It was billed as AD versus TD. Tailback Anthony Davis of USC and Tailback Tony Dorsett of the University of Pittsburgh, meeting last Saturday on the bright green AstroTurf of 50-year-old Pitt Stadium. The fantastic AD, who scored six touchdowns against Notre Dame as a sophomore, who ran a kick-off 106 yards for a score against Arkansas, who could dart around the drops in a severe rainstorm and never get damp. And the fabulous TD, who made All-America as a freshman, who gained 209 yards against Notre Dame, who could dodge between the bullets on a machinegun practice range. It would have been an even jazzier promotion except that the NCAA cracked down at the last minute and insisted that USC and Pitt also suit up all those dull tackles, fullbacks and linebackers and have a regular football game.
Davis and Dorsett were never on the field at the same time, but it was an entertaining afternoon anyway. Like Astaire and Kelly taking turns dancing on a crowded stage, both showed flashes of genius before being caught up in various melees. The final score was: Davis, 149 yards; Dorsett, 59. And about that little matter of the football game occurring simultaneously, USC won 16-7.
Of course, Davis vs. Dorsett was just as much a contest between their supporting casts up front, and USC's line (and depth and defense) was better. Davis' complete running record was 149 yards in 33 carries for a 4.5 average and a touchdown. His longest single run was 16 yards. He had the additional satisfaction—and frustration—of watching the prudent Panthers keep the ball as far away from him as possible the two times they kicked off. Dorsett, who did not return punts or kickoffs, had never been held to as few as 59 yards. He made them on 15 carries for a 3.9 average. His longest gain was 23 yards. Not only did he have a weaker offensive line blocking for him, but his team was on defense for 44 minutes.
Almost lost in the statistical shuffle was Allen Carter, Davis' senior classmate and backup tailback, who averaged 7.3 yards a carry, better than either of the two stars. Carter comes from Bonita High, the same California school that produced Army's Mr. Outside, Glenn Davis. USC Coach John McKay thinks Carter is the best high school runner he ever saw, but his college career has been hampered by a series of maladies—two pulled hamstring muscles, a deep charley horse, a sprained toe and a groin pull—not to mention the presence of Davis.
Still, this particular weekend belonged to the two tailbacks who like to be called by their initials. The hoopla in Pittsburgh was wonderful, competing nicely with that engendered by the Pirates, involved in a pennant race, and the Steelers. Everybody seemed to be talking about AD and TD, Mr. Touchdown West and Mr. Touchdown East. The fact that Davis and Dorsett had met in Chicago at a preseason All-America promotion took on all the significance of another Yalta Conference. They were regularly quizzed on what had passed between them.
"I heard I was Tony's idol, and I could see it in his eyes when I walked into that hotel," said Davis. "He asked for a lot of advice on running and how you gain weight and stuff like that."
"I mentioned that I was putting on some weight for this season," said Dorsett, "and Davis asked me if I was sure I wanted to do it. He said he put some weight on last season and it slowed him down."
Part of the pregame fun was to dissect the two runners' styles or listen with rapt attention to someone who had. For a man lucky enough to have a ticket in his pocket, comparing AD and TD made the anticipation of the game even more delicious, like an automobile buff with $20,000 to spend considering the merits of a Rolls-Royce and a Mercedes. Pitt Offensive Backfield Coach Harry Jones, once the Philadelphia Eagles' top draft choice (out of Arkansas), seemed to have examined the pair movie frame by movie frame, wearing out the film the way an opera fan might wear out his old Caruso records.
"Pitt and USC are pretty similar in offenses, so it is relatively easy to compare the two runners," said Jones. "USC runs the same plays—dives, sweeps, the isolation play, counters and the spring draw—that they made famous with Mike Garrett and O. J. Simpson. Davis is more of a choppy runner, more power. He's an inch or two shorter than Dorsett, but he's also 10 to 15 pounds heavier. This physical difference emphasizes Davis' jitterbug style. He's definitely a stronger runner. But Dorsett is as fluid and smooth as anybody I've ever seen on a football field. He's so smooth that it doesn't look like he's even running. He's gliding.
"I'd say Dorsett has the quicker feet. It may not seem that way, and perhaps you couldn't tell who was quicker until you timed them in the 40. But Dorsett, to me, looks lighter on his feet."
TD has run the 40-yard dash in 4.4. AD was timed in 4.5 in his freshman year but has not had an official clocking since. "I could be faster, who knows?" he said. "The guy chasing me on the kickoff return in Arkansas was a 9.5 man and I pulled away from him."
