In the aftermath of the accepted applications of UCLA and USC to join the Big Ten, there has been not only much panic but much nostalgia among the Pac-12 faithful.
A Seattle Times article written by Larry Stone was titled “The Pac-12 will never be the same again, and that’s sad.” The photograph at the top of the story was of USC quarterback Todd Marinovich lying on the Husky Stadium turf surrounded by three Washington Huskies in a 1990 game. In a postgame interview Marinovich famously said “All I saw was purple.”
It’s a proud memory for Husky Nation. It’s been highlighted on the video screen at Husky games and there’s a none-too-short video about it posted by UW Video on YouTube.
I question its importance on two fronts. One, it wasn’t USC’s greatest era. And two, it was the beginning of the end of Marinovich at USC. He was later suspended for a game for missing classes and was arrested on a drug charge one month after the season.
On the first issue, you could say a win over USC is always a big thing for a then Pac-10 team. The Trojans were coming off three straight conference titles, only one of which was led by Marinovich, who was a redshirt freshman in 1989. The Trojans were good but not great. They had a combined seven losses in those years. Compare that to a decade earlier when the team went 12-0 in 1972, and were a combined 23-1-1 in 1978 and ’79.
Change of Fortune
The 1990 loss to Washington came in the early weeks of the season, and was the first of four losses for USC that year. That was the Huskies’ first win over the Trojans since 1985. But Washington had gone 6-4 against USC from 1975 through ’85, a mostly better era of USC football.
That was the beginning of something good for the Huskies. With a defense led by D-lineman Steve Emtman, the Pac-10 defensive Player of the Year for 1990 and ’91, Washington went on to a 10-2 record in ’90 and an unbeaten season in ’91.
Back to Marinovich. He was groomed to a big-time quarterback by his father, Marv, a former Oakland Raiders O-lineman who also played for the Trojans. Marv assembled a team of experts to tutor Todd on every facet of the game. By the time he got to USC after winning national high-school player of the year, Marinovich was commonly referred to as Robo-QB.
This undoubtedly didn’t sit well in Seattle, where Husky fans who also supported the Seahawks had to contend with John Elway, a pro-ready QB is there ever was one when he was at Stanford. Elway went on to a career with the Denver Broncos, who were in the same division as the Seahawks prior to 2002 realignment.
Marinovich left USC for the NFL in 1991 and was a first-round draft choice of the Los Angeles Raiders. He played only two season in the NFL. Marinovich went through a series of drug issues and legal troubles in the aftermath. His life drew the interest of ESPN’s 30 for 30 series, which released The Marinovich Project.
Even as a Husky fan I found it unseemly to celebrate a win that also symbolizes the demise a college player. But perhaps I’m the only one. Stone interviewed Marinovich in a 2020 Times article called “All I Saw Was Purple.”
In it Marinovich revealed he looks back on that day with humor: “Of course I screen-shotted it and I’ve got it in my phone still. (That game) just doesn’t come up. But it’s a healthy reminder and an ego check, that whole experience. It’s humbling.”