Mosi Tatupu’s role in USC’s victory over Notre Dame in 1974

This article was originally on a blog post platform and may be missing photos, graphics or links. See About archive blog posts.

Many USC football fans remember tailback Anthony Davis’ impressive performance against Notre Dame in the Trojans’ 55-24 comeback victory over the Irish at the Coliseum on Nov. 30, 1974.

On Wednesday, after hearing the news that former USC teammate Mosi Tatupu had died at age 54, Davis had only warm memories and kind words for his backfield mate.

‘He gave me the key block, one that really sprung me on the 102-yard kick return,’ Davis told Times sportswriter Gary Klein.

As Klein wrote in a 2004 story looking back at the game and Davis’ role in it, starting with the second-half kickoff that ignited the Coliseum crowd:


‘I went to my kickoff-return guys and said, ‘Look, I think they’re going to kick to me. If I can get one block, we’re going to get good field position or I’m going to bring it all the way back,’ ‘ Davis said. Davis fielded the kick two yards deep in the end zone, got a block from Tatupu and others in the wedge, broke toward the left and was on his way to the end zone. ‘You could hear the fans go berserk,’ Tatupu said. ‘I don’t think anyone sat down after that. Nobody wanted to miss anything.’

Read the rest of the story after the jump.

-- Claire Noland

Wednesday November 24, 2004

Return to Glory
* It has been 30 years, but no one at USC or Notre Dame will forget Anthony Davis and ‘The Comeback’ to 55-24

By Gary Klein

Times Staff Writer

According to records, USC’s 1974 game against Notre Dame drew a Coliseum crowd of 83,552.

J.K. McKay, a senior receiver for the Trojans that year, suggested recently that a recount might be in order.

‘Based on the number of people who say they were at the game, there must have been 2 million there,’ said McKay, the son of former Trojan coach John McKay.

All who were there, though, on Nov. 30, 1974, saw one of the most stunning comebacks in college football history as USC erased a 24-0 second-quarter deficit and routed defending national champion Notre Dame, 55-24.

USC scored a touchdown just before halftime and then, ignited by Anthony Davis’ 102-yard kickoff return, reeled off seven more in less than 17 minutes of the second half.

‘The Trojans were scoring touchdowns so fast in the third quarter that the scoreboard couldn’t handle it and went on the blink,’ wrote the Times’ Mal Florence.

‘Yes, it’s fair to say, this is one of the wildest things that ever happened on a football field,’ Coach McKay said after the game.

According to veteran broadcaster Keith Jackson, it remains so 30 years later.

‘I’ve never seen anything quite like that,’ said Jackson, who called the 1974 game for ABC and will be back in the Coliseum booth for Saturday’s sold-out game between the top-ranked Trojans and the Fighting Irish.

Delirious USC fans remained on their feet for the entire third quarter and part of the fourth in ’74 as the Trojans capitalized on every Notre Dame miscue.

‘It was one of the loudest stadiums I’ve been in,’ Gerry DiNardo, a former All-American guard for the Irish who is now coach at Indiana, said last week. ‘After they got going, every little thing they did, it got louder and louder.’

Charles Phillips, a USC safety who intercepted three passes that day, says he still gets chills when he thinks about the electric atmosphere.

‘The more it went our way, the louder it got,’ Phillips said. ‘It was deafening.’

Davis recently described the wall of sound in 1974 as an almost living entity. He said the roar made it feel as if he was running through butter on his kickoff return, his third in three games against the Irish.

Said then-USC quarterback Pat Haden, a Los Angeles businessman who also works as a television analyst on Notre Dame broadcasts, ‘The word ‘momentum’ is often used, maybe overused, but that was the first time I felt it going through my body.’

Sixth-ranked USC began the game with an 8-1-1 record and was a four-point favorite. The Trojans had lost their season opener at Arkansas and had tied California, but were coming off consecutive victories over Stanford, Washington and UCLA and were headed for the Rose Bowl.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame was 9-1 and ranked first in the nation on defense. The Irish had given up only eight touchdowns before Coach Ara Parseghian’s final regular-season game and had already locked up an Orange Bowl date against Alabama.

‘We’re not going to score a lot of points against them,’ John McKay had warned. ‘They do not leak. They submerge you.’

DiNardo said Notre Dame had added some new plays and with quarterback Tom Clements directing the attack, the Irish took a 24-0 lead.

‘At that point, it truly seemed hopeless,’ Phillips recalled.

Haden, who had set up two Notre Dame touchdowns by throwing an interception and falling short on fourth and inches, said J.K. McKay tried to lighten the atmosphere.

‘He says to me, ‘You can’t have a great comeback unless you fall way behind,’ ' Haden recalled.

USC finally scored with 10 seconds left in the first half on a seven-yard swing pass from Haden to Davis, but the Trojans headed up the Coliseum tunnel trailing, 24-6.

Clements, now the Buffalo Bills’ offensive coordinator, said last week that Notre Dame was unfazed by the Trojan touchdown.

‘We still felt pretty good,’ he said.

DiNardo sensed nothing unusual. ‘There was no panic at halftime, it was very routine,’ he said. Meanwhile, over in the USC locker room ...

