It was a mutual discovery. As McKay suspected, the more Garrett carried, the better he got. As Garrett discovered, playing tailback in the power I is an eye-opening experience. Garrett called it "option running" and speaks of it now as if it had been a spiritual awakening. "I would get into a groove, in a sort of rhythm, almost like a trance. I'd get bumped and bruised and cut, but I wouldn't feel the bumps until Monday. I transcended the beating."
The beneficiaries of Garrett's sacrifice now make similar testimonials. White says it has taught him that football is "intelligence," and that when the game begins he "becomes another person." Says Anthony Davis, "When it's happening, it's unbelievable. You see a hole opening, and the daylight, and it's like paradise. You're in a daze. You're in a wonderland."
In a game against Minnesota his senior year, Simpson carried on 11 of the last 12 plays and turned a 20-13 Minnesota lead into a 29-20 USC win. Said McKay, "Simpson gets faster in the fourth quarter, and I get smarter."
That was never quite the case, says Simpson. Actually he did not get stronger, he got weaker—"but then I'd just stop worrying about where the play was supposed to go and I'd run more instinctively. The holes I'd been thinking about in practice would suddenly be there."
There has been no real formula, says McKay, no quotas to maintain. Anthony Davis was the tailback on what is generally considered McKay's (and USC's) best team—the 1972 national champions. "It was a team without a weakness," says Fertig. "Great passing from Mike Rae and Pat Haden, great receiving from Lynn Swann—Coach McKay used him like a chess piece, creating all kinds of formations—and Sam Cunningham at fullback. Davis didn't have to carry as much, and he didn't. He averaged 21 and 22 carries a game his last two seasons. And never carried more than 39 times in a game."
Simpson, on the other hand, never had that kind of supporting cast. The quarterbacks in 1967 and '68 were neither great passers nor threatening runners. The fullbacks didn't run for much more than cover, and one was famous for making spectacularly ineffectual blocks in which he dived nose-first into the ground in front of an opponent. Rival coaches told McKay that his tailback was "a marked man." "So what else is new?" said McKay, and gave the ball to Simpson 35 times a game his senior year, after which Simpson won the Heisman.
"God gave O. J. Simpson more ability than any back I've ever seen," says McKay. "I think Garrett got a little miffed at me for saying that, but it was true. Simpson was bigger, he was faster, he was the perfect physical specimen for the position of tailback. If he hadn't won the Heisman, it would have been a terrible injustice. He never asked to be taken out of a game. He never complained. None of them did."
McKay says USC had plays for O.J. they never used again. But, incredibly, the original vital organs of the offense are still pumping away, making it work today—28 pitch ("student body right," the power-I version of the old single-wing power sweep) and 22 blast, in which the tailback is sent into the strong-side interior line. Just as Garrett and Simpson ran them to victories in the '60s, White ran them to beat Alabama in September. They are timeless because they are constantly under refinement—the tailback, for example, now starts from as deep as 7½ yards from center, an unthinkable distance 15 years ago—and because the two plays can be readily adapted to the talents of the young men who run them. Somehow, somewhere, sooner or later they're gonna get you.
"We played Minnesota one year, and Murray Warmath said he couldn't believe we could attack from so many angles," says McKay. "Ara Parseghian said he knew he was seeing the same play, he just didn't believe we could block it so many ways.
"The key is to be patient. We were playing UCLA, and Simpson was having one of those days. He could do that. Look bad, get racked up, fumble. Then you'd look up and he'd be in the end zone. Two of my assistants wanted to take him out. They said, 'Take him out, he's killing us.' I said, 'One more play.' He fumbled again. They were screaming. I said, 'Just wait. He'll do it. You got to be patient.' The next play he ran 67 yards for a touchdown and we won the game. I should have fired them both."