Anthony Davis Superstar, Are You What They Say You are?

Anthony Davis Superstar, Are You What They Say You Are?

By Paul Morantz

 The suspicion grows that football is less a spectator sport than a social psychosis. At least two of the three adult males and half the woman in this country are said to have some psychological dependency on the gridiron game, and nowhere is the affliction more acute than in Los Angeles. The city has never before had three teams of such stature in one season: USC’s and UCLA’s collegiate powers and the suddenly rambunctious Rams, all running wild by turns in the Coliseum. This month’s Bruin-Trojan clash looms as a classic case of civic schizophrenia.

Now that serious attention is being given to the emotional state of the football player and teams start turning to the services of resident psychiatrists (see page 51), it is probably only a matter of time before someone starts looking into the behavior of the fan, too. In the meantime, the least we can do is offer some sage counseling on how to cope with a major frustration for any game-goer: feeding his lusty appetite before, after or during the contest on the field (page 53). As the following article indicates, some curious and complex things can go on the inside heads that are all too often considered to be made of pigskin and filled with nothing more than compressed air.

Anthony Davis let out a moan, feeling the bruises and pain on the morning after the Washington State game.

“Man, them guys were after me on every play,” he complains to the trainer, “It’s those cheap shots that really hurt: when you’re down and some guy buries his helmet into you. Look at these marks on my body. I can’t go on like this.”

“What price glory?” asks the trainer drily as he got the blood circulating in Davis’ sore muscles.

Davis looks at the trainer. “O.J. used to come in and go to sleep in the whirlpool bath.”

“That’s for me.”


Everyone knows A.D.’s story. Took over starting tailback spot in the seventh game of his sophomore year and went on to gain 1,191 yards. U.S.C.’s last three games were on TV and a nation-wide audience saw him do his famous post-touchdown knee dance eight times; six against Notre Dame alone. Instant stardom.

The fall of 1973 rolls around and he is the cover boy for all the sports publications. The pre-season pick for the Heisman Trophy. A.D. Superstar is a legend already and he’s still got two seasons to play at USC.


He stands in front of a mirror adjusting his uniform for a photo session, seeing himself as others do: adorned in cardinal and gold, helmet with the Trojan decal, football cleats, number 28.  All-American.
A.D., Superstar. Everything is there but the cape. He likes the image, the way it transforms him, there is no doubting that. A few hours earlier he had complained he could hardly walk due to the bruises he had received in last Saturday’s game. Now he feels… Super. His legs are pumping up and down, adrenalin coursing through his body “Amazing,” he says. “What putting on a uniform will do. I’m ready to go. Ready to play. Just give me the ball.”

Davis is not unhappy with all the attention. He thrives on it. He likes the publicity, the respect he gets, being acknowledged in public or answering fan mail from kids.

But being a superstar has its burdens. His privacy is limited. Socially, Davis has to be careful. He knows it will be talked about all over campus. What girl he was with, where he went, how late he was seen out.

David learned about rumors last spring. His brother fell asleep at his apartment and Anthony volunteered to take his girlfriend home to Inglewood for him. It was seven in the morning and Davis, driving his brother’s 1969 GT-6, dozed and crashed into a telephone pole. Seven a.m.! With a girl! He crashes! The innuendos that circulated hurt him more, really, than the operation on his legs, or the fear that he had that his career might be over or the price he had to pay to get his brother a new car.


Several young black faces gape in disbelief. There! There goes Anthony Davis for sure, heading into Crenshaw High School. That cat led San Fernando Valley when they whipped us 24  to nothing 3 years ago  in the city playoffs. Big Man at U.S.C. now. What’s he doing at Crenshaw?

Davis, dressed comfortably, if not conspicuously, in grey sweatpants and grey sweatshirt, yellow tennis shoes and topped with a yellow knit cap, strolls onto the Crenshaw grounds after parking his blue Cadillac convertible.

“I always try to go back to help motivate kids from a background similar to mine to succeed. I grew up near Pacoima. All ethnic groups were there, each with its own turf. It was rugged, dog–eat–dog. Everyone was out to cut your throat.”

Davis is anxious to talk about his early surroundings. “The environment tended to non–motivate you. Households were shaky. Everyone was into fads, like pills and low–riders. There was a thin line between success and failure. And only the strong, those with natural talent, survive. The others fall to crime and dope.

“Some of the guys still back there were better players then me could have gone to USC, but the environment didn’t motivate them. Everyone wanted a car. So did I, but I waited. Others would drop out of school and pump gas or peddle dope at night until they got their wheels. At an early age I knew what I wanted – athletics. I knew I would need an academic background so I kept up with my studies.

