He stood there quietly, just outside the Los Angeles Coliseum, where the University of Southern California plays its home games, a tremendously gifted athlete, his right hand the exact contour of a football. Believe that little gem and the next thing you know people will be telling you that Marcus Allen doesn't need blockers.
Allen is a 6 ft. 2 in. runner who rushed for 1,563 yards and 14 touchdowns last year, led the Trojans in pass receptions (30), and threw two completions himself in what must have been some kind of afterthought. This season he is even better, a leading candidate for the Heisman Trophy and a certain No. 1 pick for some National Football League franchise, whose owners will be happy to make him an instant millionaire.
The USC offense, under head coach John Robinson, has never been what you might call an ''equal opportunity employer.'' Whenever Robinson gets a tailback the quality of Allen, he likes to give him the football 40 times a game and let him see what he can do with it. The result is that Marcus has been averaging better than 200 yards per game, has already broken Tony Dorsett's NCAA single-season rushing record, and is just 32 yards shy of becoming the first major college player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season. On Saturday he gained 243 yards to lead the Trojans, who are second-ranked in the UPI poll, over California 21-3.
''Over the years Southern Cal has had some great backs (Mike Garrett, O. J. Simpson, Anthony Davis, and Charles White), but no one has ever run at Allen's level,'' Robinson explained. ''I mean he performs against the great college teams just as well as he does against the good ones, and he's got more intangible gifts than any runner I've ever been around. He has to win the Heisman Trophy. In fact, right now there isn't anyone in college who is even close to him.'' Of course, many folks figure Georgia's Herschel Walker deserves consideration even if his yardage figures aren't so spectacular as Allen's.
Two weeks ago, against previously unbeaten Washington State, Marcus gained 289 yards on 44 carries in a 41-17 USC win. There isn't much deception involved when you give one man the ball that many times, so the Cougars knew what to expect. When reporters suggested to Washington State coach Jim Walden that maybe Allen's huge offensive line had a lot to do with his success, Walden replied:
''Stars make offensive lines, offensive lines don't make stars. When Marcus cuts around a would-be tackler to keep a drive going, you can't give his offensive line credit for that. What you're seeing is the kind of instinctive talent that can't be taught. Of course the Trojans have a great offensive line, but Allen would excel behind almost any line.''
If all this praise, publicity, and national TV exposure has gotten to Marcus in any way, he hasn't shown it. Like Simpson when he played at Southern Cal, Allen is forever giving credit to his offensive line. And the close personal relationship he seems to have with Robinson does not appear to have caused any morale problems.
What makes Allen so tough to contain is the way he combines speed, power, and balance. A partial hit won't take him down. He has to be tackled low and hard to knock him off his feet, and because he cuts so well he often doesn't present that much of a target.
Even though this is seldom mentioned, the pros are also interested in Allen because of his ability to take punishment, plus the fact that he never shrinks from pass-blocking. There were a lot of times, when Charles White was the USC tailback and Allen the fullback, when Marcus threw the key block that allowed White to make the big gainer.
But where White was an escape artist who seemed to sense whenever a tackler was coming up behind him, Allen is more of a punishing runner. He won't give the opposition as many moves as White, but when he does cut it is almost always a misdirected explosion of power that leaves defensive players with empty hands.
There's no sense in trying to compare Allen's style with any particular running back, college or pro, because what he does is uniquely his own. Dorsett, the man whose season record of 1,948 yards was broken Saturday by Marcus, is a much flashier runner. Tony, now in his fifth season with the Dallas Cowboys, has also proved to be more durable than his size suggests.
But Allen, as has been mentioned so many times in NFL scouting reports, has speed and power and durability. The pros, of course, can't wait to get him.