LONG BEACH >> Dick Hammer decided he would learn to ride a unicycle. The next day, he was riding around, no problem, with his niece Nancy perched on his shoulders.
Sam Darnold, although he lived in Capistrano Beach, had never played beach volleyball before. One day he and his sister Franki entered a tournament, against teams that had competed regionally. The Darnolds nearly won.
Dick Hammer was swimming in the USC pool one day. The varsity coach saw him churn and immediately asked him to join the team.
Sam Darnold was told he had to lose 10 pounds to play youth football. “I’m not going to ask my 11-year-old to do that,” his mother Chris said. Sam found another league. Besides, he had always been comfortable playing against his elders.
He still is.
Dick Hammer’s grandson is a 19-year-old quarterback who lost his first start, at Utah, and won his next eight.
On Monday, Darnold and USC play Penn State in the Rose Bowl.
As a redshirt freshman he has a blinding future, with talk of Heisman Trophies and NFL first-round drafts already circling. Who knows what awaits him?
But Chris Darnold, her husband Mike and her mother Betty are pretty sure that Sam is hermetically sealed against self-celebration.
For one thing, Dick Hammer’s example came right out of Gil Thorp comic strips. For another, he was far less impressed with his superpowers than everyone else was.
“He had too much talent for one person,” said Betty, his widow, as she sat in the den that Dick…
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