“We had rough Blacks, Chicanos, all the kids were rough. We’d have three gang fights a week, kids jumped in bathrooms, different parts of campus. You had a limited territory in which to move about and you had to watch yourself. I remember a riot we had in my junior year. I came out in the yard and everyone was beating up on everyone else. A real race riot I guess; a Chicano–B will lack confrontation. Outside, cars were dropping off guys who were coming over the fence. I saw this one guy hit a girl with a trash can. Then he came after me and cut me with a switchblade. I had my football gear with me and hit him with my helmet.

“I had a Chicano girlfriend once and when I took her home to the barrio three or four guys took out after me. My next door neighbor and three of his friends once jumped me at a junior high dance. But I came back the next day and got him. Today, he sells life insurance in Los Angeles, if you can imagine that.”


It was late on the night after the Taft game. Davis had rushed for two touchdowns and passed for two more in leading San Fernando Valley High to victory. Now he was being driven home by his friend Brad. They’d just dropped Davis’ girlfriend off and were taking a shortcut over La Crescenta Canyon when the steering column on Brad’s old Plymouth broke. It was raining hard and they still had Brad’s girlfriend Lee Ann with them, so they decided to wait it out.

About 1:30 a station wagon approached. There were two people inside and Brad asked if they could call for help. “Sure” was the answer, but they also wanted a dime. Brad didn’t have any change so he opened his wallet to get a dollar, exposing a lot of money, close to $150. Davis winced. In this neighborhood it wasn’t wise to flash even of few bucks.

Around 3:30 a.m., the two strangers returned. The driver got out and began putting on a pair of black gloves. Davis reacted instinctively and sprang out. He tried to play it cool. “Did you call for a black and white?”

There was no answer.

Then Davis saw the other guy reaching for a small, black metal object on the seat. He could tell it was a 45, he was familiar with guns. Guys he knew were always coming to school and parties brandishing one and bragging how they were going to shoot somebody. Davis also knew what to do when a gun points your way. He took off, using every bit of his speed. He drove into the brush, meshing with the weeds, thorns and twigs, and tumbled down a hillside. As he rolled, he heard two shots fired into the brush and grimaced for the pain that might come if a bullet found its mark.

When he reached the bottom of the hill he fell into a muddy stream. The fog had become so thick he couldn’t see. It was like playing a part in the Saturday Night Creature Feature. He stood horrified as he heard two more gun shots in the distance. One for Brad, one for Lee Ann? Oh, God.

He found a road at last and finally arrived at what turned out to be a rest home. He was covered with mud and blood, clothes and flesh torn in the fall, and he was panting for breath. He scared an old woman at the home out of her wits, but when she realized he was human; she took him in, wrapped him in blankets and bandages, filled him with hot coffee and called the police.

Later Davis learned the two thugs had told his friends they’d shot him, and then demanded Brad’s money, firing two shots at his feet. He gave them the money, and they drove off.


Davis is having a ball. If you can’t hear it, you can see his name on the lips of every Crenshaw student who passes. Anthony Davis… Anthony Davis… A.D…A.D. He pretends not to take notice of it, but he can’t help it.

In the office, a woman spots him. “You’re Anthony Davis… I remember when you – and I do mean you – beat us 24- 0. Cost us the city title. That’s when I first disliked you. I’m also a Notre Dame fan.”

On the principal’s desk are a switchblade and a carving knife. “A little problem today,” he says. “Nothing big. Some girls thought some people were after them.”

 On the way to the football field, he runs a gauntlet of greetings.

“A.D. What’s happening?”

“Sign my autograph.”

“Lord, oh Mercy, he’s going to put that in his scrapbook now.”

“Sure am. He’s my only idol.”

And of course the cool dudes come up with the wisecracks.

“Hell, I thought it was O.J. Simpson. This guy’s still in college, we want to see a real pro,”

A.D. laughs.

The stands are full; the team is on the field and Crenshaw High’s own version of song girls are doing a little soul dancing to the band. From the announcer’s box, A.D. addresses the school: “I want to come back from our road trip this weekend and read in the papers what you guys did to Dorsey. And I want to say this to your cheerleaders. I’ve never seen such girls. I’d like to take one of you with me this weekend and get a motel room…”

A roar of approval goes up. A.D. puts down the mike. “How was I?” he asks no one in particular. “Was I okay?”

The cheerleaders set up a corridor and as each Crenshaw player runs through it he’s dashed with pom-poms and applause from the stands. Then Davis goes through and the girls jump all over him. Davis runs over to the players with his palms up for spirit slaps. They mob him like his own team did when he ran that second kickoff back against Notre Dame. If this is what being a superstar is all about, it’s fine with him.

