Marcus Allen was telling a story recently about how he had been cut up in a knife fight in high school in San Diego, and how a gang called the Neighborhood backed off. The fact that Allen Sr. drove up in his truck with two shotguns in the back may have hastened the Neighborhood's departure. M.A. lies on the floor, spent from laughing. He says he learned one thing from this episode—it's weapons, not numbers, that count. At the University of Southern California, they are a few guys short this fall—quarterback is shaky, ditto fullback and the secondary—but the Trojans have several big, big weapons. The main one, of course, is Tailback Marcus Allen, a potential Heisman winner.
At the mere mention of the Heisman, M.A. is back on the floor, rolling around in laughter. "Say what?" he chortles. "The Heisman. Come on."
But seriously, M.A.?
"Well, in America anything is possible."
And there is no place in America where more seems possible than at USC, which has produced three Heisman-winning tailbacks in the past 15 years, Mike Garrett, O.J. Simpson and Charles White. In fact, USC may well have another powerhouse after a dismal, awful, stinking, inept year in which the Trojans were "only" 8-2-1. USC is out of the Pac-10 doghouse this year (five conference teams were put on probation for one year and were ineligible for the Rose Bowl), and probably can plan on spending New Year's Day in Pasadena once again.
M.A. was No. 2 in the nation in rushing last fall, following Heisman winner George Rogers, and he takes all the junk about the tradition of the USC tailback seriously. "The people before me—Charlie White, Anthony Davis, Mike Garrett, O.J.—were gifted athletes. They all had great natural ability, then they worked to excel. So I sure don't want to be the tailback that fails. What if people started saying, 'The tradition of great tailbacks at USC ended with Charlie White; that Marcus Allen was awful'?"
Small chance. M.A. likely will become USC's second alltime career rusher, behind White. Last year he rushed for 1,563 yards and 14 touchdowns, led the team in pass receptions (30), was two for two as a passer and missed one game because of an eye injury (at which point no one would have been surprised to find him ushering in Section 26). Coach John Robinson says, "He's one of those guys you could hand a golf club for the first time, and he'd hit the ball right down the middle. Then he'd go help you find your ball."
Allen aside, USC suffered at quarterback last year, and this year's top candidate is a lefthanded sophomore, John Mazur, who has never taken a game snap. He's smart, but as Robinson says, "Being smart is no good if you can't throw the football." In practice, Mazur looks like a thrower. On defense, the anchor is 6'5", 230-pound Linebacker Chip Banks, who might be the best defender in the land. He had 107 tackles in 1980, including 15 for losses, and 10 deflected passes.
For his part, Allen is still laughing and rolling on the floor and not at all concerned about the strain of carrying the ball as many as 40 times a game. "When you're excited, you're never tired," he says, "...and I'm excited."