55 days to USC football: Will the iconic No. 55 jersey be worn again?

RoT Countdown / Photo by Mike Powell/Allsport via Getty Images (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Mike Powell/Allsport via Getty Images (Reign of Troy) /

No number is more iconic in the USC Football program than the No. 55. RoT delves into the number with 55 days until kickoff.

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This is it. The second-most looked-forward-to day during RoT’s countdown to the kickoff of USC football’s 2019 season. It’s 55 days until the season begins.

Fifty-five. The iconic number at USC worn by legends, Hall of Famers, All-Americans and Toa Lobendahn that one time during spring camp.

Let’s dive into Club 55…

Who wore it best?

It’s hard to pin the No. 55’s greatness to one guy. Junior Seau became an All-American with it first. But it was Chris Clairborne who won the Butkus and Keith Rivers who won a national championship.

Rather, Club 55 isn’t about who wore it best. It’s that they wore it at all, and lived up to the standard set by those ahead of them.

Seau started the tradition with his dominant All-American campaign in 1989, in which he wrangled up an obscene 27 tackles for loss on his way to being the Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year. He was the menacing heart of a frightening defense featuring hard-hitting Thorpe Award winner Mark Carrier and sack machine Tim Ryan up front.

Long Beach Poly stud prospect Willie McGinest came next, with the No. 55 bestowed upon him by Seau himself. While McGinest never earned All-American honors, he made the Pac-12’s All-Century Team and twice finished an All-Conference first-teamer. He did it with a combined 22 sacks and 40 tackles for loss in 1992 and 1993.

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After Israel Ifeanyi led USC in sacks in 1995, Chris Claiborne took the number to new heights starting as a freshman in 1996. A three-year starter, he had one of the most impressive careers imaginable, capped off with a sensational junior season.

In 1998, Claiborne led the Trojans in tackles (120), pass deflections (16) and interceptions (6), the only player in school history to do so. He became USC’s first to take home the Butkus for the nation’s best linebacker and was the Pac-10’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Junior college transfer Markus Steele followed him as a solid player on some bad Paul Hackett teams, before Keith Rivers restored greatness to the No. 55 by becoming the third All-American in the club. A pivotal recruit out of Ft. Myers, Fla., Rivers got the number from Day 1 and was steady leader throughout his four-year career at USC, before earning his All-American plaque as a senior in 2007.

That’s the Mt. Rushmore of the No. 55 at USC: Seau, McGinest, Claiborne and Rivers.

Who wears it now?

No one. It’s one of USC’s biggest mysteries: who will be the next great Trojan linebacker to wear No. 55?

Palaie Gaoteote presents the best case for a current player. He was both a can’t-miss recruit and a promising freshman. Then there’s the prospects of five-star target Justin Flowe, whom the Trojans are wishful of signing in the 2020 recruiting class.

Both players are absolutely of a similar ilk to those who got admitted to Club 55. But don’t hold your breath.

The up-and-down good-not-great career of Lamar Dawson made it difficult to predict who’ll next have the honor. Prove it first is now the prevailing thought, with the former greats serving as a governing body of sorts for the number.

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Only, the irony is McGinest didn’t have to prove himself before wearing it. Nor Clairborne. Nor Rivers. Not to mention, neither Ifeanyi nor Steele were vilified for failing to become All-Americans or shamed the number in near-retirement as Dawson.

Yet the tragic death of Seau has refocused how the No. 55 is seen. It’s on a sacred pedestal that unfortunately might never be seen as justified, given the newfound ‘proven legends only’ criteria.

For now, we wait.

Stats to know: 55

  • Clarence Davis was the Trojans’ 55th All-American, winning the honor at tailback in 1969.
  • USC has scored exactly 55 points nine times, including in arguably the Trojans’ two most famous wins. They rattled off 55 unanswered points in 17 minutes to come back from a 24-0 deficit to Notre Dame in 1974, and then dropped 55 on Oklahoma in the 2005 Orange Bowl to win a national title.
  • One of the most unheralded Trojans ever, quarterback John David Booty threw 55 touchdowns in his USC career. Seven came during in his pair of Rose Bowl victories.
  • Speaking of Rose Bowls, USC has won 55 games at the Rose Bowl Stadium dating back to 1922. The most recent? The Trojans’ 52-49 win over Penn State in the 2017 Rose Bowl.
  • Did you know All-American safety Dennis Thurman saw time on offense in 1975? He caught three passes for 55 yards.
  • Tim Ryan had an absurd 55 career tackles for loss, including 28 in 1989.

Next. 56 Days to Kickoff