43 days to USC football: On the one and only Troy Polamalu

RoT Countdown / Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
RoT Countdown / Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images /

USC football’s greatest No. 43 is also one of the greatest Trojans of all-time, All-American defensive back Troy Polamalu.

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The 2019 USC football season is exactly 43 days away.

The Trojans will face off with Fresno State in this year’s season opener, but the offseason is as much a time for looking back as looking forward.

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That’s why we at Reign of Troy are exploring each jersey number in the days of waiting. Today, No. 43:

Who wore it best?

This one is easy. Troy Polamalu, who made the No. 43 nearly as iconic as tomorrow’s number, No. 42.

In fact, Polamalu has arguably climbed into the same stratosphere as Ronnie Lott in terms of his feats and influence on the football field.

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In 2002, UCLA’s quarterbacks were keenly aware of the danger-man in USC’s secondary.

“He is the first thing we are going to look for when we break the huddle,” Matt Moore, then a freshman, said in the Los Angeles Times. “He’s dangerous. I’ve seen him line up on the line of scrimmage, at linebacker and as a defensive back. He’s everywhere.”

Polamalu was dangerous because his instincts seemed to draw him to the ball like a magnet and whether you were passing or running, he’d be there. That’s how he managed a career-best 20 tackles in an MVP performance in the 2001 Las Vegas Bowl.

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The two-time All-American could swipe balls out of the air or punish ball carriers with devastating blows. Not that Polamalu was given to brag about his ability.

“I don’t think I’m a great hitter at all, really,” he said near the end of his senior season. “I think they just run into me the wrong way.”

Polamalu was a Trojan through and through.

As the end of his college eligibility neared in November of 2002, he told the Associated Press that he wished he had redshirted his freshman year in 1999.

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“I’m trying to come up with some plan to start hacking into computers, feeling like, ‘Come on, give me a year back.’ I sure wish I had another year,” he said.

He couldn’t get another year at USC—a fact which unfortunately denied him national championship glory—but he’d get many, many more years of outstanding football in a Hall of Fame career with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Who wears it now?

The No. 43 may as well be retired it’s been unoccupied for so long.

The last Trojans to wear it were walk-on wide receiver Preston Cavignac and linebacker Andrew Will in 2009. Before those, linebacker Kaluka Maiava donned the shirt.

It was meant to be Frankie Telfort’s, but the four-star linebacker from the class of 2009 was diagnosed with a heart condition which ended his college football career before it began.

Stats to know: 43

  • Heisman-winning tailback Mike Garrett was USC’s 43rd All-American in 1965. Garrett had 43 career punt returns for 498 yards and two touchdowns.
  • Ken Henry led USC in receiving with 43 catches in 1986. Chris Miller did the same in 1996.
  • Polamalu led USC with two interceptions for 43 yards in 2000.
  • In 2004, running back Reggie Bush had a career-high 43 receptions for 509 yards and seven touchdowns. His longest single reception of the 2005 season was 43 yards.

Next. 44 Days to Kickoff