“I was trippin’ off that stuff in there,” he says as he walks to his car. “The rhythm of the band, the dancing…”


“Anthony Davis has a certain walk,” notes Michele Drake, editor of the Daily Trojan. “Very confident, very sure he’s the star and everyone is looking at him and honoring him. There’s nothing wrong with it. But I wonder if he gets up too high and something goes wrong, will he be able to live without the praise?”

Davis is a loner. “I don’t have best friends,” he says. “Just Associates.” He’s more apt to be seen strolling alone on campus than with teammates. On a nice day, he’ll sometimes flop down on the grass in front of Doheny Library.

When he walks down the campus students turn and stare constantly. It’s as if their thoughts were readable. Is he really that good? As good as O.J.? Why does he always walk alone? Is his head as big as some say? They all want to know about him, as much as they can. Hebelongs to them. Some will even approach him and congratulate him for some football feat. Others will just say hello and try to shake his hand. Always he is courteous. That was the advice O.J. Simpson gave him during the off-season. “You’ll be meeting a lot of people,” O.J. had said. “Always be courteous.”

But sometimes Davis finds it hard to follow that advice. People won’t leave him alone. On the road he has to fight through crowds to get to the playing field. Sometimes after a game he’ll wait an hour in the locker room before he comes out, hoping by then all the jock-sniffers will be gone.

At home, someone is always knocking on his door. If he has to sleep he goes somewhere else. And then there are the girls – the ones who wouldn’t give him the time of day when he was a freshman but who are all over him now. Some he calls “boogabears,” ugly girls who send in their pictures from faraway places like North Carolina and South Dakota, suggesting they might get together sometime. He can’t understand their type at all. “They don’t know me,” he points out, “what’s inside my head. All they know is what they read in the papers and see on TV. And they want to meet me. It’s really stupid.”


Dear Anthony,

       My name is Cynthia. We don’t really know each other but I would like to get to know you and I’m sure you will feel the same way. I watch you play on TV. You are truly a Super Fly player. I know without you the team would truly be lost. I’m about 5’2”, 121 pounds, brown-skinned, big afro and really together if you can dig it…

Dear Anthony,

       My name is Karla. I am 19 years old and I live in Kansas City… You probably think I’m trying to make a rap but I don’t think I’m the type to rap first with a man. I’m not married, don’t have any kids, don’t use drugs or drink. I know what you’re thinking, man, I don’t need to mess with her. But I’m not trying to pull any lovey–dovey stuff. I’d just like to correspond with you…

Dear Anthony,

       I’m sorry you didn’t have time to write me. I didn’t know your head got so big that you can’t write someone back.

       Anthony Davis, super player, super-man, super fly, superstar.

       I’m letting you know that this is the last you’ll ever hear from me. You really blew it…



“Anthony Davis is a real star,” says Marsha Gean. “He radiates magnetism. People just crowd around him. And he digs it.” Marsha is a USC Song Girl. So are Margie Campbell and Debbie Funk. All were song girls in high school (“Push ‘em back,WAAAY back”), all enjoy their work, like being part of the USC school spirit and all are well–versed in the knowledge that TV exposure got several of last year’s squad, rated best in the country, a lot of commercial work.

Debbie, Marsha and Margie are all sorority girls. At USC a girl doesn’t join a single sorority; she joins the Row – an entire community on a single block, 28 Street between Hoover and Figueroa. The ‘60s didn’t take much of a toll on tradition at SC. The Row still has block parties, beer busts, dancing bands, bonfires, and water balloon fights. One fraternity even has a giant wooden catapult that it uses to launch water balloons from its own yard to the front porch of any sorority house it chooses. Understandably, morale on the row often follows the ups and downs of the football team.

“USC is spoiled,” says Debbie Funk. “They expect to win. Anything else is a disappointment.” Adds Marsha Gean, “After a loss or a tie the parties are dead. No basheroos. Everyone just stands around and moans that the team didn’t do well.”

Says Margie, “Even if USC wins but doesn’t score a lot, people get down. I hear the students, parents and alumni talking. They’ll say, ‘Poor Anthony Davis, no blocking. He needs Sam Cunningham.’ But it’s great, everyone cares. I wouldn’t want to be at any other school. The saying is true: A Bruin for four years, a Trojan for life.”

The Row doesn’t interest A.D. Since he became a Hero, fraternity houses have invited him for lunch, but he doesn’t go.

“The social stuff on the Row is just a hip fad,” says Davis. “Most of the people there are not individuals, but insecure and in need of rules, and middle–class social climbers. A lot of girls are driven out of the Row by the time they are seniors. Dating does it. They start getting talked about. The Row is a kingdom and once you’re not liked in your kingdom…”


The phone rings. Coach John McKay grabs it. A reporter wants to talk about the upcoming game. The questions are routine, he hears them every season.

