Craig Fertig, whose name was synonymous with USC football over five decades as a quarterback, assistant coach and broadcaster, died Saturday of kidney failure at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach. He was 66.
Even after his official connection with the university ended several years ago, Fertig was a welcome presence, always ready with a story or joke told in the dry wit of his former coach, the legendary John McKay.
"Craig knew everybody, and everybody knew Craig," said Athletic Director Mike Garrett, who played alongside Fertig in the early 1960s. "He was one of the great storytellers."
Fertig was a sophomore playing behind Pete Beathard and Bill Nelson on the 1962 team, which went undefeated and won a national championship. He started only one season, in 1964, but threw one of the most memorable passes in school history.
That fall, undefeated Notre Dame arrived at the Coliseum with quarterback John Huarte, who had won the Heisman Trophy a few days earlier.
The Irish built a 17-0 lead, but USC scrambled back in the second half, closing the gap to four points, then driving to within 15 yards of the end zone in the final two minutes. On fourth down, Fertig completed a slant pass to Rod Sherman for the winning touchdown.
Years later, Fertig delighted in telling the story not because of his heroics, but because of what happened just after he released the ball and was leveled by Notre Dame defensive lineman Alan Page.
An official ordered the massive Page to get off Fertig. But the players' face masks had become interlocked.
"I can't," Fertig recalled the lineman saying. "We're stuck."
McKay thought highly enough of his quarterback to keep him around as an assistant. Fertig stayed until 1973.
He then moved through a series of coaching jobs, spending time in the World Football League, returning briefly to USC, then serving as head coach at Oregon State University from 1976 until 1979.
Former USC quarterback Paul McDonald recalled leading a USC team to Corvallis in 1979 for a game in which he completed eight of nine passes for two touchdowns before taking an early seat on the bench as USC cruised to a 42-5 victory.
Afterward, he and Fertig shook hands at midfield. "Oh," Fertig told him, "you missed one tonight."
By 1983, Fertig had landed back at USC as an assistant athletic director involved in fundraising. After serving in an administrative position at UC Irvine, he moved to the broadcast booth in 1992 and spent the next 11 years as analyst for Trojan football telecasts and as contributor to a weekly USC sports magazine show.
"Generally, former coaches are all Xs and O's," said McDonald, who followed Fertig into broadcasting and is now a radio analyst for USC football. "He used terms the average fan could understand. He was friendly."
In his final years, Fertig briefly returned to coaching at Estancia High School in Costa Mesa.
Fertig was born May 7, 1942, in Bell. He grew up in Huntington Park, where his father was police chief. He was an All-City quarterback at Huntington Park High.
In 1964 he married Nancy Hooper, whom he met at USC. They had two children, Marc and Jennifer. Jennifer died at age 31 in 2002 after battling the Epstein-Barr virus.
Fertig was the uncle of former USC and NFL quarterback Todd Marinovich.
In addition to his son Marc, Fertig's survivors include his mother, Virginia; sister, Trudi Fertig Marinovich; and companion, Margaret O'Donnell.
Plans were underway for a memorial service at USC and a scholarship in Fertig's name.