The CR Interview

Johnny Musso

The two-time All-America running back talks about Alabama’s pivotal switch to the wishbone, how he almost missed the 1971 Auburn game, and how he became known as the Italian Stallion
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Photo courtesy of University of Alabama.
As a junior in 1970, Musso established a new Alabama record by rushing for 1,137 yards.

No Alabama back ever ran harder or played with more pride than Johnny Musso. A native of Birmingham, Musso was a three-year starter for Paul “Bear“ Bryant’s Crimson Tide, earning All-America honors in both 1970 and ’71, while becoming the first—and second—1,000-yard rusher in school history. He was also a two-time Academic All-American. In his Alabama career, Musso rushed for 2,741 yards and scored 38 touchdowns, including a memorable 221-yard performance against Auburn in 1970. Beyond the stats, Musso was a leader on the field who co-captained the 1971 Crimson Tide, which rebounded from consecutive five-loss seasons to launch the most successful decade in SEC history. When Bryant made the gutsy decision to “sink or swim“ with the wishbone, Musso proved to be his most potent weapon, setting the standard by which all wishbone backs would be judged. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting and was named national Player of the Year by the Miami Touchdown Club.

 

CR: Where did “Italian Stallion“ come from?

Musso: Well, do you remember the sports publicity director, Charley Thornton? He was a great man, a wonderful person. He was determined that I was gonna have a nickname, and he asked me if I had one. I told him no, and he said, “What do people call you?“ And I said, they call me Johnny. And he [says] well, we’ve got to get you a nickname. So it was in the summer practice my sophomore year. He had decided, since I was starting as a sophomore…Back then a sophomore starting at Alabama was not common, so he decided before the season I needed a nickname. He started telling me suggestions, and they were just awful.

CR: What were some of his suggestions?

Musso: Oh, the only one that I remember is: “Johnny Go-Go Musso!“ Some really bad stuff. Finally he quit asking me, so I figured it had just…he had forgotten about it. Then when we played Virginia Tech my first game as a sophomore, I am absolutely scared to death. Went into the…pre-game meal, and I walk in the door and several people start making horse noises at me. I’m thinking: What in the world? They’re laughing and making [horse] noises. I was very puzzled and then somebody threw me the newspaper and the headline was, “Alabama to unleash the Italian Stallion.“ So that’s the first time I had seen it.

 

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