Earlier this month we told you about the potential safety tandem in Class of 2013 commits Su’A Cravens and Max Redfield, and how awesome that would be. Before them there were Darnell Bing and Scott Ware and most recently, Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison.
But before them, there was THE safety tandem at USC, a dynamic duo that crushed wide receivers for daring to enter into their space. These two guys made opponents fear them, and established a tradition of excellence for USC safeties. Today we are going to take a trip back to the late 70s and revisit two athletes that have a longstanding legacy in the annals of Troy.
TNT: Ronnie Lott & Dennis Smith
If Reggie Bush and Lendale White brought thunder and lighting on offense in their heyday, then Lott and Smith rained down fire and brimstone from the defensive side of the ball. These two brought players down with no mercy, crashing into other athletes with lethal force.
Lott began his career at USC in 1977 and helped lead the Trojans to a share of the 1978 national title, leaving a trail of battered athletes in his wake, with no mercy. Interestingly, Lott came into USC as a tailback with fellow Trojan legend Marcus Allen, but then-head coach John Robinson felt he was a better tackler and moved him to the defense. From then on, it was history. Lotton donned the number “42” on his jersey, and when he charged after players, you knew he would bring then down, and bring them down hard. Lott didn’t tackle players; he punished them.
Over his career he had 250 tackles and 14 interceptions, including an intercepted fumble. He also played in the 1979 and ’80 Rose Bowls, and in that same year was unanimously named an All-American.
After USC, Lott went on to be an NFL Star, getting picked 8th overall by the San Francisco 49ers in 1981. He was a 10-time Pro Bowl selection and a four-time Super Bowl Champion; he later became an NFL Hall of Famer in 2000, and was ranked the No. 11th NFL player of all time by NFL.com. He also made the NFL 75th Anniversary Team and the 1980s and ’90s All-Decade Teams.
His No. 42 jersey has been retired by the 49ers, but it is still issued at USC. Currently, DE Devon Kennard is sporting it.
As for Smith, he also came to Troy as a freshman in ’77, and left it as an All-American in 1980. A ferocious hitter himself, Smith complimented Lott well in the backfield. Over his career, he lettered four times, buried players into the ground 205 times, and picked off quarterbacks 16 times.
Smith was drafted 15th overall by the Denver Broncos, where he would play his entire career. He was a Pro Bowl selection six times, and his No. 49 was inducted into the Broncos Ring of Fame.
What made these two so feared in college football was their ability to disrupt plays in a spectacular fashion. If you crossed into their territory, they made you pay for it and think twice about it the next drive. We saw glimpses of this aggression, this explosive defensive play in Taylor Mays and Kevin Ellison in 2008, but that even pales in comparison to Lott and Smith back in the day.
Su’A Cravens and Max Redfield are potentially the next pair of Trojans destined for greatness, and maybe…just maybe, the legacy of Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith will live on through them.