In some ways, Mike Garrett was kind of like the Forrest Gump of football. After becoming the first Heisman Trophy winner in USC's storied history, the running back from East Los Angeles was on the receiving end of one of the lasting images of the Super Bowl. Later, he made a name for himself as his alma mater's athletic director, overseeing a dynasty before watching it all crumble before his eyes due to scandal. This is his story.
The Early Years
Mike Garrett was born on April 12,1944 in Los Angeles, California. Growing up in the Maravilla Housing Projects of East Los Angeles, he grew with a hunger in his gut. He wanted more in life and football was going to provide him with all that his heart could desire.
Although he was a good baseball player, Mike Garrett was drawn to the gridiron. He starred at defensive back and running back at Roosevelt High School and was named the LA City Player of the Year as a senior in 1961. After receiving a scholarship offer from nearby USC, Garrett nabbed it up. The Roosevelt Roughrider had become a Trojan.
After biding his time on the freshman team, Mike Garrett watched as the varsity went undefeated and won the national championship. Hungering for that kind of opportunity, he blossomed as one of USC's premier running backs as a sophomore, rushing for 833 yards and three touchdowns.
As a junior, he rushed for 948 yard and nine touchdowns while receiving 227 yard and another touchdown. The Trojans finished tied with Oregon State for the conference title that year, but ultimately fell short in their bid for another Rose Bowl appearance. It would be the closest that Mike Garrett would ever come to playing in the historic Bowl game.
That was all a preview for 1965. Although the program had won five national championships, the USC Trojans had never had a Heisman Trophy winner. As a senior in 1965, Mike Garrett was truly electric, rushing for 1,440 yards and 13 touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry while making nine catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. Although USC finished with a disappointing a disappointing 7-2-1 and had to watch the Rose Bowl on television, Mike Garrett's Heisman Trophy triumph made the season a little sweeter.
Although he was chosen in the second round (18th overall) by his hometown Rams, Mike Garrett yearned for adventure and went to Kansas City, undaunted by the long odds of being a 20th round pick in the nascent AFL. He didn't have to wait long to score the first touchdown of his professional career, scoring on a 42-yard scamper early in the fourth quarter against the Raiders in a 42-10 Week 2 victory.
He played well as a rookie, rushing for 801 yards and six touchdowns as the Chiefs won the AFL championship, stamping their ticket to the first Super Bowl. Since the game was held at the LA Memorial Coliseum, this was a homecoming for Mike Garrett. That homecoming quickly turned sour as the Chiefs proved to be no match for the Green Bay Packers and Garrett was held to just 17 yards on six carries.
Three years later, he found himself back in the Super bowl, this time in New Orleans under dreary conditions against the Minnesota Vikings. Despite being 13-point underdogs, the Chiefs dominated from the star, finding themselves up by nine when they faced third-and-goal at the Vikings' five-yard line. NFL Films was experimenting with microphones in those days and decided to mike up the Chiefs' head coach Hank Stram. Some time later, audiences would hear Stram mentioning a little used play on the sidelines: 65 Toss Power Trap.
There's nothing particularly unique about the play. Offenses all over football have run trap plays virtually since the dawn of time. But in the Super Bowl, Hank Stram's exuberance about the play's success was infectious. As Mike Garrett followed right guard Mo Moorman through the hole, the Kansas City sideline erupted in aplomb. With the way that their defense was playing agains the less-than innovative Vikings, the Chiefs knew that they would win handily. They were not wrong, winning 23-7.
At the conclusion of the 1973 season, Mike Garrett had had enough as a player. Having rushed for more than 5,400 yards, scoring 48 total touchdowns, earning two trips to the AFL All Star Game and winning the Super Bowl, Mike Garrett decided to move on to his life's work.
After he retired as a Charger in 1973, Mike Garrett embarked on an extensive career, serving as the director of business development for the Great Western Forum, working in the San Diego District Attorney's office for a spell and working as s color commentator for USC Football.
But despite the numerous job descriptions, Mike Garrett wanted more and as luck would have it, USC was looking for a new athletic director. Things were not so smooth for the former Heisman Trophy winner when he stepped into his new office in 1993. In those days, USC football was a lost entity that was desperately trying to find its way.
Garrett caught the media's ire when he hired Pete Carroll in 2001. All that anyone knew about him was that he had twice failed as a head coach in the NFL. But his greatest flaw may have been that he had yet to find his voice. After a year long hiatus in 2000 and a significant amount of soul searching, Pete Carroll turned around the program at USC in a hurry.
Nine years later, Carroll both proved Mike Garrett to be correct and wrong. With three Heisman Trophy winners (one was later revoked), two national championships in hand (one was later revoked) and multiple conference titles and Rose Bowls, Pete Carroll had built the Trojans into a dynasty. But by 2010, USC was under the NCAA's intense scrutiny for a plethora of reasons while Pete Carroll hightailed it to the NFL with Mike Garrett left to pick up the pieces.
He didn't have much time to do so as he was fired that August. Since then, Mike Garrett has served as the athletic director for Langston University and as a board member of the Lott IMPACT Trophy, one of many annual awards given to the top college football players.