Flashback to Flashback

Everyone experiences that special moment in time. When yours occurs in front of 90,000 people and a national television audience, people tend to remember. Rod Sherman's moment in the sun happened on a late November afternoon in 1964 when he hooked up with battery mate Craig Fertig to catch a touchdown pass to beat hated rivals and then #1 ranked Notre Dame 21-17.

Everyone experiences that special moment in time. When yours occurs in front of 90,000 people and a national television audience, people tend to remember. Rod Sherman's moment in the sun happened on a late November afternoon in 1964 when he hooked up with battery mate Craig Fertig to catch a touchdown pass to beat hated rivals and then #1 ranked Notre Dame 21-17.

While a dancer remembers Fred and Ginger, Shakespeare remembers Romeo and Juliet, history remembers Churchill and Roosevelt, and the infamous Hitler and Mussolini, Trojans will remember the quarterback Fertig and the receiver Sherman. Fertig to Sherman. With the play 84-Z Delay, both ceased to be mere players and became SC legends in what is arguably the most famous play in USC Football history.

Rod explains what the play meant to him, "Well from a personal standpoint, I thought it meant that I would be representing the University of Southern California in the Rose Bowl. Being from Pasadena, I had been in the Rose Bowl playing for various teams since I had been in the third grade. Pasadena had a Rose Bowl festival, and the field were marked so three game could be played at once across the field. When I was in high school, our varsity team had experienced some success so we had a few games scheduled in the stadium."

However, due to some highly controversial political maneuvering in what was then known as the AAWU (Athletic Associations of Western Universities) a forerunner of the old Pacific 8, then Pacific 10 Conference, Rod's dream of a Trojan Rose Bowl was shattered.

"The University Presidents had delayed voting for a representative until after we played Notre Dame." Rod explains. "We were the only team in the conference playing that weekend. All the other schools had concluded their seasons. So when we won, we beat the #1 team in the country, we assumed we would be voted to represent the conference in the 1965 Rose Bowl, A few hours later, it was announced the Oregon State was to represent the AAWU that year."

I was curious to find out Rod's opinion of what prompted the vote.

"I think it was clearly the aftermath of SC's 1962 National Championship. I think the other schools saw this as a way to keep within touching distance of USC in football. We were beginning to establish our dominance on the west coast, and the officials saw this as a way to keep things close."

Regardless of the outcome of the voting, I reminded Rod that the play was, is, and will always be, one of the benchmark moments in Trojan football legend. As a writer, I must admit, I got chills hearing him retell the moment 41 years after the fact.

"The Notre Dame defense was excellent and some of their players such as Alan Page had been wreaking havoc all afternoon. To protect Craig (Fertig), Coach McKay had us in a full house backfield to offer maximum protection. On third down, backs Heller, Williams, and Mike Garrett were in and that's why I was on the sideline. We took our last timeout and Coaches McKay and Goux were deliberating a play and I stuck my noise in and said, I think 84 Z-Delay could work. Coach McKay thought for a second and said, "Go do it"!

"I don't know if I was more excited about the play or the Coach McKay's instant response to a sophomore's suggestion. I sure appreciated it though."

Rod related a lesser-known moment from the 1964 season.

"Actually I think another drive was our best of the season. It had taken Fertig and I a few weeks to connect as a tandem passing and catching but toward the end of the season, I think I scored in every game. Against California that year I recall we drove about 92 yards with no time-outs to win at the end with me catching the winner in the end zone as time ran out. It was only about eight years ago that Craig Morton (Cal's Quarterback at the time) stopped cussing me out."

Rod's stats for 1964 are as follows:

35 carries, 234 yds, 6.9 avg, 1 TD
24 receptions, 446 yds, 5 TD
8 punt returns, 26 yds, 3.3 avg, 0 TD
11 kickoff returns, 220 yds, 20.0 avg, 0 TD

Sherman finally realized his Rose Bowl dream in 1966 when is a strange twist of fate. The conference official voted The Trojans into the New Years Day Classic despite ending the season with losses to UCLA and the memorable 51-0 pasting from Notre Dame.

"We started the 1966 season, I think 6-0 and them went down to Miami, Florida and lost to Ted Hendricks, The Mad Stork, and the Hurricanes. I think we were 1 and 3 in our next four games but got to Pasadena on a vote."

"The story I have to laugh about is from the 1967 Rose Bowl. We lost to Purdue 14-13. At the end, McKay had to decide if he wanted to go for two and a win or the point after to tie, well of course we went for two and missed. What people don't realize is that 8 years later he had to make the same decision against Ohio State (In the 1975 Rose Bowl). McKay called the exact same play out of the exact same formation and this time Haden hit Shelton Diggs for the winning two points. I remember Coach turning and walking the opposite direction, saying "See this proves me right, if those Blankety-Blanks would have run it right in 1967 we would have won!" I always laugh when I remember that. But Coach McKay was very much like a CEO of a large corporation. I would often go weeks without having him say a word to me. He got the best people around him and let them do their jobs."

