Wild Bunch


By Paul Morantz

       When it comes to movies, USC’s head football coach, John McKay, is a real western fan. “Just give me a good old cowboy movie at anytime,” he once said, jokingly, “where they go around shooting Indians and everyone has a good time.”

       Then, as if in response, came “The Wild Bunch” from Warner Bros.

       The movie featured a group of guys who really enjoyed themselves. They went around shooting everybody. And for symbolism there was the added attraction of a bunch of little kids who when bored would feed live scorpions to red ants.

       And as fate would have it, the movie turned out to be the thing for a group of young men who just happened to have one unique thing in common – they play football on Mackay’s defensive line.

       “I dug the flick” said Al Cowlings.

       “I saw it five times,” said Charlie Weaver.

       Cowlings liked all of the characters in the movie. Weaver favored the Mexican, the one who shot his girlfriend because she kissed the enemy general who had plundered his village.

       With such popularity and due to the nature of the viewers’ vocation, the next step was an obvious one. The USC defensive line, which McKay has called potentially his best at Troy, became the “Wild Bunch.” It consists of ends Weaver and Jimmy Gunn, tackles Cowlings and Tody Smith, middle guard Bubba Scott and alternates Tony Terry and Gary McArthur.

       The nickname has its advantages. “It increases our association with ourselves,” said Scott. “It gives us pride,” said McArthur. And Smith, perhaps thinking a bit of the success of Orange Juice Simpson, added, “It may make us some money.”

       But the name has also added pressure. With a name like the “Wild Bunch” a lot is expected. For one thing, the opponent is expected never to score. People are surprised if an opposing back ever makes more than a yard and if a quarterback isn’t dunked before he gets his pass off, even if he does have a quick release like Stanford’s Jim Plunkett.

       If Georgia Tech threatens today, just listen for the USC cheering section to cry out repeatedly, “Wild Bunch.”

       Cowlings, however, is practical about the pressure. “We know we can win easily despite the publicity,” he said. “We play to win not just to have the defensive line look good.”

       To win, of course, a defense must have wildness, although McKay subs the terms “desire” and “enthusiasm.”

       “It’s easy to direct an offense and tell them what to do, but that’s not enough for a defense,” he said. “They have to really want to stop the opposition.”

       To instill this spirit, McKay has defensive line coach Marv Goux, of former film villain himself, who may just about be the wildest of the bunch. “The objective of defense,” he said, “is to seek out the ball carrier and separate him from the ball.” Warner Bros. should consider such scenes for its next western.

       USC plays what is called a slant and loop defense. This means the players either loop parallel to the offensive line or slant into the man opposite them. The players try to react to the movements of the offensive players.

       Of the players, Gunn is the likely nomination for leader of the bunch, since he has started defensive end Troy for three years. He is also USC’s No. 1 candidate for All -American honors. His last name, of course, makes him a natural for the role.

       If Jimmy failed to ever again make a tackle for Troy, he would still be held in esteem by Trojan fans due to his heroics as a sophomore in the 1967 UCLA game. There he came off the bench late in the fourth quarter despite injury to chase Gary Beban down repeatedly for losses, preserving a 21 – 20 win and a national championship.

       In comparing this year’s defensive line with that of the 1967 team, Gunn says, “The guys then had played more and were more experienced. We lack that experience but I think we are potentially better.”

       At the other end, USC has its least experienced player – Charlie Weaver. He is a transfer from Arizona Western JC, where for two years he played fullback, halfback, offensive and defensive end. He was recruited strictly as a defense end, although he had impressive stats for a ball-carrier; 210 pounds, 4.6 40–yard dash and 5–yard average per carry.

       “I never thought about coming to any school but USC,” he said. “I like defensive end, and it doesn’t matter that I won’t carry the ball anymore. I’m just trying to adjust to college ball. In JC there weren’t as many keys to learn and the caliber of the opposition wasn’t as tough. As a newcomer I feel a little pressure, for I have to learn and adjust myself into the team’s pattern.”

       Cowlings admits that he was a wild kid but considers himself now as “gentle as a lamb.” But he adds, “I’m different on the playing field.” As a youngster, Al was famous for his junior high protection agency (pay a quarter or be bullied) and for giving his buddy Simpson a bloody nose. He wasn’t famous, however, for feeding red ants.

       Cowlings regards this year’s line as 100 per cent improved over last season. “We all know what each player can do,” he said. “And I think under the coaching of McKay and Goux we will continue to get better as each game comes along.”

       Bubba Smith of the Baltimore Colts once said of his brother, Tody, “The only difference between me and Tody is that when I get them down I let them up.”

       Tody, however, seems to have mellowed. “I didn’t like the ‘Wild Bunch’ that much,” he said. “All that killing was a waste.”

       Smith, a junior, originally followed his brother to Michigan State but left because he “was unhappy at the school.” He transferred to USC a year ago and sat out last season.

       “I had a cousin, Bill Jackson, who ran track at U.S.C. in 1960,” he said. “When I quit MSU, he got in touch with me and I got in touch with Coach Willie Brown. I’m much happier now. I like the winning.”

       Scott was a standout tackle at Troy in 1967 as a sophomore but has been set back since then by a knee injury occurring late that year. “I’m improving, he said. “But I don’t feel I reached my form of two years ago.”

       Bubba is the milder member of the bunch and has the reputation of being the type of guy everyone gets along with. That means he probably wouldn’t get a role in any new Clint Eastwood movies.

McArthur, a senior who played two years at Orange Coast, is a jack-of-all trades man on the line. He subs at middle guard and at both tackle spots. He is perhaps USC’s most improved player.

“There’s no difference between the two tackle spots,” he said. “At middle guard you have to take on more double teams and you have to stay lower and watch both sides of the line instead of just one. I think it takes a better athlete to play middle guard.”

Tony Terry missed USC’s first three games due to a pulled hamstring, but he is now going at 100 per cent and believes he’s ready to “do my part for the Wild Bunch.”

Terry, the jokester of the group, describes the USC line as “big, quick, mean and wild.”

“I think that because of our size and quickness nobody is going to run on us and I think we’ll give everyone a hell of a rush. As the season progresses, you will see the real Wild Bunch stand up.”

And he wasn’t referring to William Holden, Ernest Borgnine and Co.