Saturday's big match-up against the second-ranked Trojans brings back oh-so-pleasant memories of a stunning upset on November 8, 1975. Prior to the '75 season, U$C's football factory was ranked third in the nation despite having lost star tailback and Heisman runner-up Anthony Davis and All-American QB and future Rhodes Scholar Pat Haden (now USC's AD) from a ‘74 team that went 10-1-1 and shared the NCAA title. In total, the defending national champions had lost 21 lettermen (including five first-team All-Americans and an incredible 14 pro draft picks) and were still considered the class of the Pac-8 Conference. At the time, the conference was referred to jokingly as "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs".
Even with all of that talent having departed, Southern Cal had loads of ammunition, including outstanding running back Ricky Bell, hard-nosed fullback Mosi Tatupu, All-American offensive tackle and future LA Ram Gary Jeter, and future Dallas Cowboy Pro Bowl safety Dennis Thurman, who would win USC's MVP honors in 1977 and later coach with the Trojans from 1993-2000.
Fourth-year Stanford head coach Jack Christiansen's "Cardinals" (the plural was still kosher at the time) had gone 0-2-1 against non-conference opponents (including an embarrassing 36-34 loss to local nemesis San Jose State), but were 4-1 and sitting in first place in the Pac-8 Conference. Troy was riding a 25-game Coliseum winning streak and was a heavy 11-point favorite going into the contest, but the Cards had forced 26 turnovers in the previous five games and went in feeling fairly confident.
A restless crowd of 68,249 on a sunny, but pollution-hazed afternoon would witness a classic battle of run vs. pass. Naturally, Southern Cal ran "Student Body Right" all day long with Ricky Bell going for 195 yards on 35 carries. In those days, it was a predictable game plan, but there wasn't much anyone could do to stop it. You had to hope they would turn the ball over. In fairness, Stanford's rush defense wasn't at 100% full strength.
By not being at "full strength", we are talking quite literally! Linebacker and special teams standout "johnnyo53" (aka "DOC", aka the "THUNDERDOC™"), who at the time could, and probably still can, bench press more than 220 pounds above his own weight of 230, had been replaced by defensive coordinator Norb Hecker after the UCLA game. Ray Cardinalli started the USC game at inside linebacker, proving to be a heckuva football player as well. Okay, so Ricky got his yards, but Stanford would badger SC into three costly fumbles.
One improbable incident ultimately would prove the difference in this memorable 1975 game. On a broken play near the end of the first quarter, the ever-explosive Bell busted loose on a spectacular 69-yard run. Fans of each school watched in anticipation of yet another long, painful afternoon for the visitors.
But no…. seemingly out of nowhere, a 5'11" 180-pound freshman cornerback out of Corvallis, Ore. a first-time starter named Larry Reynolds (also a standout shortstop and outfielder who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and would go on to letter four times each in both football and baseball during his Stanford Athletic Hall of Fame career) came racing in at an aggressive angle and managed a desperate, diving, shoe-string tackle, just catching the fleet-footed Bell by an ankle at the Stanford four-yard line. [Note: Larry's younger brother Harold Reynolds, played major league baseball for 12 years, making the All-Star team twice and winning three Gold Glove Awards. Harold is now a Sports Emmy-nominated analyst for MLB.com. He is perhaps best known to Stanford Baseball fans for his many years of providing color commentary during the College World Series.]
Back to the story....So Larry Reynolds had just made a touchdown-saving tackle and on the very next play, SC's QB Vince Evans (yes, the same QB Vince Evans who many years later would start a handful of games for the Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders) coughed up the rock and Stanford's future 1976 first-team All-American DE and Stanford Athletic Hall of Famer Duncan McColl recovered for the good guys. Reynolds' extraordinary effort, easily the play of the game, if not of the entire 1975 season, provided one of the all-time examples of why it pays to go all-out on every single play!
With the game knotted at 10-10 late in the fourth quarter, freshman corner Savaan Thompson, a product of East Palo Alto and San Carlos High, intercepted an errant Evans pass and gave the Cards one last chance to get a win. Stanford kicker Mike Langford, who earlier in the game had nailed a 55-yarder, but had also missed on three other attempts (from 22, 47, and 40), got a squeaky-clean hold from third-string back-up QB Jerry Waldvogel (who would later become a well-regarded professor of Ornithology at Clemson University, but who sadly passed away from a heart attack in 2009) and booted a 37-yard field goal with no time left! Take that, Troy!
Stanford 13, USC 10
Unfortunately, we must have ticked off the South Central Satans™. Stanford fans would not witness another "W" against the University of Southern California over the next 16 years, one of the longest losing streaks to any single opponent in the entire 120-year history Stanford Football – may be the longest, actually. "Terry2"?
Anyway…So, the '75 Trojans ended up with what for their fans was an extremely disappointing 7-4 season with a losing record (3-4) in the Pac-8, even though Ricky Bell put up a remarkable 1,875 yards rushing and 13 TDs. Still reeling from the painful, humiliating, and ego-crushing, yet well-deserved defeat he suffered at the hands of the mighty Cardinals, Trojan coach John "I'd like to beat Stanford by 2,000 points" Mackay would soon jump ship to head up the new NFL franchise in Tampa Bay, agreeing to a then-fat $2.0 million pay package to serve as the inaugural coach of the Buccaneers.
Tampa Bay lost their first 26 games. Poor Johnny.
Don't feel too sorry for the guy, Sure, he was a bit controversial as a personality, but man, he was one hellacious football coach. At USC, he won nine conference championships in 16 years from 1960 to 1975 and the University of Oregon alum earned himself a spot in the College Football Hall of Fame, even if his "win-at-any-cost" Trojans were playing by another set of rules.