Introducing the USC Walk of Fame’s class

This last weekend, Lakers’ superstar and five-time world champion guard Kobe Bryant became the first athlete to have his legacy cemented alongside the greatest performers in the history of American entertainment at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

Bryant’s latest honor, coupled with the noticeable karmic effect the event had on his MVP performance at the All-Star Game, got me thinking:

USC’s new $70 million athletic center is still more than 18 months away from being unveiled, but what better way to pay homage to the tradition-laden past than to create a Trojan Walk of Fame at the building’s front entrance?

Normally, the easiest way to peg a legend would be to simply count the number of shiny trophies an athlete has stocked up on his museum-esque mantels. But the rules could use a little revision.

So in making it onto my list of legends, the members of this inaugural class personify not only excellence on the field, but also illustrate some semblance of being a decent human being off of it.

Louis Zamperini (Track and Field)

The 94-year-old never won a National Championship during his time in cardinal and gold and finished just eighth in the 5,000-meter race at the 1936 Olympics, but no one exemplifies the Trojan spirit better.

From collegiate record-holder in the mile to a B-24 bombardier in WWII, prisoner of war in Osuna and eventual motivational speaker who preached forgiveness and tolerance, Zamperini is a testament to the power of unyielding faith and love.

Read about him and you are inspired. Listen to him speak and you instantly feel chills. Meet him in person and you can’t help but be moved to tears.

His mind, his wit and his unflappable appreciation for life make him the ideal first candidate to cement his place in Trojan history.

Sam “Bam” Cunningham (Football)

When looking at the college landscape today, potentially no one had a greater impact than Sam “Bam” Cunningham.

Cunningham never had the power legs of O.J. Simpson, the cutback moves of Charles White or Marcus Allen’s grace down the sidelines.

But on Sept. 12, 1970, during a time when the nation’s progress was marred by racial inequality in the South, the black fullback did all of the talking with his feet.

Playing against Bear Bryant’s all-white Crimson Tide football team, Cunningham, in front of a hostile crowd at Denny Stadium, single-handedly led USC to a 42-21 victory with 135 yards and two touchdowns.

He would never win a Heisman or shatter any rushing records, but Cunningham’s performance reinforced the transformative power sports can have on social change, as Bryant and the other racially divided SEC schools quickly began integrating their programs.

Rod Dedeaux (Baseball)

No program has had a bigger impact on creating a sense of athletic tradition on campus during the last 130 years than USC baseball.

On the surface, a man who only spent one game in the major leagues as a shortstop for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1935 doesn’t seem like an appropriate candidate to fill out my Trojan Trifecta. But as a manager for USC from 1942-1986, Rod Dedeaux was essentially the Joe Paterno of collegiate baseball.

In 44 years, it is easy to assume that at some point a coach will fall into some luck and win a championship or two, but in four decades Dedeaux didn’t just win — he transformed USC into a baseball dynasty.

Twelve national championships, an NCAA-record 1,332 career wins, a 2006 induction into the College Baseball Hall of Fame and Collegiate Baseball’s Coach of the Century honors speak for themselves, but I plan to say my piece on behalf of Dedeaux’s legacy.

The naming rights to the baseball field simply don’t do justice to one of the game’s and the school’s greatest ambassadors.

The beloved “Houdini of Bovard” passed away in 2006, but his wife Helen and their many grandchildren should be able to celebrate his life’s work with a fitting final spot in my inaugural class of famous feet.

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