33 days to USC football: How Marcus Allen became a Heisman winner

RoT Countdown / Photo by Collegiate Images/Getty Images
RoT Countdown / Photo by Collegiate Images/Getty Images /

To commemorate 33 days until USC football returns, we’re looking at the ultimate No. 33, Marcus Allen, whose road to Heisman glory wasn’t straight-forward.

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USC football fans have just 33 more days to wait until their team returns to action.

That’s 33 days of scouring the internet and Twitter for tidbits from Fall Camp, which begins at the end of the week.

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Until then, Reign of Troy’s countdown to kickoff can help fill the gap by looking at the No. 33 jersey and its famed owner:

Who wore it best?

No offense to all-conference half back Gordon Gray and the two-dozen or so Trojans who wore the No. 33 before 1978, but the jersey belongs Marcus Allen and only Marcus Allen.

Allen’s path to glory in No. 33 wasn’t exactly straight-forward. He played quarterback in high school and was recruited to USC as a defensive back. In the Los Angeles Times in 1981, Jim Murray claimed his high school coach came to a Trojan practice, saw him working with the DBs and exclaimed, “What you got that boy running backward for?”

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Head coach John Robinson ultimately agreed with that rhetorical question. Allen was moved to tailback before the start of his freshman season. Serving as a backup to All-American Charles White in 1978, he playfully told Mal Florence of the Los Angeles Times, “You know, I’d like to win the Heisman some day.”

Heisman glory would have to wait though. In his sophomore season, Allen was given the thankless job of helping White win that most prestigious college football award by clearing the way for his teammate as a fullback.

Murray made a guess about how Allen’s high school coach might have responded to that, “My God, now they’ve got him blocking!”

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The experience worked in Allen’s favor though. He credited playing fullback with improving his inside running.

White’s graduation boosted Allen into the starting running back job in 1980 and he left no doubt about his ability with strength and deceptive speed at his disposal. He led the Pac-10 with 1,563 yards and 14 touchdowns in that first year as a starter.

Allen was no sure-thing to take home the Heisman in 1981 though. He was described by Murray and others as a “underdog in the Heisman prognostications,” particularly with Herschel Walker grabbing headlines at Georgia.

It would take a Herculean effort from Allen to win the award. So he delivered one.

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The Trojan running back racked up 2,427 yards and 22 touchdowns, setting the NCAA’s single-season rushing record by becoming the first ever collegiate rusher to gain more than 2,000 yards in a season.

The same tailback who was quoted in the Daily Oklahoman in August of 1981 saying “I didn’t think one day I might be a Heisman candidate” was four months later announced by the Los Angeles Times as the top player in college football with the headline “To the Surprise of Nobody, Allen Wins the Heisman.”

To the surprise of nobody, Allen was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame two decades later. Three years after that, in 2003, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, again to the surprise of nobody.

Who wears it now?

The No. 33 is retired as a Heisman-winning jersey number.

Stats to know: 33

  • Back Jon Arnett was USC’s 33rd ever All-American in 1955.
  • USC has played more games on January 1 than any other day of the year, appearing in 33 contests on that day. The Trojans have officially appeared in 33 Rose Bowls, but that record ignores the 2006 Rose Bowl, which may be for the best anyways.
  • During his career, Carson Palmer set or tied 33 Pac-10 and USC records. In 2002, the year he won the Heisman Trophy, he threw 33 touchdowns, which was at the time a USC record.
  • Matt Leinart also won Heisman acclaim while throwing 33 touchdowns in the 2004 season.
  • Pat Haden threw 33 touchdown passes in his career.
  • Thirty-three Trojan players appear in the College Football Hall of Fame.
  • The 1939 Trojan national title team allowed just 33 points all year.
  • USC’s steak of 33 consecutive weeks as the No. 1 team in the AP poll from December 8, 2003 to December 4, 2005 is a national record.
  • Porter Gustin had 33 tackles for loss in his abridged career.
  • Marlon Tuipulotu debuted as a regular starter in 2018 with 33 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss.
  • Wide receivers coach Keary Colbert caught 33 passes for 480 yards and three touchdowns as a freshman in 2001.
  • USC completed an epic comeback against undefeated Notre Dame in 1931 with a 33-yard field goal from Johnny Baker in the final minute. Read more about it here.
  • In 1995, USC erased a 21-0 deficit in the fourth quarter against Washington, achieving a 21-21 tie thanks to a two-yard touchdown pass from Brad Oton to Johnny McWilliams with 33 seconds remaining.

Next. 34 Days to Kickoff