‘I was thinking, ‘Man, we’re going to get chewed out,’ ' recalled Mosi Tatupu, the father of current Trojan linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who was a fullback and special teams player for the Trojans as a freshman.

Safety Marvin Cobb chuckled when recalling assistant Marv Goux’s address to the defense.

‘He wasn’t letting us out of the locker room unless we signed in blood that we were giving our lives for the cause,’ said Cobb, now the executive director of the California Academic Decathlon.

McKay, however, was calm. He reminded his team that USC had overcome a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat No. 1 Notre Dame, 20-17, at the Coliseum in 1964.

‘Then,’ recalled Davis, a Southland real estate developer, ‘all of a sudden, he paused and he said, ‘They’re going to kick the ball to A.D. and he’s going to bring it all the way back.’ I looked at guys like J.K. McKay and thought, ‘He’s lost his mind. He might be a good coach and he might be your father, but he’s a nut.

' ‘There ain’t no way we’re coming back on these guys like that.’ ‘

Davis, however, said he got all the motivation he needed when someone from Notre Dame yelled, ‘We’re going to kick the ball to Davis and we’re going to kick his butt,’ as the teams made their way back out to the field.

‘I went to my kickoff-return guys and said, ‘Look, I think they’re going to kick to me. If I can get one block, we’re going to get good field position or I’m going to bring it all the way back,’ ' Davis said.

Davis fielded the kick two yards deep in the end zone, got a block from Tatupu and others in the wedge, broke toward the left and was on his way to the end zone. ‘You could hear the fans go berserk,’ Tatupu said. ‘I don’t think anyone sat down after that. Nobody wanted to miss anything.’

On the ensuing kickoff, USC linebacker David Lewis dropped Mark McLane at the Notre Dame eight-yard line. Nearly every former player interviewed for this story called that jarring tackle the turning point in the game.

‘They never recovered from that particular play,’ Haden said. ‘I’ve never seen so many bad things happen to a good football team.’

Richard Wood, USC’s middle linebacker then, now a school district police officer and high school football coach in Tampa, remembers, ‘We just turned into monsters.

‘There was nothing we did wrong. Everything just clicked. I guess it was the Trojan gods. When I think about it, I cry. I get emotional.’

Said DiNardo: ‘It just started snowballing where we couldn’t stop it. They took over.’

After Lewis’ heavy hit, USC stopped the Fighting Irish on downs, took possession at the Notre Dame 38 and moved to the six on a pass from Haden to McKay. Davis’ touchdown run made it 24-19.

On the ensuing possession, cornerback Danny Reece forced Notre Dame’s Pete Demmerle to fumble, and linebacker Kevin Bruce recovered at the Irish 36. Haden’s passes to flanker Shelton Diggs and McKay set up Davis’ four-yard touchdown run, and Davis added a two-point conversion run for a 27-24 lead.

Less than three minutes later, Cobb’s 56-yard punt return to the Irish 19 set up Haden’s 18-yard touchdown pass to McKay to make it 34-24.

Then, on the final play of the third quarter, Haden connected with McKay on a 45-yard scoring play for a 41-24 lead.

‘I was supposed to run a curl and Notre Dame messed up on defense and no one was in the middle of the field,’ McKay said. ‘But before Pat saw me, it was like the crowd saw me. I actually remember that, the sound and the feeling they created.’

The onslaught continued after Bruce recovered a fumble by running back Eric Penick seconds into the fourth quarter. Haden connected with Diggs for 16-yards and a touchdown to make it 48-24.

A minute later, Phillips picked off his third pass of the game. He ran down the right sideline toward the end zone at the peristyle end of the Coliseum, holding the ball aloft the last 20 or so yards in an apparent act of showboating.

Thirty years later, however, Phillips said his action was misconstrued.

‘In those days, the sidelines were packed with people,’ said Phillips, a therapeutic behavior specialist who lives in Altadena. ‘After my second interception, one guy grabs me and says, ‘If you get another interception, I’ll take you to San Francisco and buy you dinner.’

‘I just wanted to show this guy I had done it, not show up Notre Dame.’

John McKay was as stunned as anyone by the comeback.

‘In all honesty, he was almost emotionally shook by it,’ J.K. McKay said. ‘I think he realized it was the defining moment of his career.’

Parseghian, who had watched Traveler, USC’s mascot, race up and down the field after every Trojan touchdown, patiently answered reporters’ questions after the game.

‘I’ll tell you one thing that game did,’ Keith Jackson said last week. ‘It made Ara Parseghian hate all white horses.’

USC went on to defeat third-ranked Ohio State in the Rose Bowl and finished first in the United Press International coaches’ poll when Notre Dame defeated top-ranked Alabama in the Orange Bowl. Oklahoma finished No. 1 in Associated Press’ writers’ poll, but the Sooners were not recognized in the coaches’ poll because they were on probation for recruiting violations.

The Trojans, therefore, could not have won a share of the national title without the Fighting Irish.

At USC, they refer to the 55-24 victory simply as ‘the Comeback.’

‘It was one of those rare moments in life, not just in sports, where you are elated from head to toe,’ Haden recalled.

Haden was so elated after the game, he proposed to his girlfriend. Pat and Cindy Haden have been married for 27 years and have four children. ‘I guess that’s another thing to thank Ara Parseghian for,’ Haden said.