The History of USC Football takes us back to the origins of University of Southern California dominance in the 1920s, but not quite to the birth of the football program in 1888. It details the four National Championships of Coach Howard Jones in the 1920s and '30s, and the four of Coach John McKay in the 1960s and '70s; the Heisman awards of Tailback U; and gives some props to current coach Pete Carroll and his three-peat-seeking 2005 squad. But as far as offering strategies or insight into maybe stopping the Trojans' run for a third straight National Championship…sorry NCAA, but this video will only burst your balloon.
The History of USC Football starts off with the tale of the hiring of Coach Howard Jones, brought on board after Knute Rockne turned them down to remain at Notre Dame. But Knute had some advice for USC: hire Howard Jones. Jones, Rockne raved, had coached Iowa against Notre Dame in 1921 and had beaten the Irish en route to an undefeated season. The Hawkeyes went undefeated again in 1922 and 5-3 in 1923, Jones's last year before irreconcilable differences with the administration sent him in search of work elsewhere. Enter USC, who took Rockne's advice to heart and hired Howard Jones as Elmer Henderson's replacement.
Jones led USC to four National Championships between 1924 and 1940. Ironically, his last game was a defeat…to Notre Dame. Sam Barry succeeded Jones in 1941, and gave way to Jeff Cravath in '42. Cravath did a man's job with USC, but, despite not suffering a losing season until his final year on the job in 1950, he never brought home a National Championship. So he was gone. Jess Hill was in, and did an even better job than Cravath, never enduring a losing season. But he didn't deliver the silverware either, so he was ousted in favor of Don Clark, who took a couple years to get going, but didn't show the promise that USC desired, so he got the boot, as well. In 1960, John McKay was hired to coach the Trojans.
McKay's first couple years were rocky, and, in interviews on The History of USC Football, he relates his belief that he, too, would be canned before too long. But in 1962, McKay's Trojans went undefeated and beat Wisconsin in the Rose Bowl to earn the first of his four National Championships.
John Robinson succeeded McKay as coach when McKay went off to the NFL to coach the expansion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Robinson changed little as coach, and led the Trojans to three second-place rankings and one more National Championship during his tenure. USC disappeared from national prominence after that, winning its fair share of games and obscure bowl games, but never really threatening the same sort of dominance it had enjoyed in years past. Until 2001, when USC hired former New England Patriot head coach Pete Carroll to lead the Trojans into the new millennium.
There was a lot of consternation at the Carroll hiring, and some of that is expounded upon in interview clips and narrative encapsulations at the beginning of The History of USC Football, but there is no denying that Carroll, and USC football itself, now basks in the same sort of shining glory as in the brightest moments of the golden years of the legendary Howard Jones and John McKay.
The History of USC Football does a good job of covering the pertinent history of Trojan football. There is plenty of archival footage from the 1930s that is at once pleasing to the USC faithful and of interest to the idle viewer, as, with no hash marks on the field, snaps were taken only a few feet from the sideline. Wonder where the play's going! The producers managed to track down some of the men who played during Howard Jones's last few years and there are some nice interviews with them about that bygone era, when discipline, accountability, and respect were hallmarks of the game. Ahhh…the good ol' days.
When the action moves on to the Johns'—McKay and Robinson—tenures, there are many gratifying bits with big-name Trojans who pounded opponents for the two coaches. Heisman-winning runners Mike Garrett and Charles White provide many a sound bite, but there are also reminisces from Vince Evans, Lynn Swann, and the coaches themselves, with a particularly humorous story from McKay about the 1973 Rose Bowl against Ohio State and Woody Hayes, wherein McKay, as the game neared its climax, let Hayes know exactly where a goal line play was going.
It's not quite a complete history of USC football, and could probably have stood to be fifteen or twenty minutes longer, perhaps mentioning or glossing over the stints of Jeff Cravath and Jess Hill after Howard Jones's departure. Both coaches brought accolades and bowl victories to USC, even though there were no National Championships on their resumes. Similarly, there is almost no mention of the 1980s and '90s, only that they were a disappointing wilderness during which USC vainly tried to reacquire that championship formula. And why is there virtually no mention whatsoever of USC history prior to the 1920s?
So this is less a complete history of USC football and more of an examination of only the most winning eras. When you're a storied institution such as USC, though, no one wants to hear about the coaches who didn't add trophies to the cabinet.
To be honest, I wasn't keen on hearing anything about any era from narrator Jim Birdsall. I've never been a fan of Birdsall's narrations. Whether it's his wannabe-John Facenda accent or the lazy drawl of his delivery, I shudder when I see his name as the narrator of a football presentation. Still, even though he's not my personal fave, I have to say Birdsall does a good job articulating the script. Not much inflection or presence, but he gets the job done in a professional manner. But give me Jeff Kaye or Harry Kalas any day.
There are four short extras on the disc that are sure to please the ardent USC fan, as well. They are:
"The McKay Mystery"
Defensive Coach Dave Levy talks about the McKay murder mystery, wherein a still-unknown menace sent a letter to McKay before the 1974 Rose Bowl against Ohio State threatening his life and the life of his son, John Jr. Levy offers up a few pre-game anecdotes and game-winning receiver John McKay Jr. talks about when he found out about the threat after the game.
"The Heisman Club"
USC Heisman winners talk a little about their Heisman moments…all except OJ Simpson, who is conspicuously absent throughout the entire proceedings. No doubt he was off signing autographs to pay his legal bills.
Coach John Robinson, Vince Evans, Anthony Munoz, and Charles White talk about USC's, and Robinson's, three years being ranked second in the country and just missing out on the National Championship.
Eleven minutes of excess, unfinished interview footage that didn't make the final cut.
All in all, this is a solid tribute to USC's championship history, and (of course) comes at just the right time. There's a lot of material about the Trojans' rivalry with Notre Dame, with only the Irish having more Heisman winners on its all-time roster and only the Irish having more National Championships in its trophy case, and it's a pity that this disc was released before October 15's mighty clash between the two schools. There is extensive interview footage with Mike Garrett and Charles White and other USC stalwarts, but it's a good thing that there are mercifully few minutes with Matt Leinert or any of the current crop of stars, as they, to put it kindly, don't interview well. The oldsters are witty, informed, and well spoken. Leinert and crew simply are not. One of the drawbacks of trying to cash in with the modern crowd, I guess.
I can't recommend this disc enough for USC fans or for football aficionados. It's a pity this couldn't have been delayed until the end of the current college football season, but c'est la vie. This presentation doesn't spare the gridiron footage and there's plenty of it from just about every championship era, including the Carroll years, so as to stoke the interest of today's bandwagon fans. You get to see some of the greatest football players ever in the prime of their physicality: Lynn Swann, Charles White, Marcus Allen, and OJ Simpson. You get to appreciate some of the history of rivalries like USC-Notre Dame and USC-Ohio State. And you get to hear yet another round of football anecdotes that sound like every other pigskin highlight reel you've ever watched