March, 20 2023
The USC Trojans trailed Notre Dame 24-6 at halftime of their nationally televised game from the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on November 30, 1974. USC coach John McKay told his team at intermission that they still had a very good chance to win if they just calmed down, focused on scoring on their opening drive of the second half and executed better on defense.
Several players heard McKay’s call and went well beyond it in the second half.
Anthony Davis did more than help USC score a touchdown on its first second half possession, he scored the first time he touched the ball! Davis’s 102-yard touchdown on the second half kickoff narrowed the gap to 24-12 and electrified the crowd of over 80,000. Combined with his touchdown reception at the end of the first half, Davis had accounted for all 12 Trojan points in just under one minute of play. He and the Trojans were just getting warmed up.
Davis scored twice more as USC put up 49 points in 16:31 of game time to win going away, 55-24. A Sports Illustrated writer quipped the loss was “the worst disaster for the Irish since the potato famine.” This was the final regular season game for Notre Dame Hall of Fame head coach Ara Parseghian, who announced his retirement after the year. Parseghian was sick over what transpired and reportedly said “he was damn tired” of seeing Traveler, USC’s horse mascot, running around the track every time USC scored.
Davis was one of five USC College Football Hall of Famers on the field, including head coach John McKay. In addition to McKay and Davis, the other inductees played critical roles in this awesome comeback:
The imminently quotable McKay credited Davis with turning the tide of the game. “We needed a catalyst, and it came on through on the kickoff return,” the coach said before deadpanning. “We discussed that there is no NCAA rule against blocking on kickoffs. We knew we had to score the first time we had the ball in the second half.”
This game capped a great season for Davis, who finished second to Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in the Heisman voting. Coverage of the game rued the fact that Heisman votes were due on Tuesday, December 3 because in that pre-internet age many votes were already cast and in the mail.
Considering that Davis scored six touchdowns against Notre Dame in 1972, one could argue he did not go too far beyond McKay’s call. Those honors could also be given to quarterback Pat Haden, receiver John McKay, Jr., and defensive back Charlie Phillips. Haden and McKay, Jr., head coach John McKay’s son, hooked up four times in the third quarter for 101 yards and two touchdowns, while Phillips intercepted three passes, including a pick six on a pass intended for Notre Dame Hall of Fame tight end Ken MacAfee which concluded the scoring onslaught.
The normally aloof McKay broke with his traditional game day solitude to embrace Haden, McKay Jr., and Davis on the sideline. The relatively diminutive trio all stood under six-feet tall and weighed less than 200-pounds, and the USC coach gushed after the game: “There have never been three smaller kids who have done so much so often.” Or who went beyond the call so literally.