Ah, yes, The Todd. For you youngsters that only know him as the South Carolina football play-by-play man, don’t judge him on that. He was once a pretty good football player.
(This is all from memory, so feel free to correct me on details, but…)
Ellis came to USC out of Page High School in Greensboro, NC, as the #1 high school quarterback prospect in the country. Legend has it that on his recruiting trip to USC, Joe Morrison and some other coaches took Ellis to the USC press box and played a mock radio broadcast of him orchestrating a final touchdown drive as the Gamecocks beat #1 ranked Nebraska. As Bob Fulton called the game-winning touchdown pass, Ellis, in his excitement, stood up a high-fived everyone in the room. He committed on the spot.
He had a rough first year as a starter, mainly because of a brutal schedule. The 1986 Gamecocks finished 3-6-2. But the next year, my freshman year at USC, they went 8-4, riding a rabid Joe Lee Dunn defense and offensive weapons Ellis, Harold Green, and Sterling Sharpe. I’ve always contended that was the best Gamecock team ever, with narrow losses at Georgia, Nebraska and Miami (FL), before a blowout loss to LSU in the Gator Bowl. The crown jewel of the season was a 20-7 spanking of a nationally ranked Clemson team on ESPN.
In 1988 Ellis led USC to a blistering 6-0 start, only to fall flat on their faces against what appeared to be a vastly inferior Georgia Tech squad 34-0. A humiliating 59-0 loss to Florida State on ESPN was followed by losses to Clemson and then Indiana in the Liberty Bowl.
Joe Morrison passed away that winter of a heart attack, and Sparky Woods was hired.
Ellis never seemed that comfortable outside the run and shoot offense, but still played relatively well in 1989. In the season’s eighth game, an NC State defender crashed into Ellis’ knee, and that was the end of his South Carolina career.
Ellis never quite lived up to expectations, mainly due to his penchant for throwing interceptions. But nonetheless, he held most Carolina passing records until Steve Taneyhill came along, and still holds quite a few.
Personally, my memories of Ellis as a football player are good ones. In those days under Morrison we were the renegades, not afraid to take on anyone, and Todd was our leader. No, we didn’t play by the rules, and it wound up hurting our program. But with 20+ years gone by, I can say in retrospect, we sure had some fun.
Now, about that broadcasting thing…