Anthony Davis, who off his track record as a tailback had figured to be the most devastating piece of live action in college football this fall, did more to disconcert than to devastate Georgia Tech in the outdoor sauna of Grant Field last week. Davis has what his coaches at USC call "great field presence," the ability to see in a wink all obstacles in his way. What Davis saw through the heat waves shimmering off the AstroTurf in Atlanta was usually three or four Yellow Jackets breathing hotly on his sternum and whamming away at his vital processes.
The fact that Davis (see cover) still wound up the most productive runner in a game enthusiastically but imprecisely played by both sides and won going away by USC 23-6—the 19th straight without a loss for the National Champion Trojans—is immaterial. Seventy-one yards is no more than a jigger by Davis' full-cup standards. What was material in the moist aftermath of the contest, made much closer than expected by the heroics of the Tech defense (big underdogs often rise to play inspired defense; it is offense, requiring a greater finesse, that usually does them in), was this: that for all the special effects—the hairy stunts that committed their smallish linebackers to the gaps in their five-man front, the reckless pursuit of outside plays—which the Yellow Jackets successfully employed to get their hands on A.D.'s hide, they were not able to get under it.
He sat there in the steaming dressing room, calmly stripping away his gear, and said, no, he did not at all consider this a bad game for him, that "it was frustrating at times when there was no place to run, but there were some good times, too." He said that it was actually an improvement over the previous week against Arkansas, that for every extra stinger Tech had used to stop him there had to be a weak point someplace else for USC to exploit. Which there was, and which USC did, belatedly.
And that was what USC came east for, Davis said. To win, not 50 to 0 as everyone had come to expect, just to win. There will, he said, be other days. Despite its eminence, this is a young USC team that is just gaining harmony, he explained. Eight of the 11 on offense did not start last year. The hottest licks are yet to come.
Anthony Davis will go on like that for an hour, if you want him to. As much as he talks, however, his voice never seems to get in the way of his hearing. He is one of those comforts that football coaches like to call a "coachable" player. This is not to say that John McKay's staff spends a lot of time advising A. D. on how to put one foot in front of another. Very few USC coaches ran for 1,191 yards last year or scored six touchdowns against Notre Dame, a day in the life of Anthony Davis that McKay recalls as the most sublime one-man ball-carrying parade ever put on.
Davis did all this as a 5'9", 185-pound sophomore, one built along the lines of Mike Garrett but split high to give him a stride even longer than O. J. Simpson's. It is with these two former USC Heisman Trophy winners that Davis is naturally compared, but as Simpson says, the comparison is not valid. "Anthony," says O.J., "has a style all his own." When Davis runs his knees prance high and seem to pump from under him, like a comic drum major's, and when it is time to turn it on in heavy traffic his knees leap ahead at erratic angles as if governed by independent, conflicting wills.
McKay says Davis is an almost endless talent. He was not only an All-America football player but he played on USC's NCAA championship baseball team, batting .346. Last fall, while watching the placekickers work out, he remarked offhandedly to McKay, "I can do that." McKay said he would gladly let him try. Davis quickly demonstrated the strongest leg on the team. McKay has not used him to kick field goals or extra points yet, but he says he would not hesitate.
Best of all from a coach's standpoint, Anthony Davis thrives on discipline, or any reasonable facsimile. For example, McKay's only lecture to him on conduct occurred two years ago and was more or less centered on the merits of neatness. Davis became the neatest guy in town, a style setter with his tasteful collection of double knits and high-heeled patent-leather shoes, and hats with varying wing spans. He wears his hair neat and his face shaved. Though he is at times playfully magniloquent, and is now laterally famous for his knee dances in the end zone, he resists the image of a hot dog. He drives a blue-and-white Cadillac convertible but is quick to point out that it is not a new one. He says people who see him flash by and say, "Yeah, man, he's got the big head" really do not know him. He paid for the convertible working the whole summer at the Museum of Science and Industry, near the Coliseum. He is proud of his work there, and takes friends to show them the museum.
Another example. Davis is the oldest son of parents who worked hard to get him educated—his father in the post office, his mother in the Head Start program—but he was raised in a tough neighborhood in San Fernando and learned the ins and outs of street culture. He picked up a chevron on his right elbow in a knife fight. He was shot at by a man wielding a .45. He says many of his former buddies are doing five-to-10 or are "completely out of it" on drugs.
His reaction has been to go precisely the other way. His grades (as an urban affairs major) are good, almost a B average. He gives freely of his time to lecture kids on their responsibilities. He does not smoke or drink. "Maybe a little wine," he says, "but I don't even like the taste of beer."
At heart, Davis is a loner. He does not fit group molds and he does not seek the shelter of stereotypes. When everybody else was dropping out of the R.O.T.C. program, he was staying in—and loving it. Though he is famous teamwide for collecting good-looking girls, he says he will not let them distract him. "I tell 'em, 'Don't get in my way and I won't get in yours.' " He wants to be an All-America in both baseball and football.
