USC Trojan’s most famous player:
The University of Southern California (USC) is one of the most storied football programs in college football history. Between four different head coaches the school has achieved 11 “National Championships.” Pete Carroll won two in 2003 and 2004, John Robinson won in 1978, and John McKay contributed four, 1962, 1967, 1972, 1974, but the coach who started it all in the 1920s was Howard Jones.
Jones was hired in 1925 and coached USC until his sudden death following the 1940 season. Jones was a no nonsense authoritarian, who none the less was highly respected and revered by his players. He along with Knute Rockne were the two most influential figures in College Football at the time.
In Jones’ 4th season at USC the Trojans would win their first “National Championship” after completing an undefeated 9-0-1 season. Three years later USC would win their 2nd “National Title” completing a 10-1 season with a 21-12 win over Tulane in the 1932 Rose Bowl. 1932 would see USC repeat as “National Champions” with an undefeated (10-0) campaign culminating in a 35-0 thrashing of Pittsburgh in the 1933 Rose Bowl.
Jones’ 4th and final “National Championship” would have to wait until 1939 when his team went 8-0-2 and then upset the undefeated, untied and unscored on Tennessee Volunteers in the 1940 Rose Bowl, 14-0. After a disappointing 3-4-1 season in 1940, Jones would die of a massive heart attack at his home in July of 1941.
Jones would coach 9 players who would earn consensus All-American honors; despite that his most famous recruit was one of his first. An offensive and defensive tackle who led his Glendale High School Team to an undefeated season in 1925. He was also Senior Class President and an “A” Student.
Marion Michael Morrison was born in Iowa, but moved to Southern California at an early age. Known as “Duke”, he entered USC on a Football scholarship in the fall of 1925. This was not as lucrative as it might seam, for “Duke” was awarded $280 for the year and also one meal a day five days a week. Since Morrison’s family had little money he had to scrounge for food money the rest of the week, working odd jobs and such.
“Duke” was a prominent member of the undefeated USC Freshman Team that year and gained the notice of Coach Howard Jones. Morrison, along with other members of the team needed jobs during the summer. Fortunately for them Jones was good friends with an influential person at Fox Studios in Hollywood, John “Jack” Ford. Known as Jack, Ford would hire USC players to do grunt work around the lot and occasionally perform small roles in movies.
For Duke Morrison the relationship with Jack would be a life changer. Unfortunately Duke would injure his shoulder in a body surfing accident during the summer. When he reported for football practice in 1927 he was unable to hit with his right shoulder. Duke Morrison idolized Jones. As a former player said about the coach, “If you’d just made a good play and were coming off the field, Jones wasn’t the type to pat you on the back. He just gave you that look, just a hint of a smile, and you’d know if he was happy.”
When Coach Jones noticed that Duke wouldn’t hit with his right shoulder he immediately demoted Morrison to the scrubs team, not allowing him to play during the season. Howard Jones then revoked Morrison’s scholarship for 1928, forcing Duke to look for a real job so he could stay in school.
Fortunately for Morrison, Jones allowed him to continue to go to Fox Studios in search of work with the other Trojan Players. This is where Morrison met another offensive lineman on Jones’ USC Team who would become Duke’s lifelong friend, Wardell Edwin Bond.
Bond would be a starting lineman on Jones’ first “National Championship” team but following his gridiron career he would join Morrison doing odd jobs for Fox Studios. Jack Ford would take a liking to the two, and would give them cameo roles in many of his movies.
Of course Ward Bond would become one of the most prolific character actors in Hollywood history, appearing in over 200 films between 1929 and his death in 1960. Included in the films were seven films that made the American Film Institute’s 100 Greatest Films released in 1999, more than any other actor.
Jack Ford convinced director Raoul Walsh to cast Bond’s friend “Duke” Morrison in the lead role in his 1930 western epic, “The Big Trail”. The screen name Morrison used up until this time was Marion Morrison, but Walsh didn’t think Marion fit the image Duke needed to flourish in Hollywood. Walsh suggested Anthony Wayne, after Revolutionary War General, “Mad” Anthony Wayne, but Fox Studio Head rejected saying it as sounded to Italian. They then agreed on John Wayne. “Duke” Morrison was not involved in the decision.
As “Duke” Morrison would explain in 1957 about the name John Wayne; “That guy you see on the screen isn’t really me. I’m “Duke” Morrison, and I never was and never will be a film personality like John Wayne. I know him well. I’m one of his closest students. I have to be. I make a living out of him.”
After 1930 “Duke” Morrison continued his involvement with Howard Jones and the USC Football program. His brother Bob would play for Jones on his Thundering Herd teams in 1931 and 1932 that would win two “National Championships”.
But despite his gridiron success, Bob Morrison would not come close to the fame of his older brother. Nor would the previous mentioned Ward Bond. Great Howard Jones players, such as Morel Drury, Ernie Pinckert, and Gaius Shaver, big football stars of their day, have been completely forgotten today. Even Howard Jones is only remembered by serious football historians.
More recent football greats, such as Frank Gifford, Mike Garrett, or Reggie Bush are still remembered by most sports fans, but aren’t nearly the household name of Morrison. The only former Trojan Footballer who comes close is O.J. Simpson, whose fame is more a result of revulsion than gridiron greatness.
It’s hard to not conclude that the single most well known player in Trojan History is Marion Morrison, AKA: John Wayne.
“National Champion” is always in quotes, because, as we’ve emphasized before, their are no true National Champions in college football.