"Both of them run the way you'd like to teach your kids to run," said Jones. "They both do things you'd want your running backs to do. Of course they say running's natural, and in their cases I guess it is. Whoever coaches these backs doesn't have to say much to them."
Talking about them is another matter. Pitt Head Coach Johnny Majors, once an All-America runner himself at Tennessee, entertained the Los Angeles and Pittsburgh reporters Friday night in a restaurant on a hill high above the city lights. If TD had been there, Majors might have slapped him on the fender and invited one of the guests to kick his tires. Gently.
"Dorsett accelerates faster than anyone I've ever seen," said the coach. "Faster than Greg Pruitt or Johnny Rodgers."
Majors is a good coach and good recruiter, in only his second year of rebuilding the sport at Pitt, and Dorsett is not only his best weapon on the field but the best peg on which to hang a sales talk. Syracuse had Jim Brown, Ernie Davis, Floyd Little, Jim Nance and Larry Csonka. USC had Jon Arnett, Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson and now has Davis. Majors hopes Dorsett can win the Heisman Trophy and be only the first of a long line of All-America runners at Pitt. He figures the state has enough room, and talent, for him and Penn State's Joe Paterno, although he is not sure how Paterno feels about that.
McKay has not been known to keep quiet about the fact that he has a nimble runner, but he was somewhat subdued in talking about Davis before the game. He was more concerned with his offensive line. Injuries and inconsistencies have forced him to move people around; 268-pound Bill Bain has played at three positions already this season. The group's performance in USC's opening loss to Arkansas had McKay in a snit.
"Our offensive line is a bunch of real nice people," he said sarcastically. "Davis is fine. Davis is going to play real well if we will just block for him."
Davis and Dorsett took all this calmly. Dressed in a bright-yellow jump suit on the charter flight to Pittsburgh, Davis made a brilliant broken-field run down a crowded aisle to grab some chocolate-chip cookies from a stewardess. Dorsett, when told that the confrontation of the ages was coming up on Saturday, did not change expression as he said, "Well, you could call it that if you like." After a little urging, he said, "And you tell AD that Pitt is waiting for him and so am I. I want to show him what I can do and I hope it will be enough."
It was not. But when he glided up the middle for 23 yards on the last play of the first quarter, he brought his career total to 1,964 yards, good enough to surpass by seven Marshall Goldberg's Pitt career record set 36 years ago. The Panthers scored on a Bill Daniels to Karl Farmer pass soon after to take a 7-3 lead. At that point it seemed entirely possible that Pitt might win its third straight game and send USC home with an 0-2 record, something that has not occurred since McKay has had white hair.
Not much good happened to the Panthers after that. They stopped USC drives at their 15 and 14 to keep the lead at the half, and Trojan Quarterback Pat Haden suffered a mild concussion and had to leave the game. But from the third quarter on Pitt just seemed to be valiantly trying to hold off the inevitable, helped by three fumbles by Haden's substitute, Vince Evans, one of them as he hurtled into the end zone. Between long, time-consuming USC drives, Pitt usually would struggle for three downs and punt, forcing the Panther defenders to drag their tongues back on the field again.
Finally in the fourth quarter USC managed to hang on to the ball and, with Davis in charge, moved for a touchdown. Carrying on more or less every other play, Davis went five, three, two and, consecutively, from the Pittsburgh 13, seven, four and two. The six points gave him 216 for his career, a Trojan record shared by Simpson and Mort Kaer and, more important, it gave USC the lead.
Now it was Dorsett's turn to get it back, but he never really had a chance. Quarterback Daniels fumbled and even though Evans fumbled right back to Pitt on the next play, Daniels chose to try a long pass on first down, which USC intercepted at its own 22. Now, while Dorsett watched helplessly from the sideline, Davis and Carter alternated carries—hammer, hammer, hammer—and when they got it close, Evans, a sophomore JC transfer, scored on a roll-out for the final touchdown.
"We did what the coaches wanted us to do, wear 'em down," said USC Offensive Tackle Steve Knutson.
"At times we dominated the line of scrimmage," said McKay, "and that made it tough for Tony to run. We were afraid of him right to the end."
For Dorsett there was some consolation, other than the fact that he has perhaps 33 more college games in which to show his skills. The ball he was carrying when he broke Goldberg's record was taken out of the game so it could be given to him later. It was a Wilson TD model.