42 days to USC football: It’s not just Ronnie Lott making No. 42 legendary

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

USC football’s No. 42 jersey may be the most decorated in Trojan lore, with the likes of Ronnie Lott, Ricky Bell and many more adding to the legacy.

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There are just 42 days until the 2019 USC football season kicks off.

The Trojans are nearing the start of Fall Camp festivities but the time still needs passing.

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That’s why Reign of Troy is marking each day on the calendar with a look at the greats in USC’s past, present and future. Here’s No. 42:

Who wore it best?

Only three jersey numbers in USC history boast five All-Americans. No. 42 is one of them.

If you wanted to get competitive, there’s a strong argument for the No. 42 being the most heralded cardinal and gold jersey number of all time.

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It’s not complicated to see why either.

In 1951, Pat Cannamela became the first ever All-American in the jersey. He was a linebacker and guard and part-time fullback who was undersized at 5-foot-10, 210 pounds. He gained acclaim the year before, his first after transferring in from the junior college ranks, for putting in top-notch performances even as the Trojans fell to 2-5-2. His impact as a senior was immense.

“We drop off a lot in linebacking when he’s gone,” head coach Jess Hill explained after Cannamela missed time with leg cramps. “But who wouldn’t with a fellow like that? No coach can be lucky enough to have two of his likes around, I guess.”

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And the No. 42 was only just getting started.

Fullback C.R. Roberts, who was integral to USC’s 1956 trouncing of Texas, garnered all-conference acclaim in the number.

Then came Ricky Bell, the outstanding running back who missed out on Heisman glory more from circumstance than ability or production.

Bell was a two-time consensus All-American who came six yards shy of the NCAA single-season record for rushing yards in 1975. Had bowl statistics counted, his total of 1,957 yards would have done the job.

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“He has two qualities rarely found in the same back: tremendous power to run over you and the ability to make you miss,” John Robinson said. “Within an area of five yards on the same run, he’ll utterly destroy one tackler with his power and two steps later embarrass the next one with his quickness.”

His running was just as strong in 1976 when he finished as the Heisman runner-up to Tony Dorsett with 1,433 yards and USC’s single-game rushing record of 347 yards in hand.

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Bell is now one of the players representing USC in the College Football Hall of Fame, but he’s not the only No. 42 in that prized group.

Safety Ronnie Lott picked up where Bell left off, only dominating with power and quickness on the defensive side of the ball.

“I don’t know if there’s two safeties better than Ronnie Lott and Dennis Smith—even in the NFL,” Washington coach Don James proclaimed in 1980.

Indeed, there might not have been. After his unanimous All-American bid in 1980, Lott went on to prove himself as one of the greatest football players of all time.

And still, the No. 42 had more greatness in store.

A few years down the line, Erik Affholter came to USC as a player who most colleges recruited at a place kicker (he set a national record with a 64-yard field goal in high school). He insisted he could also be a receiver. The Trojans gave him the shot to do just that in No. 42 and he ran with it, literally. He left USC as an All-American with school records for most catches in a season and in a career.

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Almost a decade later cornerback Bryan Kelly was a team captain and all-conference selection in 1997.

Solid contributors Kris Richard, Dallas Sartz and Devon Kennard kept the legacy of the jersey strong. The latter two were team captains.

All-American glory was in store again in 2017 when Uchenna Nwosu, another team captain, emerged as a critical playmaker during the Trojans run to a Pac-12 title. Batting down balls from his outside linebacker spot, he led the team with 13 deflections while also pitching in 11.5 tackles for loss, including 9.5 sacks.

With the conference title on the line, Nwosu was the man to make the key goal line stop on Stanford’s Camerson Scarlett on fourth down.

Who wears it now?

Redshirt freshman linebacker Abdul-Malik McClain currently possesses the No. 42 and the great legacy it bears.

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A four-star prospect in 2018, McClain is still the development stage of his Trojan career, but with last year’s redshirt year complete, he will have more opportunities to see playing time in the coming season.

That may mean special teams action to start out with, but shake ups to USC’s defensive front mean there are roles, particularly as a third down pass rusher, up for grabs.

Stats to know: 42

  • Running back Mike Garrett was USC’s 42nd ever All-American in 1964, his first of two All-American nods.
  • Wide receiver Lynn Swann had 42 receptions for 714 yards and six touchdowns in his final campaign with USC in 1973.
  • Quarterback Rodney Peete had 42 career interceptions.
  • Jim Sears ranks seventh on USC’s all-time punt return list with 42 returns for 544 yards and three touchdowns.
  • USC beat Wisconsin in the 1963 Rose Bowl by a score of 42-37. Exactly 10 years later they bested Ohio State in the 1973 Rose Bowl 42-17. The next year the Buckeyes got revenge with a 42-21 victory over the Trojans.
  • The 2003 national title winning team forced 42 turnovers, ranking second nationally in turnover margin.

Next. 43 Days to Kickoff