SI Vault
John Underwood
November 03, 1975
The latest in a long line of outstanding USC tailbacks is Ricky Bell, a workhorse who carried the ball 40 times to help the Trojans beat Notre Dame
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
November 03, 1975

For Whom The Bell Toils

The latest in a long line of outstanding USC tailbacks is Ricky Bell, a workhorse who carried the ball 40 times to help the Trojans beat Notre Dame

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Near midnight something fundamental stirred in John McKay—probably the room-service chicken, or the needling telephone call that got through from a Notre Dame fan—and, amused, the USC coach stumbled out of bed, went to the motel-room door and opened it. He was met with a whoosh of cold air. "It's raining," he said. "Well, why shouldn't it? I'm in South Bend. It always rains and gets cold when I come to South Bend." He went back to bed and pulled the covers over his pajamas.

"I guarantee you it'll rain tomorrow, and be 40 degrees," he said. "Ah, USC-Notre Dame. No other game like it in college football. I know I won't be able to sleep until I decide whether to take the wind and let our guy kick it into the seats and scare hell out of 'em, or squib-kick it and recover on their 38 and let Ricky scare 'em.

"It's Notre Dame's homecoming. Biggest pep rally in the world. Good. I hope it's Knute Rockne's birthday, too. I hope they bring out all the ghosts. I guarantee you none of 'em is going to stop Ricky Bell. Oh, we'll' show 'em a couple of Saturday Evening Post plays to make them think a little, but even if they hold him to six yards in 30 carries, Ricky will make 'em pay for every inch. They'll wish they'd never seen him. I hope they don't start a fight, which is what usually happens here, because he's one guy they don't want to fight. I love Ricky Bell, but I wouldn't want to fight him."

After that it did not rain in South Bend and did not get down to 40 degrees, though it was getting there fast by kickoff and finally made it by nightfall. And instead of brushing up on their Saturday Evening Post plays, the entire USC coaching staff sat in McKay's room on Saturday morning giggling at Ghost Busters on television. Which, as McKay pointed out later, was not inappropriate.

And then McKay, after winning the right to choose, chose not to kick off with the wind but to receive against it. And Ricky Bell got in a fight with absolutely nobody. And he did not make six yards. He made 165 yards. In 40 carries. And if anything, he was more punishing on the 40th than he was on the first.

In the long history of Notre Dame-USC bloodletting no Trojan player ever carried the ball so often so far. And no other back in John McKay's 16 years at USC ever gave that lyric man such an opportunity to recycle his good lines.

Q: Why do you make Bell carry the ball so much?

A: It's not heavy.

Alternate A: Why? Is he in a union?

Q: What do you say to your fullbacks when they tell you they'd like to carry the ball, too?

Continue Story
1 2 3