John Wayne played football at USC until a broken collarbone ended his athletics career. It wound up being all for the best, of course, as he would go on to become one of the toughest guys in the history of cinema. However, he apparently never forgot his Trojan roots and showed up for a 1966 game against the Texas Longhorns.
Above is a letter he personally sent to then-coach John McKay thanking him for the game ball the team awarded him after the win. Can you imagine a movie star writing a thank you letter like that today?
Here’s an amazing pregame story as told by Nick Pappas, former director of Trojans’ Athletic Support Groups, in Ken Rappoport’s book The Trojans: A Story of Southern California Football:
The kids are all assembled in the locker room at 10 in the morning, and in walks Wayne. Damn, he was fantastic. He walks in with this white 20,000-gallon cowboy hat and black suit – he looked just beautiful. The kids look up, and their eyeballs pop. Here’s the REAL John Wayne. And Wayne walks over to the coach and gives him a big hello and squeezes him – you’d think he and McKay were long lost buddies. They had never met before.
It was beautiful. A former player and all, Wayne gives one of the greatest fight talks you’ve ever heard – and the kids got all fired up. We win the ballgame 10-6, and back in the locker room after the game, McKay says, ‘Hey, guys, how about it? Let’s give the game ball to John Wayne.
For a moment Wayne stands there – nonplussed. It was probably the first time in his life that he couldn’t think of anything to say. Then he looks at the ball for a minute and pumps it like a quarterback. Then he puts the ball under his arm, and the kids break into a cheer, ‘Hooray, Hooray.’ All the guys joined in. He’s still a Trojan.
[H/T: College Football Reddit]