“We play our best game, they play theirs, we should win…No, we’re not bigger; they must be weighing our players in full gear and theirs in their birthday suits…”

McKay is an expert interviewee. He spends as much time in that role as he does coaching football. There are Monday football writer’s luncheons, quarter-back clubs, alumni clubs, pre-game, post-game, the Times, Herald-Examiner, Sports Illustrated.

He has a view on every subject fired at him. “Football has faced and survived the counter-culture attack of the late ‘60’s,” he says. “Everything was attacked that was establishment then; fraternities, football, let’s get them. But what did they do to improve anything? Most just tried to make money mouthing off in some book and dropping out.

“USC is a great school, most loyal in the country. It’s a pleasure to coach here, although we suffer disappointments other universities would not. Some schools might celebrate an 8-2 season. Here that would be so-so.”

McKay knows that the same pressures to excel weigh on a player like Davis. He knows that is why Davis has had problems so far this season. “He’s going for a touchdown every time he carries the ball,” McKay groans. Still, the coach knows that Davis has the unmistakable quality of greatness.

“Some people think Davis has a big head because of the way he talks of himself. It’s not bragging, it’s confidence. All great ballplayers have it. On a kickoff, the not-so-great player is hoping the ball isn’t kicked to him while the truly great is thinking, ‘Come on, kick it here, I’m the one, the best to run it back.’”


Davis has learned something new this year. A superstar must always perform. He must rush for over a hundred yards each game and score at least twice. If the Trojans win a national championship one year they must beat every team the next season by three touchdowns. USC has a winning tradition and a tradition of superstars – Jaguar Jon, Iron Mike, O.J. … Los Angeles has five professional sports teams and to major colleges to entertain it. It has no need to bother with anything but winners. Even a tie with a professional team like Oklahoma, let alone a loss, can set off the mutterings. “What’s wrong with the team?” “What’s wrong with Davis?” Maybe he’s lost it…”

A.D shakes his head.

“It seems like I get the bulk of the credit or the blame,” he says. “People forget there are ten other starters on offense and that all of last year’s blockers are in pro ball now. This is a different team and I’m just one player on it. I know everybody wants us to do well but I try not to think about them when I’m playing. I put so much pressure on myself that if I let people add to it I’d go to pieces.”


 Davis is the dot in the Trojan I-formation.

His hands are on his knees, feet spread, his body tense, ready to accelerate, listening to the signals, waiting for the sound that tells him to go. 23–blast. In front of him he can see Manfred Moore, an old teammate from high school, ready to block for him.

The defense he sees is spread. The ends are out wide. He knows what they’re thinking: contain Davis. Don’t let him turn the corner outside. And the middle linebacker. Every team he plays, it seems, has a great middle linebacker. They must put their best defensive athlete there. And always his assignment is stop Davis. Key on Davis.

The ball is snapped. Quarterback Pat Haden pivots. Davis has five yards to run before he can take it. But this gives him good speed when he reaches the hole. The linemen have fired out, trying to take the defensive linemen out whichever way they will go. Moore looks for the first man through and he hits him. Davis looks for the hole. The crowd roars, looking for him to GO. Shoulder pads slap. Enemy bodies dive at him. He moves, hips twisting as if swinging a hula hoop. An arm reaches out, but he breaks through it. Maybe this will be it. He’ll go this time. Then a helmet and a shoulder jar him from the side and he sees the grass coming up very fast. The middle linebacker has him.

Davis gets up, disappointed. The defense is esthetic. Nothing psyches them up more than to hold Davis to no gain. Haden sends Moore on the counters and Swann on reverses and they both seem to run at will.

The team is moving, but Davis is not. He rests and watches his substitute Allen Carter and then Rod McNeil run well. The team moves inside their opponents’ 20-yard line and he goes back in. The defense ends are in a little closer now, because USC has been pounding the middle.

The snap. He moves to his right and Hayden pitches him the ball. Three Cardinal uniforms are out in front and he sees the defensive end go down. He’s around the corner now and sees a clear path to the end zone, the one-and-only reward in football for the pounding he takes. The place for superstars. He can hear the roaring in the air as he drives his legs as fast as he can, knees pumping high, thigh pads bouncing. He can’t see him, but he knows the middle linebacker is coming, somewhere. It’s a foot race. Five, four, three, two, one. He’s in. Knee dance time. But, just as he starts to celebrate, the middle linebacker, with a late shot, knocks him flat.


It is late in the day. Davis strolls across campus, on his way to another practice. A student, showing two girls, high school seniors, the campus, stops him. The girls ask Davis for his autograph and he obliges.

“Are you girls going to come here?” He asks while signing their scratch papers.

“We haven’t decided,” answers the taller girl. “Do you like it here?”

Davis takes a moment before answering. “Yes,” he says slowly, “but sometimes it seems like I’ve been here all my life.”