Most of America knows all about former football player Al Cowlings. When the police arrested OJ Simpson after the murder of his wife in 1994. Al Cowlings had been his driver in the white Bronco.
Cowlings had followed Simpson most of his life. They were the best of buddies and grew up together in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. They were members of a ‘Social Club’ called the Superiors together. and then attended Galileo High School and played on the same football team. Simpson did not have the grades to go to a major college, so he played football at San Francisco City College and Cowlings followed him a year later. Simpson signed with USC, and Cowlings signed with the Trojans a year later. After winning the Heisman Trophy in 1968, Simpson was picked by the Buffalo Bills with the very first pick of the 1969 NFL Draft. After earning 1st team All American as a defensive tackle in 1969, Cowlings was taken with the 5th selection of the 1st round by the very same Buffalo Bills in the 1970 NFL Draft.
Simpson played 8 seasons with the Buffalo Bills and then finished his career in 1978 and 1979 with
his home town San Francisco 49ers. Cowlings played just 3 seasons with the Bills before he was traded to the Houston Oilers. He drifted a few seasons after 2 years in Houston and then finished his career in 1978 and 1979 with his home town San Francisco 49ers. The two were a pair, on and off the field. But, at 6-5, 250, Al Cowlings was the enforcer of the pair.
Al Cowlings wasn’t just a good pal of O.J. Simpson, he was also a valuable member of the USC defensive line and one of their leaders. The other members of that defensive line included Jim Gunn, Willard Scott, Tody Smith, Tony Terry and Charlie Weaver.
As a fan of Westerns, I am completely ashamed that I have never seen the entire movie called the Wild Bunch. It’s been described by some as an epic motion picture and that makes me doubly embarrassed that I’ve never seen it.
The movie was out in 1969. One of the USC coaches came up with the idea of calling the defensive line the Wild Bunch after the movie and the name stuck. I’ve seen the late USC coach Marv Goux given credit for the Wild Bunch name, but also Al Cowlings, so the origin of the name must be a mystery. But, wherever the name came from, it fit the players very well. These guys were big and they were very fast, for their time.
Tony Terry wasn’t a starter, but came off the bench to relieve Willard ‘Bubba’ Scott and in the Rose Bowl against Michigan, the USC coaches played a 6 man front to stop the Wolverine rushing attack.
All 5 of the starters were black, which was the first of it’s kind in the country as some schools didn’t even allow them on their teams yet. USC, under legendary head coach John Mckay, was way ahead of it’s time and had been integrated for a while.
Originally from Arkansas, Jimmy Gunn played his high school football at Lincoln High School in San Diego, California. Lincoln High also produced Pro Football Hall of Fame members Marcus
Allen and Terrell Davis as well as 1st round draft pick Akili Smith and so many others.
Gunn had a linebacker’s body at about 6-1, 220, but he played defensive end for the Trojans were he used his speed to get around slower offensive tackles and intimidate quarterbacks. He was All Pac 8 and All American in 1969.
He was a late round draft pick in the 1970 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears and played with them for 6 seasons before leaving for the New York Giants briefly and then finishing up with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers where he reunited with his old college coach John McKay.
Gunn was a defensive end with the Wild Bunch, but in the NFL, he was an outside linebacker.
Willard Scott was often known as Bubba by his friends. He was the nose guard on that defensive line and Al Cowlings called him the centerpiece of the unit. In an era where teams mostly ran the ball, the USC defense gave up an average of 2.3 yards per carry in 1969. With Bubba Scott in the middle of their line, the opponents found it rough sledding trying to gain yardage inside and the Trojans had so much speed, they had a difficult time running outside as well.
Bubba Scott played his high football and Manuel Arts High School in Los Angeles. He was an All City defensive tackle before heading off to Los Angeles City College and then to the USC Trojans. At only 6-1, 245, Scott was big for his time but he never played football beyond USC.
The younger brother of another Bubba, Tody Smith was from Beaumont, Texas. Bubba Smith was an incredible specimen back in his time at 6-7, 265 and was an All American at Michigan State. He played in the famous ‘Tie one for the Gipper’ game of 1966 against Notre Dame and was a top draft choice and a long time NFL player followed by an acting career. Tody followed older brother to Michigan State, but maybe he didn’t like the weather, or for whatever reason he transferred to USC. Not as big as his older brother, Tody was still an impressive 6-5, 250 and he played defensive tackle for the Trojans.
His real name was Lawrence Edward Smith, but legend has it that in elementary school they started calling him toro because it’s the Spanish name for bull and he was the largest boy in his class. The toro somehow transformed into Tody and a new name was born.
Smith and another of the Wild Bunch, Charlie Weaver, were involved with a famous football game in the 1970 game against Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama. The game was famous for supposedly bringing integration to the SEC and the old south which will be the subject of another post eventually. Smith was picked by the Dallas Cowboys in the 1st round of the 1971 NFL Draft, but was hindered by an ankle injury that had also plagued him at USC as a senior. The Cowboys traded him to the Houston Oilers where he had a reunion of sorts with Al Cowlings.
Tony Terry was more of a substitute player, but he was still a very active member of the Wild Bunch. He was on the 1967 national championship team as well as the 1968 and 1969 teams. Terry played
nose guard and was listed as 6-3, 240. In the 1969 season, Terry supposedly had problems with his hamstring and still recorded 43 tackles.
After his eligibility was used up, Terry was drafted in the 6th round by the Detroit Lions. He played for the Lions and the Los Angeles Rams of the NFL and in the World Football League before it folded.
The other defensive end for the Trojans was Charlie Weaver who was originally from Mississippi. But, he went to high school in Richmond, California. Weaver and Jimmy Gunn were pretty much twins on the outside and bringing heat from the edge.
Weaver was of the same build as Gunn at about 6-2, 220 and Weaver was back for the Trojans in the 1970 season and was an All American. He was drafted by the Detroit Lions in the 2nd round of the 1971 NFL Draft and he played in the NFL for 11 years.
That 1969 USC Trojan team does not get enough credit in the history books. They finished with a 10-0-1 record with their tie coming against old nemesis Notre Dame which cost them a national title. This team terrorized UCLA in their final home game sacking the quarterback 10 times and beating 6th ranked UCLA, 14-12.
Then, the Trojans played 6 defensive linemen and whipped 7th ranked Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 10-3.
The Trojans won the national title in 1967 with a 10-1 record. Their only loss came at Oregon State Giant Killers and the Earthquake
against the Giant Killers.
In 1968, the Trojans were ranked number one until they lost to Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. tOSU
The 1969 season was a great one for the Trojans other than the tie to Notre Dame and they finished the season 10-0-1.
Of the six guys that made up the Wild Bunch in 1969, only two remain living.
Tody Smith died in his sleep in 1999 at the age of 50.
At age 53, Willard Bubba Scott passed away in the year 2000 after a long war with cancer.
Jimmy Gunn died in 2015 from heart failure at age 66.
Tony Terry died of cancer in Las Vegas in 2016.
Only Charley Weaver and Al Cowlings are still around.