12 days to USC football: Charles White was best in the biggest of games

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 continues to countdown to the 2019 USC football season with a look at Charles White’s legendary performances in the No. 12.

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USC football is just 12 days away.

On the 12th day before the Trojans kick off against Fresno State, Reign of Troy is turning the microscope on the greatest No. 12 in USC history.

Who wore it best?

Charles White probably doesn’t get the recognition he deserves as the man who retired the No. 12 by winning a Heisman Trophy.

White was a two-time unanimous All-American. He set USC’s freshman rushing record which stood until Ronald Jones II broke it in 2016 then led the team in rushing for the next three season, taking an ironclad hold on the Trojan career rushing record.

But it isn’t just the accolades that should give White a greater profile in USC lore. Though he didn’t rush with the exciting style of O.J. Simpson or Marcus Allen, he delivered hugely in some of the biggest games in Trojan history.

In the 1977 Rose Bowl, a concussion to Ricky Bell threw White into the fire and he turned the head up, rushing for 122 yards and a touchdown in a victory over Michigan.

O.J. Simpson said prophetically after the game in the Redlands Daily, “I think Charles White is going to erase all of us from the books — myself, Ricky Bell, and Anthony Davis. And the thing about it is White is only a freshman.”

When White was only a sophomore he opened the door to a serious Heisman conversation with 1,478 rushing yards to lead the Pac-8.

As a junior, he topped the NCAA with 1,859 yards. He capped his season with another critical Rose Bowl performance. His 99-yards on the ground and three-yard touchdown proved to be the difference in a 17-10 victory over Ohio State which secured USC the national championship.

White went on to finish his Heisman season in 1979 with a record-breaking performance in the 1980 Rose Bowl.

Leading the Trojans back from a fourth-quarter deficit, White rushed for 247 yards in total. Seventy-one of those yards came on the final game-winning drive, with the running back punching in the touchdown from one yard out with 1:32 on the clock.

“If this guy’s heart were any bigger it wouldn’t fit inside his ribcage,” Paul Oberjuerge of the San Bernardino County Sun wrote, detailing how White had spent the week ahead of the game battling the flu, even returning to the game in the third quarter despite a busted nose. “‘Fiercely competitive’ doesn’t even begin to describe him.”

Who wears it now?

The No. 12 is retired to honor White’s Heisman status.

Stats to know: 12

  • Guard Johnny Baker was USC’s 12th ever All-American in 1931.
  • Halfback Mort Kaer became USC’s first consensus All-American with 12 touchdowns in 1926. Irvine “Cotton” Warburton gained unanimous All-American honors in 1933 with the same total.
  • In 1970, Sam “Bam” Cunningham gained 135 yards and scored two touchdowns on just 12 carries against all-white Alabama in Birmingham.
  • In 1974, USC was represented by 12 players on the all-conference squad, a feat repeated by the 1989 team.
  • Rodney Peete scored 12 rushing touchdowns during his Trojan career, from 1985 to 1988.
  • In 1987, Marcus Cotton led USC with 12 sacks.
  • Junior Seau had 12 deflections in 1989, en route to All-American honors. The year before Cleveland Colter had the same total as he secured an All-American nod.
  • In the 1996 Rose Bowl, Keyshawn Johnson caught 12 passes, each of which converted a first down, amassing a Rose Bowl record 216 yards. Needless to say he was the MVP of that 41-32 victory over Northwestern.
  • Mike Williams had 12 100-yard receiving games in two years as a Trojan, from 2002 to 2003.
  • Matt Leinart had a USC record 12 300-yard passing games from 2003 to 2005.
  • In the 2004 Rose Bowl and 2005 Orange Bowl victories over Michigan and Oklahoma, Lofa Tatupu led USC with 12 tackles.
  • In the 2007 Rose Bowl, USC limited Michigan to just 12 yards rushing.
  • In the 2009 Emerald Bowl, Damien Williams was named Offensive MVP after catching 12 passes for 189 yards.
  • In the 2017 Cotton Bowl, Deontay Burnett set a Cotton Bowl record with 12 passes for 139 yards.

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