63 days to USC football: Booker Brown was there when USC needed him

RoT Countdown / Photo via Getty Images (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo via Getty Images (Reign of Troy) /

USC football had an injury crisis in 1972, but it didn’t derail their national title hopes, in part thanks to No. 63 Booker Brown.

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USC football is only 63 days away.

The Trojans season opener against Fresno State will arrive on August 31. Until then, Reign of Troy is putting the spotlight on each USC jersey number.

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Today, the No. 63 gets the attention:

Who wore it best?

One of the most incredible things about USC’s undefeated national championship run in 1972, during which they averaged 39 points per game and never trailed in the second half, was how they did so with a revolving door on the offensive line.

The Trojans dealt with serious depth and injury problems in the trenches even before the season began. By Week 5, with a critical match up against No. 15 Stanford looming, they had just two healthy tackles on the roster. Meanwhile, an injury to guard Allan Graf moved backup Booker Brown and his No. 63 jersey into the starting lineup.

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Brown, a highly-touted junior college transfer, had already been tagged as an emergency back up for the tackle spot.

When asked what he would do to cope with another injury, John McKay gave a typically droll response:

“Well, we’ve got this guard named Booker Brown. He’s the widest athlete I’ve ever seen. We’ll put a helmet on each of his shoulders and have him play both tackle and guard.”

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Such drastic measures weren’t necessary. Brown played against the Cardinal and the Trojans won, though the lineman wouldn’t claim much of a role in that.

“That game was my all-time worst,” Brown said in 1973, after he’d become a full-time starter and All-American candidate.

(The game might have been uglier than Brown’s performance, to be fair. It ended with McKay’s even more famous quote: “I’d like to have beaten them by 2,000 points. They have no class. They’re the worst winners we’ve ever gone up against.”

Stanford coach Jack Ralston replied, “I have no comment on that. I don’t want to get into a urinating contest with a skunk.”)

As unsatisfying as Brown’s first start might have been on an individual level, he got the job done for the team and earned his national title ring in the process.

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The next season Brown started the year at guard but was moved to tackle, where he hit his stride even as the offensive line as a whole struggled to gel.

Braven Dyer of The Palm Springs Desert Sun mused that Brown “could be the best offensive blocker of all the Far West Linemen.”

Others agreed, voting Brown a consensus All-American.

Who wears it now?

The No. 63 has been vacant since Roy Hemsley transferred from USC early in 2018.

Stats to know: 63

  • Offensive tackle Pete Adams was USC’s 63rd ever All-American in 1972.
  • Safety Ronnie Lott had 63 tackles in 1978. Darnell Bing matched that number in 2004. Both achieved All-American status the next year.
  • Tight end Fred Davis’ career-long reception was 63 yards in 2007 against Stanford.
  • USC scored 20 points in an NCAA-record 63 consecutive games during the Pete Carroll era. The streak began in 2003 with the 23-0 win over Auburn and ended in 2006 against UCLA.
  • USC started tracking passing statistics in 1937. That year, Grenny Lansdell attempted 63 passes, completing 28 of them with four touchdowns and zero interceptions. It was the only time the Trojans’ leading passer didn’t throw a pick.
  • In 1963, USC won the Rose Bowl over Wisconsin to clinch the 1962 national title; current special teams coordinator John Baxter was born; Pete Beathard and Willie Brown were captains of a 7-3 squad; the Trojans annual rivalry game with UCLA was postponed a week because of the assassination of president John F. Kennedy.

Next. 64 Days to Kickoff