From the moment we were all in that huddle, you could see it in everybody's eyes," said Ervins, who capped off the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run with 1:10 remaining to give USC the dramatic win. "We just knew that we were going to do it."
The Rose Bowl was indeed a familiar place for Ervins, who grew up within walking distance of the Arroyo Seco Canyon. As a youth, he grew up working as a parking attendant at games and enjoying the spirit as fans poured in for "The Granddaddy of Them All."
After starring at Muir High School, where he helped to lead the Mustangs to back-to-back CIF Championships under legendary head coach Jim Brownfield, he headed to play at USC.
As a freshman and sophomore, Ervins earned his first two letters getting some spot time behind Steven Webster and Aaron Emanuel as USC won consecutive Pac-10 titles on the way to narrow losses to Michigan State and Michigan in the 1988 and 1989 Rose Bowl. By his junior year, Ervins knew that he had to separate himself from his fellow tailbacks in the battle for playing time. He zeroed in on the Sept. 16 clash against Utah State.
After sharing carries in an opening 14-13 loss to Illinois, Ervins got the starting call against the Aggies. He made good on his debut, rushing for 180 yards on 15 carries with two touchdowns (a 46-yard TD run was called back on a penalty) in the 66-10 win. Ervins proved his performance was no fluke, as he rushed for 117 yards in a 42-3 win over Ohio State and 132 yards in a critical 18-17 victory at Washington State that set the tone for the season.
In 12 starts as a junior, Ervins eclipsed the 100-yard mark nine times, and his 1,395 yards was the best single season effort by a Trojan tailback until Reggie Bush's Heisman-winning year. Going into the 1990 Rose Bowl, he and his teammates were eager to make up for past disappointments in Pasadena.
USC had taken a 10-3 lead on Michigan with a touchdown run by quarterback Todd Marinovich and a Quin Rodriguez field goal. Though they were dominant in the game, the Trojans were unable to put away the Wolverines, who tied the game on a 2-yard touchdown run by Allen Jefferson. With six minutes to go, Michigan was thwarted on a successful fake punt by a penalty, and punted the ball to the Trojan 25.
Playing classic student body right football, USC steadily drove down the field. A key play came on third-and-6 near midfield. Ervins got the call and pounded his way to the first down marker.
"After that play, I remember John Jackson getting all excited and making that first down motion," Ervins remembered.
The Trojans drove inside the 20 as the clock went under two minutes. In the huddle, Marinovich made the call, which brought a smile to Ervin's face. 84 right.
Taking the handoff, Ervins scored from 14 yards out, and a minute and 10 seconds later, the Trojans were Rose Bowl champions again. For his effort, Ervins was named the MVP of the game. While thrilled with the victory, he treated the end like he had many other games, even walking home from the Rose Bowl with his family. It wasn't until the next day when he picked up the newspaper that the enormity of what he had accomplished hit him.
"I honestly hadn't thought much about it, but when I read the paper and saw the pictures, it was an incredible feeling," said Ervins, who will be watching Monday's rematch with the Wolverines intently.