Todd Marinovich can still see it.
After all, the photo is saved in his phone.
Some years ago — he can’t remember how many — the infamous USC quarterback was aimlessly perusing the internet, when he came across a quote. It was printed in gold type on purple shirts, his words — or at least, some of them — saved for posterity. They were originally spoken on Sept. 22, 1990, in the wake of what he now calls “an ass-kicking like none other.”
“I saw purple,” Marinovich told reporters after that game, a 31-0 Washington shutout inside a sold-out and sweltering Husky Stadium. “That’s all I saw. No numbers, no faces, just purple.”
Of course, like a bad game of “Telephone,” the quote has since been ever-so-slightly condensed. Now, it fits more easily on the front of a shirt. And it also serves as the game’s secondary name:
“All I saw was purple.”
“I definitely got a kick out of seeing it just randomly,” Marinovich, 51, said with a laugh last week. “I went, ‘Oh my God.’ That’s all-time, right there. 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.
“If I could see anything, that’s what I saw. It was a blur.”
And that’s just the beginning. It was also a beatdown of epic proportions, as evidenced by the stats: 163 total yards for USC, 28 rushing yards, a measly seven first downs. It was a masterpiece painted by Husky running back Greg Lewis, who tallied 225 total yards and a touchdown en route to the 1990 Doak Walker Award. It was the fifth-largest crowd at the time (72,617) in Husky Stadium history. It was a record-setting 92 degrees on a sweltering September Saturday in Seattle. It was the official celebration of the Huskies’ football centennial. It was Don James’ 150th career win.
“It was the arrival,” as former UW wideout Mario Bailey put it, “and I never heard it louder than that.”
It was also 30 years ago, Tuesday.
Three decades later, Marinovich is an artist in Laguna Beach, Calif. He has survived an extended battle with substance abuse and says that “I’m really living the dream.”
But he can still see the purple. Feel it, too.
“It’s one of the worst feelings for a quarterback, because when you’re in that place where you try to be, everything seems to slow down a little bit. But this was quite the opposite,” Marinovich said in a phone interview last Saturday. “They (UW’s defense) were moving at a speed where it was like stepping onto the freeway.
“I would have raised the white flag at half, if that was possible. Because I knew it wasn’t like we were going to come up with some big halftime speech or motivation. It was over. It was done.”
Of course, Marinovich’s day ended before the game did. The Heisman Trophy favorite was mercifully pulled at the end of the third quarter, after completing 7 of 16 passes for 80 yards with three sacks and a pair of interceptions. It was the fewest yards, completions and attempts of his USC career — and, he says now, the worst loss of his life.
“When a crowd can really set the tone like that and then the defense makes plays, it’s like a volcano,” Marinovich said. “It’s like, (crashing sound). You can feel it. I couldn’t do anything.
“Looking back, the most shocking thing of all was when we were flying back to LA, I was going through that (UW) roster, and more than half of that defense was from southern California. I was like, ‘We’re getting beat by our own f***ing guys!’”
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Dick Baird can see it, too.
On Sept. 22, 1990, UW’s recruiting coordinator had a heck of a view — perched next to defensive coordinator Jim Lambright in the Husky Stadium press box. He watched as Lambright — who passed away on March 29 at age 77 — called perhaps the most perfect game of his prolific UW career, a stunning symphony of disguised blitzes and coordinated chaos.
In UW’s previous two games, underwhelming wins over San Jose State and Purdue, Lambright had purposefully withheld much of his defensive playbook.
“Lambo and Don laid a trap, is what they did,” Baird told The Times this week.
And on a sizzling Saturday in September, the No. 5 Trojans took the bait.
“I was just feeding Lambo stats,” Baird said. “I would look at their tendencies and what they were doing. ‘OK, they’re doing this on first down.’ ‘They’re doing this out of this set.’ All I did was feed him information and sit back and watch the master work.”
That, and pray that the press box wouldn’t fold under the weight of 72,000 frenzied fans.
