USC coaches John McKay and John Robinson had quite a collection of talented tailbacks starting back in the 1960s with Mike Garrett. The most well known of their running backs were OJ Simpson, Charles White and Marcus Allen. All of those guys won Heisman Trophies at USC.
One Trojan tailback that probably very few remember was Clarence Davis.
Davis and his family moved to Los Angeles when he was a kid from Brooklyn, New York. He actually found the people to be nicer in Los Angeles than back east and the family stuck around. Davis went to high school at Washington High School in Los Angeles, but he was no running back. The coaches had him playing in the offensive line, at guard. He was more than likely the fastest player on the team and he was playing offensive guard. He described it as pulling guard, but still he was playing out of position. Not surprisingly, Clarence Davis did not receive a single offer to receive a scholarship to play football by any colleges, not even small schools.
Davis threw the shot put in track and field, even though he was more than fast enough to be a sprinter. Wow, who was coaching at this school back in the 1960’s?
Clarence Davis went to East LA Junior College where he walked on with the football team. It was the
coach there that placed Davis at running back for the first time and it worked out beautifully. It worked so well that Davis became a Junior College All American in 1968 and broke OJ Simpson’s JC rushing record.
Apparently, Davis was not much of a football fan and he had no idea about USC’s reputation as a producer of top running backs.
In 1967, USC beat UCLA and earned a Rose Bowl berth and beat Indiana to take the national championship. The following season, the Trojans’ OJ Simpson won the Heisman Trophy and they lost in the Rose Bowl to the Buckeyes of Ohio State and their Super Sophomores. USC was the place to be and especially for a top running back, but Clarence Davis was totally unaware.
He signed with the Trojans, anyway, after being recruited by a few other schools mostly on the West Coast.
O.J. Simpson was the number one pick in the 1969 NFL Draft and the Trojans needed another tailback immediately.
Clarence Davis was their man. He moved right into the starting lineup and ran for 1,357 yards and was an All American.
1969 was a good season for the Trojans and they finished their season unbeaten. However, a tie with then 11th ranked Notre Dame kept them from winning another national title, or at least competing for one.
It was another loaded roster with the famous Wild Bunch on the defensive line. Wild Bunch
This season, USC had the first ever all-black defensive line and all-black offensive backfield. They were trend setters.
After their famous beating of Alabama in their opening game at Legion Field in Birmingham,
Alabama, the Trojans had a bad season in 1970. That game is for another post, but it supposedly changed everything in the Old South and convinced SEC teams to play black players. The game was as much myth as it was fact, but still a very interesting historical game.
The Trojans tied 9th ranked Nebraska in their second game and blasted Iowa and Oregon State before running into trouble.
12th ranked Stanford and their Heisman winning quarterback, Jim Plunkett, beat USC 14-24. They also had close 3 point losses to Oregon and California. Rival UCLA had some revenge by taking out some frustration on the Trojans and beating them, 20-45.
They did end their season well with a 38 to 28 win over the Fighting Irish, but there was no bowl games for teams that didn’t win the Pac 8 Conference back then. The mighty USC Trojans finished with an un-mighty 6-4-1 record.
Clarence Davis still made the All Pac 8 team with 972 yards rushing and 9 touchdowns. In two seasons with the Trojans, Davis ran for 2,329 yards and 18 touchdowns. Not too bad production for a kid that was never offered a single scholarship out of high school.
Things didn’t end there for Clarence Davis.
After the 1970 season, Davis was drafted in the 4th round by the Oakland Raiders. With the Raiders, Davis played 8 more seasons of football. While he was not a super star like OJ Simpson, Davis had a decent NFL career and ran for over 3,500 yards and caught 99 passes.
He also returned kicks in 6 of those seasons.
Clarence Davis was most famous for his participation in the Sea of Hands catch in the NFL Playoffs. On that play, Davis out wrestled two Miami Dolphins defenders and came down with the catch to win the game. He was known as a guy that didn’t have the best of hands and some called him ‘hands of wood’. Davis’ famous catch allowed the Raiders to continue in the playoffs while sending the Dolphins home.
Now, who was that high school coach that played him at offensive guard?