45 days to USC football: Bob Hoffman was a Trojan Iron Man

RoT Countdown / Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images
RoT Countdown / Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images /

From Bob Hoffman to Porter Gustin, USC football’s No. 45 jersey has been filled by unheralded and injury-plagued players still worthy of praise.

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Check another day off on your calendar, Trojan fans. USC football will be back in 45 days.

No. 45 has had a solid but tough history in Troy. It’s also the next number up in Reign of Troy’s exploration of each USC jersey number.

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Have a look:

Who wore it best?

In 1939, Joe Shell was the captain of USC’s national title-winning team. Back Grenny Lansdell and guard Harry Smith were named All-Americans.

Consult local sports writers of the day, however, and they would tell you that No. 45 Bob Hoffman was just as, if not more important than those more heralded teammates.

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“When the going is tough, there you’ll find Hoffman in the ball game,” Dick Hyland wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 1939.

“It’s the jutting-jawed halfback’s terrific blocking that clears the way for all those Trojan quarterbacks, but the ball-carrier gets all the glory,” wrote Bob Ray in the same publication. “Seriously, can you remember of Hoffman’s ever playing a bad game of football for Troy?”

“For sheer consistency there is no one on the team to compare with him,” Braven Dyer, also of the LA Times, wrote.

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Hoffman was a blocking halfback and stout defender whose contributions piled up in small ways until writers like Ray dubbed him “one of the most valuable cogs in Troy’s football machinery.”

He was the Trojan “Iron Man” having led the team in minutes played in 1937 and 1938.

As a senior in 1939, Hoffman powered the run game with his tough blocking and came up with tackles in critical moments.

In the regular season finale against UCLA, with the Bruins knocking on the door at the goal line, Hoffman made a huge stop to help repel USC’s rivals, preserving the 0-0 tie which would send the Trojans to the Rose Bowl. There they bested Tennessee and claimed the championship.

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It would seem the No. 45 belongs to the underheralded Trojans.

In 2001, linebacker Mike Pollard overcame a series of knee injuries to rise up the depth chart into a starting role in the middle while wearing No. 45.

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He finished second on the Trojans in tackles behind Troy Polamalu but suffered his third knee injury in seven years before the Las Vegas Bowl. Fortunately he recovered in time to contribute to USC’s 2002 run to the Orange Bowl. He started in that victory and led the team with six tackles.

Injuries were also a reality for the next two noteworthy No. 45s who followed.

Lua injured his knee before that very Orange Bowl and missed the 2003 season when he re-aggravated it. In 2005, Lua led the Trojans in tackles en route to an All-Pac-10 honorable mention.

In 2006, more health issues for Lua say Rey Maualuga displace him in the starting lineup but he was still a defensive contributor.

Fellow Trojan linebacker Lofa Tatupu sang Lua’s praises, highlighting what could have been: “Oscar Lua is bigger than me and faster than me. If he hadn’t been injured, no one would have ever heard of me.”

Who wears it now?

No one is set to wear the No. 45 in 2019, but that’s understandable. After all, following in the footsteps of Porter Gustin would be rather difficult.

Like those No. 45s who came before him, Gustin was a study in what-ifs. At several points during his career he looked like an All-American caliber player, but injuries dogged him throughout, ensuring he would never rise higher than an All-Pac-12 second team selection.

The 6-foot-5, 260-pound monster of a pass rusher finshed his career with 33 tackles for loss, including 21 sacks.

Stats to know: 45

  • Tackle Ron Yary was the 45th ever USC All-American in 1966.
  • Heisman-winning running back Marcus Allen had 45 rushing touchdowns in his career.
  • Defensive linemen Shaun Cody and Mike Patterson each had 45 tackles in 2004 as they secured consensus All-American honors.
  • Elmer “Gloomy Gus” Henderson had a 45-7 record with USC as head coach from 1919 to 1924. His win percentage of 86.5 is the best in Trojan history.
  • Jess Hill also managed 45 wins with 17 losses and one tie from 1951 to 1956.
  • The legendary 1974 USC comeback against Notre Dame featured a touchdown pass from Pat Haden to Johnny McKay for 45 yards.
  • In 2005, USC trailed Oregon 13-0 in the first half before ripping off 45 unanswered points.
  • The Trojans beat Fresno State 45-20 in the 2013 Las Vegas Bowl and Nebraska 45-42 in the 2014 Holiday Bowl.
  • USC won their first ever Rose Bowl appearance in 1923, besting Penn State 14-3. The Nittany Lions were caught in a traffic jam on their way to the game and arrived 45 minutes late, causing the game to finish late. “sportswriters had to strike matches to complete their stories,” according to the USC media guide.

Next. 46 Days to Kickoff