Davis pictures himself as "a thinker like Coach McKay. I see him out there, always thinking, and that's the way I am. I don't know why." He is image-conscious. He was disturbed by some of the feedback received last January when he went to sleep at the wheel of his brother's car after a party and piled it into a utility pole. His Achilles tendon was sliced and his knee punctured. The wounds healed quickly, but a number of innuendos far more painful made the rounds. He got a letter from a man who charged him with setting a poor example for children. Davis saved the letter. "That man is going to be watching me the next two years," he said. "I'm going to make him eat those words."
And for a third and more immediate example, here now is Anthony Davis at his coachable best: in USC's first game this year against Arkansas, though he rushed for 96 yards, Davis was trapped for some stunningly long losses. He never made a coy move, but for three quarters he tap-danced, sometimes tap-dancing backward. The following Monday morning Davis was the first player into the offices of McKay's offensive coaches, John Robinson, Craig Fertig and Willie Brown. He was crestfallen. "What happened?" he wanted to know.
"You're trying to make every run a 90-yarder," he was told. "There's nothing wrong with a four-yard gain."
Davis pondered that the rest of the week, and by Saturday he was again sounding like a coach himself. "My style is to scratch and claw for every yard," he said before Georgia Tech. "If two yards are there, I'll take them and hope for more. I get like a psycho on the field, man. I think of something that may have happened to me on the street somewhere and I make up my mind it's going to be me handing out the punishment. I didn't do that against Arkansas."
On the morning of the game, Davis barely touched his breakfast steak. "He's primed," Robinson said. "Worried just enough to be good."
In the subsequent face-off with Georgia Tech's swarming take-a-chance defense, Davis, in terms of yards gained, probably deserves credit for no more than a draw. Tech altered its basic set slightly to put the middle guard in the gap on either side of the center and stunted its linebackers on almost every play, trying to get penetration. The ploy was successful more times than it was not, Davis often finding no running room at all. For every eight- or 10-yard gain he managed to squeeze out, there was a counteracting stackup at the line of scrimmage.
When USC tried to sweep wide the Tech linebackers stunted to the outside and the cornerback rotated and came up strong to support. In all, the Jackets, though a smaller team, did a remarkable job of confusing and containing. Davis and his alternate, Rod McNeill, more or less taking turns in the heat, were held to 137 yards rushing.
But to play Davis so cozily by necessity opened other avenues. On kickoffs Tech Coach Bill Fulcher—"scared to death" Davis would get his hands on the ball—made it impossible by ordering his kicker to present USC with chip shots that fell far short of A.D. "I'm smart enough not to try to challenge him," Fulcher said. As a penalty, however, USC invariably was given good field position. And so it went.
Typically, McKay got another breathtaking performance out of his massive defense, including three interceptions of Jim Stevens' passes by Safety Artimus Parker and solid work from that imposing middle linebacker, Richard Wood. When the day was over, the Trojans were yet to have a touchdown scored on them this season.
Meanwhile, the USC offense stammered around for most of the first half trying to find its voice. It came full-throat in the person of Lynn Swann, the artful flanker back who McKay says is his version of a Johnny Rodgers. Swann is one-third of the three-man battery of Quarterback Pat Haden to receivers Jake McKay, the coach's son, and himself. Jake McKay is Haden's old high school buddy, and they kid Swann all the time that he will never make All-America because Haden will cut his third out of the limelight. Swann says he'll make it without 'em since he also returns punts.
Late in the first quarter of a scoreless game Swann fielded a punt at midfield. Against Arkansas he had two long touchdown runs called back, but obviously he had not forgotten how. He cut to his left, then angled back right, then back left again. Suddenly he was into an alley of bumps and nudges that served as blocks. He made six distinct swerves—not cuts, just angling turns—the way schooling fish advance, and the only man who hit him on his way to the end zone was a USC blocker who did not move fast enough.
Then, just before the half, Haden broke down and threw one to Swann, 15 yards into the end zone where Swann had beaten Tech's star safety, Randy Rhino, by half a step. That made it 14-3 and diminished the threat of an upset. The teams swapped field goals in the second half and finally Haden began taking a better look at Tech's gambling defense, getting the ball to Jake McKay behind the rotation. McKay caught one a hair beyond the end zone, which does not count, and then one that did count while floating 10 yards beyond the suckered Tech defense. That finished Tech.
But as with the Arkansas game, it was not a clean kill. The USC offense is still trying to find some consistency against the slugs of its own mistakes—holding, motion, offsides—and the inexperience of its linemen, and if it is still rounding into form it better do it quickly because this week Oklahoma comes to Los Angeles.
While winner McKay was parrying questions that sounded suspiciously like the why-aren't-you-winning-50-to-0 type, loser Fulcher was praising his own team's gutsy performance. He said he sought out Anthony Davis on the field when the game was over. "I told him how much I admired him," Fulcher said. "He's an amazing human being. A real thoroughbred."
McKay, meanwhile, accepted a thrust on the health and happiness of A.D.—"Aren't you worried about him after two weeks of having to settle for less than 100 yards?"
"No," said McKay. "Last year after two games he had a total of only 56 yards. Anthony Davis is the least of my worries."