After a highly successful collegiate career, the Colts in the NFL and the Raiders in the old AFL drafted Rod. He signed for Oakland and was with the team for Super Bowl II, a 35-10 loss to the Green Bay dynasty of the 1960's

Sherman spent 1968 as a member of the original Cincinnati Bengals. His experience in the Queen City left him eager to leave.

"I was told by Bill Walsh (Bengals assistant coach at the time) that I was the only player in history to ask Paul Brown to be traded."

"I remember we played Namath and the Jets in Shea Stadium the last game of the season. Here we were with absolutely nothing to lose. We were an expansion team playing against the team that would be World Champions later that year. I think I was the leading receiver on the day with two catches for something like 11 yards. It shows you the philosophy we had in Cincinnati then. After the game I went up to Brown and told him I knew he had draft obligations to consider and if he could trade me I would appreciate it."

"I suppose in Brown's mind he was trying to minimize mistakes from a young inexperienced team but the fact we we're young and enthusiastic should have been a positive. In Cincinnati during the first ten years of their existence, there was a certain pecking order and Brown was the top of it. When you think about it, the Bengals went a long time without ever having a superstar player. I think Brown wanted it that way."

Rod got his wish and packed his bags for Northern California and a return engagement with the Silver and Black. Other than one year at the end of his career in Denver, he was a Raider. Ironically enough, Sherman's experience of a torn ligament in his ankle resulted in a new idea, which led to a new venture.

"One year I hurt my ankle and got bored sitting around rehabbing the injury. I was always kind of a workaholic anyway so in 1970-71 I organized a group which we named FOUR EVENINGS WITH THE RAIDERS. The idea was for a group that included a few teammates and me, give reports, and discuss past game plans with the fans. The fans in Oakland and around the country had an insatiable appetite to learn more about football. It became a big success. The papers in the Bay Area did a story on the group and after the season and CBS invited me to New York. We spent the entire day discussing the project and I left. The next season CBS did a piece in the pre-game show called NFL Playbook which exactly what we were doing. I feel I've been involved in creative programming for 30 years."

Another seed for an idea that would lead directly to the establishment of the immensely popular TROJAN FLASHBACK FOOTBALL CAMPS was sown, as Rod traveled the country on business.

"I was traveling a lot to Chicago and Dallas on business trips. It seemed like every CEO I meant would take me into their office and show me a picture of them in a baseball hat or jersey they had gotten from fantasy camps. I started thinking about offering a football camp."

"My main concern was the safety of the participants. Once I got that worked out, I approached Mike Garrett about the idea. I suppose he was receptive because I was a former teammate. He told me I needed to discuss it with Pete Carroll. Now I didn't know Pete Carroll from Adam but he looked at it in the winter of 2003 and liked the idea. The problem we encountered was all the USC campus facilities had been booked for the summer of 2003. So he and I put it on the back burner till the next summer. During that time I developed the idea of players, coaches, and owners."

As an "alumni" of TFFC, my personal view is the establishment of the three-tier participation system is great. It allows individuals of different athletic ability level and age to bond in pursuit of a common goal. The camp was divided, via a player draft into six teams that competed through various activities for points. Each member of the group, player, coaches and owners were responsible for the success of the group. It provided connections with people I meant at the camp. I still keep in touch with some of these guys on a daily basis.

The three days I spent at camp were a truly memorable experience. It fulfilled and then surpassed all my expectations as a SC Football fanatic. I personally couldn't see how it could be better in 2005 but Rod sees room for some improvement.

"I was thrilled with the outcome of last year's camp. I have often said I think the USC coaches over delivered. It was a great success. We conducted exit surveys and the theme that emerged was that the intimacy was good. We are offering two camps this year. (Cardinal Camp is June 13-15 and the Gold Camp is June 16-18) so we can keep the number of campers under 50."

"We're going to try to fine-tune a few things. The camp participates loved the small groups, the interaction with the former players. Pete Carroll and his staff got high marks. Bill Cunerty (former Trojan player and coach at Saddleback College) is trying to arrange former coaches such as Dave Levy as well as the former players to assist on field activities."

I would like to conclude with another endorsement for Trojan Flashback Football Camps. If you are even remotely considering the experience, suffice to say you will not be disappointed. It is three great days of learning, challenges, and bonding with other members of the Trojan family. It is a fantastic experience that you will remember fondly for the rest of your life.

Trojan Football Flashback Camp info

Sherman catches famous 84-Z delay pass from Fertig

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