49 days to USC football: Charles Phillips set interception records

RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy)
RoT Countdown / Photo by Alicia de Artola (Reign of Troy) /

USC football’s No. 49 jersey was made great by Charles Phillips and his knack for nabbing interceptions as well as a stellar lineman in Sedrick Ellis.

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USC football is nearing closer and closer, but it still stands 49 days away.

Reign of Troy is hoping to make the wait go that little bit faster by looking at every Trojan jersey number and the fascinating stories each has to tell.

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No. 49 doesn’t feel like the most prestigious, but it has clothed two USC legends:

Who wore it best?

Search the name Charles Phillips in USC’s media guide and the Trojan defensive back wearing No. 49 appears 25 times.

Phillips was a member of the Trojans’ exceptional secondary during the 1972 national title run.

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During USC’s historic 55-24 victory over Notre Dame in 1974, he returned one of his three interceptions 58 yards for a touchdown, earning the Theodore Gabrielson Award as the most outstanding player in the rivalry game that year.

“Ten years from now,” Phillips told the Los Angeles Times after, “I’ll probably be watching the USC-Notre Dame game and saying, ‘Do you remember 1974? I was in that crazy game.'”

He’d have cause to still bring it up even 45 years later.

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Those were among the seven picks which helped him set NCAA records for interception return yardage and interception return touchdowns in a season.

And yet that wasn’t Phillips most incredible feat of the season. He plucked two fumbles out of the air and returned them for touchdowns against Iowa weeks earlier. In doing so he etched his name in the record books for interception return yardage in a game, with 181, and highest average gain per interception in a game, with 90.5.

He also flummoxed his head coach John McKay.

“I’ve seen fumbles recovered in mid-air,” McKay said in the LA Times. “But I’ve never seen anyone bring them back for touchdowns.”

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“As I was running, I though I was dreaming,” Phillips reminisced in the days after the game. “Two touchdowns in one game and I hadn’t scored since high school.”

Naturally, he led USC in interceptions, interception return yardage, interception touchdowns, and deflections.

His efforts in 1974, his senior season, led the Trojans to another national title and put him on the All-American Wall. They also placed him sixth on USC’s all-time interception list.

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Sedrick Ellis’ name only appears 17 times in the USC media guide, but speaking of the No. 49 without mentioning the 6-foot-2, 305-pound lineman would be a sin.

A two-time All-American, Ellis captained USC in 2007, winning the Pac-10 Morris Trophy as the top lineman in the conference while also being recognized as the Pac-12’s Defensive Player of the Year.

Who wears it now?

USC’s No. 49 is currently owned by two players: kicker Michael Brown and walk-on linebacker Matt Bayle.

Brown came to USC with high hopes, but lost the starting kicking job to Chase McGrath in 2017, relegated to kickoff duty. He tore ligaments in his knee in Week 2 and ultimately missed the season.

In 2018, the script was flipped and it was McGrath who suffered a knee injury, opening the door for Brown to fill in. He went 7-of-9 on field goal attempts and hit all 32 extra point attempts.

Heading into 2019, Brown and McGrath are set to compete for the starting job once more.

As for Bayle, he is entering his redshirt senior season with the Trojans having seen action in one game last year on special teams.

Stats to know: 49

  • Defensive end Tim Rossovich was USC’s 49th ever All-American in 1967.
  • Heisman Trophy-winning running back Charles White had 49 rushing touchdowns in his career.
  • Wide receiver Curtis Conway had 49 receptions for 764 yards when he achieved All-American status in 1992. Johnnie Morton also had 49 catches to lead the Trojans, but he’d have to wait for his All-American nod in 1993.
  • Wide receiver Lynn Swann had 49 career punt returns for 599 yards and two touchdowns, ranking fourth all-time at USC.
  • Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Carson Palmer threw 49 interceptions as a Trojan. That remains a USC record.
  • USC was on the wrong end of a 49-0 blowout in the 1948 Rose Bowl against Michigan. That was the Rose Bowl record for most points in a game when the Trojans matched it in 2008 by besting Illinois 49-17. In 2017, Penn State also replicated that scoring total, but they picked the wrong year for it. USC set a new Rose Bowl record with 52 points.
  • In the 2004 Rose Bowl, the Trojans limited the Wolverines to just 49 yards rushing.

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