Fertig, one of the howling assistants, remembers the play as typical Simpson. "It was third and nine. We'd called a pass, but the UCLA linebacker walked [moved wider], so we audibilized to the blast. Except the guard and tackle didn't hear it. They didn't block anybody. All O.J. did was pick his way through the whole mess for the touchdown that put us in the Rose Bowl. Then he went around slapping everybody on the butt and telling them what a great job they'd done."
There were the other days, equally sublime, when it appeared nobody on earth had a chance to stop a USC Tailback. Anthony Davis ravaged Notre Dame with six touchdowns in 1972 (including two on kickoff returns of 96 and 97 yards). He almost repeated the act two years later, scoring four times as the Trojans rallied spectacularly from a 24-6 halftime deficit to whip the Irish 55-24. Ricky Bell carried the ball 51 times against Washington State in 1976, accumulating 347 yards (a tie for second-best ever by a collegian), and when he was done he said, "It didn't seem like I'd carried it that much, to tell you the truth."
Versions of the power I are now used by more colleges (50 at last count) than any other formation. McKay is understandably proud of this. He thinks of the power I as one of football's basic formations—with the single wing, double wing, T and split T. He says that only the wishbone, a variant of the split T, can match the power I as a running formation, but like any option attack, the wishbone, with its pitches, is more fumble-prone.
By the same token, McKay thinks no formation can match the I's versatility. "You can pass better out of the I because your quarterback doesn't option to one side or the other, he drops straight back to pass, giving him the whole field instead of half of it. And instead of having to have four good runners, you really only need the one. You can't defense our tailback. I can take your best back from you in the wishbone, no matter how well you block. But if we block, you can't take away our tailback."
USC recruiters have created a kind of life-support system for the position by mentioning such enticements as the academic excellence of the school itself, the sunny Southern California coast, the Hollywood connection (bit parts in movies and on television), the NFL connection (more USC players on pro rosters than any other school).
"We sold the position, no doubt about it," says Fertig. "We sold Coach McKay. We said, 'You'll get the chance to play the most important position for a running back in football, and be coached by the man who invented it.' "
McKay contributed to the mystique by defining the job in challenging terms: "To play tailback at USC, you have to be a super athlete, super enthusiastic about physical condition. You have to be in great shape, because you'll never get a chance to loaf. And you have to have a burning desire to excel." Furthermore, he said, "We don't want you if you don't want to come here."
The appeal was directly to pride, but the pitch was decidedly low key. Clarence Davis says he liked it that Fertig "made no promises." Anthony Davis says that even when he went in to see McKay for the final word, "There was no pressure, no coercion. He said, 'If you want to come, we want you.' Just like that, one, two, three."
Bell says he turned down cars and money offered by other schools, while USC was offering nothing but the chance to play, "and I signed at the first chance." Simpson did the same. When Robinson walked into White's house to "recruit" him three years ago, White met him at the door. "You don't have to say a word," he said. "I'm coming."
They don't all come, of course. "The rap that rivals use now," says Robinson, "is, 'If you go to USC you won't get to play.' Naturally, some get scared off. Some aren't meant for it, anyway. McKay had a guy 6'2", 205 pounds, a real horse, who was actually enrolled and practicing when he realized he was over his head. He went to McKay and told him he wasn't tough enough. McKay shook his hand and said, 'I've found an honest man.'