20 days to USC football: Historic Mike Garrett and the retired* No. 20

RoT Countdown / Photo by University of Southern California/Collegiate Images via Getty Images
RoT Countdown / Photo by University of Southern California/Collegiate Images via Getty Images /

Reign of Troy’s looks to the start of the 2019 USC football season with a glance back at Mike Garrett’s historic career in the No. 20.

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We’re less than three weeks away from the 2019 USC football season. The Trojans kick off against Fresno State a mere 20 days from now.

Or more accurately, Mike Garrett days from now. The Heisman winner quite literally owns the No. 20 in USC lore.

Let’s dive into the number, shall we?

Who wore it best?

There’s no question. It’s Mike Garrett. The number became the first to ever be retired by the school after Garrett finished his historic career with the Trojans as a two-time All-American tailback, and the winner of the 1965 Heisman Trophy.

He was the first truly transcendent talent in a long line of backs under John McKay, helping USC earn the moniker ‘Tailback U’.

Garrett did it with dominance. He was the first Trojan to hit the 1,000-yard mark in a season since Morley Drury set a rushing record in 1927. Garrett fought fire with fire, shattering Drury’s and setting 14 NCAA records of his own.

In 1965, his 1,440 rushing yards led the nation by almost 200. Garrett took home the Heisman Trophy with a 398-point victory over Tulsa’s high-volume receiver, Howard Twilley.

Twilley shattered NCAA records that year too, including an ungodly single-season receiving yards benchmark of 1,779 yards, which stood for 30 years. Garrett, who rushed his way to an all-time NCAA high of 3,221 career yards, unfortunately wouldn’t be so timeless in the record books.

None of his records stand today. Many were toppled by Trojans, including O.J. Simpson crushing his single-season total in back-to-back years, in 1967 and 1968.

Rather, like Brice Taylor’s All-American campaign 40 years before, Garrett’s legacy is that of being the first. He was McKay’s first legend. He was the first Heisman Trophy winner. He was the first Trojan to have a number retired.

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At least, that was the plan. No one was supposed to wear the No. 20.

However, Garrett brought the number out of retirement as USC’s athletic director for all-everything safety Darnell Bing, a gem in the 2003 recruiting class.

The move paid off. Bing immediately became the second-best Trojan to wear the number, with a decorated career himself. The hard-hitting safety out of Long Beach Poly won a pair of national championships and earned All-American honors in 2005, validating the AD’s decision.

As athletic director, Garrett had ups and downs over the course of a 17-year tenure from 1993 to 2010. A span in USC history that somewhat ages well, given his successors. For every landmark victory, there was a setback. For every devastating setback, a victory.

He hired Pete Carroll amid a disastrous coaching search, only to have the football program return to glory with one of the most iconic runs in college football history. Garrett oversaw the university finally take basketball seriously with the forever-rumored building of an on-campus arena, while baseball began its slip to mediocrity.

Ultimately, his stint as embattled AD came to an abrupt end after NCAA sanctions were levied on the football and basketball program in 2010. He was replaced by another heralded Trojan football player, Pat Haden.

Others to wear the No. 20 include former Trojan head coach and athletic director Jess Hill, along with Ernie Zampese, who went on to have a long career as an NFL assistant.

Who wears it now?

Nobody. It’s retired. For real this time. Probably.

Stats to know: 20

  • Larry Stevens is in the books as the 20th All-American in school history. He earned the distinction as a guard on the Trojans’ 1933 team.
  • USC’s longest non-conference winning streak is 20. The Trojans did it under John Robinson from 1977 to 1981. During Pete Carroll’s reign, the team got close to shattering that mark. They won 34 of 35 non-conference games from 2002 to 2010. The lone blemish? That game. The one you’re thinking of. Yep.
  • The height of the Carroll era was also notable for USC scoring at least 20 points in a whopping 63-straight games.
  • Artimus Parker holds the Trojans’ all-time interceptions record with 20 career picks. Amazingly, none of them were returned for a touchdown.
  • Hal Bedsole, Ronald Johnson and Nelson Agholor are all tied for 10th on USC’s all-time receiving touchdowns list with 20.
  • Michael McDonald —the son of All-American quarterback Paul McDonald— made history by throwing a touchdown pass on both his first and second career passes. The record-setter came in 2006 with a 20-yard strike to a wide-open Steve Smith, on a hide-’em-out fake field goal pass against Washington.
  • Scoring 20 points is rather common in football. The Trojans have done it 48 times, including a 20-0 win over alumni in 1922 to secure the 100th win in school history.
  • Then there’s a trio of 20-17 victories that were settled by game-winning field goals:
    • In 1980, Eric Hipp beat Tennessee with a 47-yarder as time expired at Neyland Stadium.
    • Adam Abrams helped USC win in South Bend for the first time in 16 years, when his 37-yard field goal sunk Notre Dame with a minute left in 1997.
    • Andre Heidari sent fans rushing onto the field, after his 47-yard beauty helped Ed Orgeron’s Trojans topple No. 5 Stanford in 2013.

Next. 21 Days to Kickoff