Today's Tidbit... John Wayne's Football Career At USC
I've written a few times recently about the mid-1920s USC teams. Two days ago, I wrote about the 1926 team using its heads and losing and gave them a passing mention in an article about the 1925 Washington State team. In the latter article, I mentioned that Marion Morrison, known by his stage name, John Wayne, was on some of those teams. Still, I had never looked into whether Morrison/Wayne played a bit part or had a leading role on those USC teams, so I thought I'd mosey into the archives to find out about Duke's football career.
The search began with the 1925 Glendale High School (CA) yearbook. Marion Morrison shows up as the senior class president and a starting but undistinguished guard on the football team as a 170-pound senior.
Despite what appears to have been an average athletic career at Glendale High, the story goes that Morrison earned a football scholarship to USC. He played freshman football, starting at tackle, though he missed at least one game due to an ankle injury.
For his sophomore season, the Trojans needed to fill a tackle spot left empty due to graduation, and Morrison earned mention as a contender for the spot in a spring practice note:
(Head Coach Howard) Jones has been watching the work of several freshmen closely. Schaub and Morrison are promising linemen,...
'Don Williams Best Quarterback Prospect Since Days Of Aubrey Devine, Says Jones, Los Angeles Times, May 9, 1926.
Coming into fall camp, Morrison, who by then was a 200-pounder, remained a competitor for the starting spot. Others earned the spot, but Morrison made the USC traveling squad, which was only about two dozen players then, and substituted in wearing #24 when USC was assured of victories over Santa Clara and Washington State.
Later in the season, reporters described him as a potential starter for a November game against Oregon State. However, another player got the not, though Morrison subbed in at right tackle at some point in the game.
He did not play in the season-ending Notre Dame game that started the Trojan-Irish series. However, he was mentioned a few days later as a competitor for one of the four interior line spots that would open in 1927 due to graduations.
Morrison is mentioned during spring practice as competing for a spot and gets an early mention or two in fall camp, but his star was fading for some reason.
By the time USC was set to scrimmage the nearby San Pedro Sailors, Morrison was not among the top three tackle prospects. In fact, he does not appear to be mentioned as a player on the USC squad ever again. The clip shown above is the last evidence he was part of the Trojan program.
A story later emerged that he injured his shoulder while surfing, though that appears to have been the work of a Hollywood publicist. Instead, his departure from the team went unremarked upon at the time, so it seems Morrison lost interest or wasn't good enough to crack the starting lineup at USC. He soon dropped out of USC, bummed around for a bit, and began working at the studios as an extra and prop hand before being given parts that launched his career in front of the camera.
So, while Marion Morrison, aka John Wayne, was not a football star, he was no pilgrim either. The record shows he was talented enough to play for USC in multiple varsity football games as a sophomore but then went professional in something other than football.
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