“I remember this very distinctly: the press box was literally rocking,” Baird said. “That is way up there. We were really feeling the press box going up and down. We were looking at each other and saying, ‘I hope this box holds up.’”
Chico Fraley and Dave Hoffmann can still hear it, and feel it. It was so loud inside Husky Stadium, in fact, that UW’s linebackers had to use hand signals to communicate the calls.
“You couldn’t hear the person standing next to you,” Fraley said. “And it was great. It was almost like a heartbeat, because the crowd was so loud that you could feel the noise.”
Added Hoffmann: “You could be standing three feet from a guy, screaming, and all he was going to see was your lips flapping.”
But the Huskies made sure that Marinovich heard them. They relentlessly ridiculed the “Robo QB” — whose father, Marv, had famously told Sports Illustrated that Todd “has never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo or a Ding Dong.”
“I think I sacked him or we all hit him or something and I was like, ‘Hey, you want a cheeseburger? I know you want a cheeseburger,’” former UW defensive lineman Tyrone Rodgers recalled with a laugh. “We talked to him the whole time, every play.”
Rodgers can still hear the USC fight song, too. Every time the Huskies encountered the Trojans, James insisted on blaring it throughout practices in the week before the game. Which is ironic, because once the game rolled around “the crowd was just relentless, drowning our band out, which is hard to do,” Marinovich said.
Fraley can still see Lambright’s giddy grin. At halftime, with a 24-0 lead, the grizzled defensive coordinator entered the locker room “and his face was so beaming. He had the biggest grin on his face.”
Typically, the linebackers would meet individually to discuss specific adjustments before rejoining the rest of the team. But “we weren’t even talking about the game plan for the second half,” Fraley said. “We were just talking about how much fun we were having, and Lambright was just eating it up.
“At the end he was like, ‘What (plays) do you guys like?’ We were like, ‘Everything. Just call it.’”
For decades before he died, Lambright had The Seattle Times sports section with those words — “I saw purple. That’s all I saw” — hung in his home office.
Fraley can hear their voices. On the Thursday before the game, James invited roughly 20 former players to talk to his team about the significance of toppling USC. He can still see the face of running back great Joe Steele, who led the Huskies to a Rose Bowl win in 1978.
“He actually cried when he was talking to us,” Fraley said. “It was just emotion. It was so raw, that build-up.”
The build-up preceded the breakthrough. Starting with USC, Washington won 29 of 34 games in the next three seasons — including back-to-back Rose Bowl titles and a national championship in 1991.
“It just feels like yesterday,” Hoffmann said. “I can still look down at my arms. It was a real hot day, and I can still remember the turf burns. You didn’t even care how bad everything stung in the shower after the game. It was just so good.
“It was fun, too, because the coaches let us keep the shutout. There was a lot of other times where we would get pulled out in the third quarter or something and somebody would put a few points up. I think for us, it was important to show the league that it was time for the Dawgs to do their thing for a number of years.
“That was the first stroke of the guitar in the concert, man. It was great.”
For Marinovich, it was more like the end of the encore. The 6-foot-4 lefty was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Raiders in 1991, but played in just eight games in an abbreviated NFL career. He did appear in relief in a 19-0 win in Seattle in Oct. 1992, however.
And this time around, he knew just what to expect.
“It carries over to the Seahawks, really,” he said. “Putting those fans inside in the old (Kingdome), that was just deafening. But I knew it was coming. I knew it was coming, because I got a taste of it (at UW).”
Thirty years later, he can still taste it, and see it, and feel it. He can laugh at the photo saved in his phone. It’s not that it’s a happy memory, per se. But Marinovich is still here to see it three decades later — and that, he says, is something to celebrate.
“It’s shocking (that it’s been 30 years),” he said. “I’ve been getting these little shocks lately in the same arena as that one. But that’s just staggering, crazy.
“But the alternative is not being around for it, so I’m kind of stoked that I am.”