Drury, ‘Noblest Trojan of Them All,’ Dead at 85

Times Staff Writer

Morley Drury, legendary USC tailback who was called, “The Noblest Trojan of Them All,” died of a stroke late Sunday night at Santa Monica Hospital.

Drury, 85, had been an invalid for about 12 years and was preparing for a knee operation when he was stricken.

Drury is survived by his wife, Louise; a daughter, Margaret; a brother, Harold, and 2 grandchildren, Tom and Carol.

Private funeral and cremation services will be held Thursday, with the Veterans Center in West Los Angeles conducting the arrangements.


Many credit Drury with pioneering the Trojan tailback legacy that has produced four Heisman Trophy winners.

Drury received a stirring standing ovation at the Coliseum when he left the field after his last game in 1927.

An All-American, Drury finished his college career by running for 180 yards and scoring 3 touchdowns as USC beat Washington, 33-13.

The public address announcer told the crowd that Drury was coming off the field for the last time and should get “the hand that he deserves.”

Drury later recalled that emotional moment: “I reached the track and looked up at all those people. I tried to wave, but my hand jerked, so it wasn’t much of a wave. My knees got weak even if I did feel as fresh as a horse. And I bawled like a baby.”

A big running back at the time--6 feet and 185 pounds--Drury was the first Trojan tailback to gain more than 1,000 yards rushing in a season, piling up 1,163 in 9 games in 1927.

A USC tailback wouldn’t gain more than 1,000 yards in a season again until Mike Garrett rushed for 1,440 in 10 games in 1965.

Drury is identified with Howard Jones’ Thundering Herd teams of the late 1920s. Jones used his tailback extensively in a single wing formation, and no one, past or present, was as durable as Drury.

He played every position in the backfield at one time and was a safety on defense. It wasn’t uncommon for him to play all 60 minutes in a game.

Drury also passed and punted as a triple-threat tailback, but he was best knownfor his power running.

In one game in his senior season, he carried the ball 45 times. Forty-one years elapsed before another Trojan tailback, O.J. Simpson, would work as hard. Simpson had 47 carries in a game in 1968.

So Drury was ahead of his time, in productivity and work ethic.

Drury lived most of his life in Santa Monica and was confined to a wheelchair in recent years. He received a rousing ovation when he was introduced on the floor of the Coliseum last August in a celebration of USC’s centennial year of football.

He had some memorable games, such as the 13-13 tie with Stanford in 1927, when he gained 163 yards.

Drury came to USC in 1925, the same year that Jones became the school’s coach. During his 3 years on the varsity, the Trojans had a 27-5-1 record.

Mark Kelly, a former sports editor of the Los Angeles Examiner, is credited with immortalizing Drury in Trojan lore when he wrote of the running back: “He’s the noblest Trojan of them all.”

The nickname endured over the years and was a constant source of gratification to Drury, who was recognized as such at every function he attended.

Drury was born Feb. 5, 1903, in Midland, Ontario, Canada. His father died when Morley was 7, and the family, his mother and brother, Harold, moved to Long Beach when Drury was a teen-ager.

Drury was older than most students when he enrolled at USC. He worked in the Long Beach shipyard for 2 years after he finished grammar school and before he went to Long Beach Poly High School, where he established his credentials as an outstanding running back.

And the ovation he received in 1927 as he trotted off the field to the locker room for the last time is a moment he always cherished.

“We had just scored a touchdown, and the teams were all lined up to kick when Jones grabbed me and said, ‘You can go on to the dressing room, but you have to walk across the field,’ ” Drury recalled.

“Well, the whole crowd stood up as I started my walk. Then, the opposing team stood up. The ovation lasted until I reached the tunnel. As I approached the tunnel, I knew I couldn’t hold back the tears.”