told Charlie he didn't want to go anywhere but USC."
Garrett was totally, almost painfully, resolute. His parents were separated; he was one of six children. His father died young, and that tore at Garrett. Even today it upsets him that "I felt my father had passed this way and no one had made an effort to know him, and I was very tired hearing about movie stars and other celebrities who had died. A lot of great human beings die and never get any attention. It made me very angry."
Levy says he never saw a worker like Garrett. "He was the first tailback to run 40 yards downfield on every practice play. At first, everybody thought it was funny; then it got so all the tailbacks did it. Garrett would bawl out the ones who didn't. Now it's tradition. The first time Charlie White ran a play in practice, he pulled up after six or eight yards, and John Robinson called him over and stood with him as Ricky Bell ran the next play. Bell ran 50 yards downfield. 'That's the way a USC Tailback runs,' Robinson told him. White hasn't run one shorter since."
With Garrett, McKay began testing the tailback's endurance. "It was simple enough," he says. "If you don't run, you block. A back would rather run the ball. The tailback is in a position to do your team the most good. He's your best back. It's like having a choice of batting your best hitter every time instead of every three or four innings. I decided to bat him every time."
Against Washington his sophomore year, Garrett carried 21 times. He said afterward that he was "awfully tired" and that maybe 11 or 12 carries was more his speed. "I don't want too many carries," he said.
But the weeks went by, and McKay kept forcing the ball on him "and watching me close to make sure I was all right. On Mondays I was so stiff and sore I could barely crawl to the bathroom, but I kept carrying"—612 times those three years, for an NCAA-record 3,221 yards (later broken by Bell and Anthony Davis, among many others). His senior year, Garrett averaged 26.7 carries. When asked how he could take all that pounding, Garrett said, "That's my job."