SI Vault
James Murray
October 12, 1959
The once-formidable victory cry at USC has been largely muted over the past few years, but after last week's win over Ohio State the Trojan glory days seem to be back
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October 12, 1959

Thunder From The Herd

The once-formidable victory cry at USC has been largely muted over the past few years, but after last week's win over Ohio State the Trojan glory days seem to be back

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Like all great football squads, this one of the Trojans did not unexpectedly show up at the USC registrar's office. Two years ago, their teeth on edge over a succession of humiliations at the hands of the Big Ten and a plethora of penalties handed down by the NCAA and their own moribund conference, USC alums took to the hustings of prep football not only in California but all over the country. "Army, Navy, Notre Dame, Georgia, Air Force and everyone else are out looking in our backyard for football players. We have as much right to go into theirs," was the attitude expressed by a university spokesman and seconded by the new and football-minded university president, Dr. Norman Topping. The result was the extension of the Los Angeles city limits to include suburbs like Natick, Mass. and Union City, N.J. and the wholesale raid on that incubator of good football players, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Stirred with a vintage crop of southern Californians, this mixture will prove a heady potion indeed for opponents.

At USC the student body has reacted with an ebullience and cockiness more commonly associated with extrovert California than the hangdog, timorous mien of the past decade. When the Trojans were clobbering Pittsburgh, a good football team, 23-0 two weeks ago, the rooting section responded in the fourth quarter by chanting derisively, "Bring on the Rams." When Ohio State was reeling under the Trojan line charge, the stands hooted, "We're No. 1 now." Later it taunted Ohioans with the innocent needle, "What's a Buckeye?"

The new Trojans have brought about a revival of the pre-World War II after-dinner joke, "What are the top three teams in the country?" Answer: "The USC first team, the USC second team and the USC freshmen." It is hyperbolic, to say the least, but hearts are high in the card-stunt sections of the Coliseum for the first time in the memory of the new millions who have migrated to the megalopolis of Los Angeles. And all the old clichés of the great days when Jones's teams were hailed by the press as "The Thundering Herd" are abroad, supplanting the ironic parody which substituted "blundering" for "thundering."


Is the metamorphosis for real or is USC just riding for a giddy fall? The answer, for West Coast seers, seems to lie in the coaching wiles of Don Clark and the dedication of perhaps the best staff of assistants on the West Coast. The Trojan horses are undoubtedly there. The ferocious McKeever twins, Mike and Marlin, spearhead a line charge that could turn the Queen Mary sideways. A savage blocker and tackier named Albie Bansavage will probably be the only All-West Coast lineman from Union City, N.J. The Rams are already interested in Tackle Dan Ficca who is only a junior. The back-field lost the brilliant Willie Wood but has four quarterbacks of relatively equal skill to replace him.

But Don Clark is not a man to resort to psychological props to keep his team at big-game pitch. It is difficult for anyone not a denizen of the Coliseum to understand the depths of the Coast inferiority complex about the Big Ten and other Midwest powerhouses. So regional pride alone can fire the Trojans in games against those opponents, but the more cautious observers wonder whether the incentive will be as powerful against, say, Washington and or Cal. And, good as they are, the Trojans have no place to go. Their energetic recruiting in Pennsylvania and New England found them poaching on the preserves of, among others, Duke Coach Bill Murray. The NCAA promptly banned them from the Rose Bowl for the third time in the past four years. It is expected the Arroyo Seco will be full of the tears of the California rooters this year as they see the best football team on the West Coast watching the Rose Bowl slaughter from the stands.

After he had composed himself and undoubled his fists—by locking himself and his team in the dressing room for half an hour after the game—Woody Hayes drew magnanimous attention to the changed status of his old patsies. "I would like to set the record straight," he said when his historic denigrations of West Coast football had been brought up anew. "Five years ago when I said that, you didn't have a good football team out here. You had a 150-pound linebacker, and 150-pound linebackers don't stop good teams. Now you have got a defense. This is a whale of a defensive team. I think you have an excellent team out here. You didn't have depth in the Rose Bowl. Now you have depth."

As Hayes talked, the USC tackle Dan Ficca, a native of Atlas, Pa., stood on the fringe of the press corps, munching an apple. He stared hard at Hayes, trying to catch his eye. He had earlier rattled the locked doors furiously, trying to get in and taunt the Buckeye coach. Asked if Hayes knew him, Ficca looked scornfully around. "He knows me all right. He tried his damnedest to get me."

As Hayes rattled on, Ficca began to utter audible asides, calling attention to what he considered the high aromatic content of Hayes's line of conversation. Hayes finally permitted himself to look up and spot Ficca. "Hello, Dan," he said mildly. "How do you like it out here on the West Coast? I guess you must like it real well." Ficca stared at him evenly. "I like it even better after tonight," he said spitefully. And he turned and walked off into the night, satisfied. Hayes flushed, shrugged and abruptly terminated the press interview, ignoring the aggrieved Pasadena reporter, Dick Shafer, who was holding his own press conference to explain how Hayes had slammed him into a wall with a punch in the back.

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