Attitude is a key word in Carroll's success

Attitude. This is a key word in Pete Carroll's formula for success.

His first USC football team in 2001 didn't have it, but, in the spring of 2002, Carroll's hopes soared when Justin Fargas, a transfer from Michigan, showed up at Howard Jones Field.

Fargas brought with him a zest for the game that Sultan McCullough, Carroll's leading rusher during the 2001 season, didn't possess. McCullough was more of a track man – in fact, he won the Pac-10 100-meters championship as a freshman.

McCullough chose to run around potential tacklers. Fargas preferred to take ‘em on, head-to-head, the kind of running that breathes life into an offense and creates an ``attitude'' conducive to winning football.

But an incident in preseason practice prior to the 2002 season temporarily sidetracked Carroll's plans for Fargas.

During a scrimmage, Fargas swept left and began to turn the corner, at which point he saw the defensive destroyer, Troy Polamalu, coming from the other direction.

Fargas could have made the easy choice and stepped out of bounds. But that wasn't his nature. Instead of expedience, Fargas chose valor.

Well, the collision of these two great athletes probably could have been heard a block away. It was so ear-splitting, so violent, so bone-shattering that onlookers gasped.

And it produced the anticipated results. Polamalu wound up with a concussion that sidelined him for a day or two, but Fargas sustained a hamstring injury that rendered him useless for nearly three weeks.

There went the ``attitude'' Carroll had been seeking. It wasn't until Game 3, a losing effort against Kansas State, that Fargas carried the ball at all and not until Game 8 at Oregon that he was able to play an entire contest, one in which he compiled 139 yards in 27 rushing attempts in a 44-33 victory that was more lopsided than the final score would indicate.

With Fargas in the lineup the entire season, the Trojans would have had an excellent chance for a perfect record instead of 10-2, with losses to Kansas State and Washington State. The Trojans concluded their year with a 38-10 victory over unbeaten and co-Big Ten champion Iowa in the Orange Bowl, and there was widespread belief that USC was the No. 1 team in the nation after the completion of bowl games.

And if ever a team had an attitude, that one did. Carson Palmer finally had the coaching and a cast of teammates worthy of his talent, and Polamalu was the deadly hunter for the defense.

The Trojans of the John McKay and John Robinson eras had ``attitude,'' only they referred to it as something else.

When it was once suggested the Trojans possessed a winning arrogance, Lynn Swann disagreed.

``I don't think it was arrogance,'' he said. ``I just think we had a swagger. You know, we knew we were better than the other teams and they knew we were better, too.''

Mike Rae, quarterback for the 1972 national championship team (some consider it the best college football team I ever). Rae not only had a swagger, he was a natural leader, probably many SC fans favorite quarterback of all time.

One of Rae's lines is a classic.

``In pre-game warm-ups, I used to catch guys from other teams sneaking peaks at us,'' he said.

And what he said was probably true, so awesome were the Trojans in Rae's senior season in 1972.

But there was one occasion when Rae wasn't swaggering.

It was Oct. 28, 1972, and the Trojans were 8-0, having destroyed everyone in their path while vaulting to the No. 1 position in the nation. But on this day, they were at Oregon and rain was pouring. Rae was having problems grasping the ball during pre-game passing warm-ups, and he sought out equipment manager George Yablonsky for help.

As a Southern Californian, Yablonsky didn't have a great deal of experience with rain. But, dutifully, he offered a suggestion. Why not try resin?

So, Rae applied resin to his hands, only to discover in the early stages of the game that resin made his hands slipperier. In the first half, he fumbled four times, losing two to the Ducks, and threw an interception while completing eight of 12 passing attempts. The game was a scoreless tie at halftime.

Furious with Rae's performance, McKay replaced him with sophomore Pat Haden, who, incidentally, went one for five in his passing attempts, but had no interceptions.

Anthony Davis scored on runs of 50 and 55 yards, and Sam Cunningham plunged over from the 1 for the other touchdown in an 18-0 victory.

Knowing McKay's volatility, no one told the USC coach that Yablonsky had given Rae resin to apply to his hands. Everyone figured the equipment man would have been in deep troublefor making such a recommendation without consulting the coaches.

And, to Mike Rae's credit, he never mentioned it to McKay, either. The ol' coach went to his grave without knowing what transpired on that rainy October day at Eugene in 1972.

It should be noted that the Trojans retained their swagger after Rae graduated following the 1972 season.

Need an example?

Well, USC and UCLA met on Nov. 24, 1973 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Trojans going in with an 8-1-1 record and the Bruins carrying a 9-1 mark and tearing up the country with their option offense. A Rose Bowl invitation was at stake.

As the Trojans stood at the tunnel entrance, preparing to run onto the field for the start of the game, the Bruins came charging down the tunnel way, carrying roses.

Gazing over at what he was seeing, USC defensive end James Sims poked McKay and said: ``Look at those silly bastards. They think they have a chance.''

Now that's attitude, that's a swagger.

Final score: USC 23, UCLA 13.

Loel Schrader contributed to this article. Top Stories