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Notre Dame-USC Football 2015: There's No Greater Intersectional Rivalry

Oct. 15, 2015

Game Week Central | Rivalry in Photos Photos

By John Heisler

The 2015 college football season qualifies as the 10th anniversary of what came to be known as the "Bush Push" at Notre Dame Stadium in 2005, when USC tailback Reggie Bush helped levitate quarterback Matt Leinart over the goal line from the one-yard line with three seconds left to preserve (temporarily) the number-one Trojan ranking.

There's an Irish version of the story that says replay should have shown the ball being fumbled out of bounds at the three on the previous play.

That's one of the latest thorns injected by the Trojans into the sides of the Irish, but Notre Dame has rained on USC's parade just as many times.

The Trojans have beaten Notre Dame more times (36, with Michigan State second at 28) than any other team has defeated the Irish--and Notre Dame owns the most victories over USC (45, with UCLA next at 31).

Some of the Trojan wins over the Irish have been particularly painful. Check out the list of fantastic-finish-style Notre Dame series losses--and you'll find the USC name involved eight times in games decided in the final five minutes ('31, '64, '78, '81, '82, '97, '05, '10), not including the '96 Trojan overtime win. In former USC coach John McKay's 16 games against Notre Dame, the outcome either determined or helped determine who was the national champion 10 times.

For a little more perspective, check in with a couple of guys who have more stories about the Notre Dame-USC rivalry than anyone else around.

Roger Valdiserri was the Notre Dame sports information director from 1966-87 (and remained through the early '90s as assistant and associate athletics director). He presided over publicity for 20 Irish football seasons that produced a combined 175-66-5 record, three national titles, 30 consensus All-Americans and a dozen bowl games.

Jim Perry played the same role at USC from 1974-83 (and previously covered USC football for three years in 1971-73 at the old Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and also later became an assistant athletics director). His resume? An 89-25-4 mark. Two national titles. Nineteen consensus All-Americans. Six straight bowl victories (four of them in Pasadena).

Consider some of the rivalry craziness the two publicists witnessed:

1966--Irish national title.

1967--Trojan national title.

1972--Trojan title.

1973--Irish title.

1974--Trojan title.

1977--Irish title.

1978--Trojan fans still revel in the 11th-hour Paul McDonald-led drive that led to Frank Jordan's game-winning field goal with two ticks on the clock. Irish fans are convinced Joe Montana should have been the hero and that McDonald actually fumbled on that late drive. Another Trojan title.

1979--Trojan Heisman winner (Charles White).

1981--Trojans prevail again, this time via a touchdown on a 26-yard Todd Spencer run with less than five minutes to go. Trojan Heisman winner (Marcus Allen).

1982: Trojan fans are certain Michael Harper scored the game-winning TD with 48 seconds left in the game. Irish fans are equally certain Harper never had the football when he crossed the goal line and that Kevin Griffith actually recovered the fumble for Notre Dame.

1987--Irish Heisman winner (Tim Brown).

It doesn't take long for the memories to flow for Valdiserri (the USC Trojan Club presented him with a Trojan jersey with the number 33 on it for the number of Notre Dame-USC games he worked):

* "One year (John) Papadakis for USC had a great game at linebacker (15 tackles in 1970). I was standing in the press box next to Jim Murray (the late Los Angeles Times columnist) and some other Los Angeles writers and I said, 'He's done everything but open a Greek restaurant.' So about five years ago, Emil Hofman (former Notre Dame dean of Freshman Year of Studies) tells me he was in San Bruno, California, and went to Papadakis' Greek restaurant and the newspaper clipping where I had said that was framed on the wall."

* "In 1967, O.J. Simpson ran for a couple of touchdowns for USC, and about 150 yards. I was chatting with Dan Jenkins from Sports Illustrated and I said, 'Now I know what O.J. stands for--oh, Jesus, there he goes again.'"

* "There were two opposing players that I went into the visiting locker room to meet. One was Ernie Davis from Syracuse when he played in South Bend. The other was O.J. out there. He was so great I just wanted to go in and meet him, and I can still picture him sitting by his locker."

* "In 1977, when we came out in the green jerseys, I've never seen such a reaction in Notre Dame Stadium. It's probably the most memorable a beginning of a home game I've ever been associated with here. The USC players looked around, like, 'What's going on?' I don't think it hit them right away."

Here's what Perry offered, some material from serving as the author for McKay's autobiography "McKay: A Coach's Story" (published in 1974):

* Some quotes from McKay late in his USC career: "When I grew up as a Catholic in West Virginia, I loved Notre Dame and its football team. The Fighting Irish were the first team in any sport I rooted for. I think they've always had that fascination for young Catholic kids, and today I still cheer for them--except when they play us. I've said it a hundred times, and I'll say it again. There's no greater thrill in football than playing in South Bend. I get keyed up and ready to play myself, but thank God that won't happen. I always hope my players are as keyed up as I am. I tell them that if you don't get up for Notre Dame you must be dead."

* After losing to Notre Dame 51-0 in 1966 (which clinched the national title for Notre Dame), McKay watched the film of that game at least once a week for a year--and sometimes every day. Several years later, he said, "It was the only game I've ever coached that I've replayed in my mind long after it was over. I still have that film and once in a while I'll watch it again."

* McKay always admired Ara Parseghian and thought he was an outstanding coach, but, because of the intensity of the rivalry, they were never close. A couple of years before McKay died (June 2001, at age 77), McKay told Perry he and Ara had become good friends and talked on the phone about once a week.

* In 1977, in his second year as head coach, John Robinson took his first team to South Bend. The team toured the campus on Friday and Robinson even bought some souvenirs in the bookstore. USC went out and lost to the Irish 49-19, Robinson's worst loss at USC. He never took the team to campus again, bussing directly to the stadium in 1979 and 1981 and winning both times.

Valdiserri and Perry--now they've got some stories.

Wonder who will add to their treasure trove of memories on Saturday night?

##########

The Notre Dame-USC football rivalry may well qualify as the greatest intersectional rivalry in the college game.

No teams are traveling cross-country to play each other on an annual basis other than the Irish and Trojans.

This has been going on virtually nonstop since 1926 (except 1943-45 during World War II)--with a tip of the hat to the wives of (Irish coach) Knute Rockne and (Trojan graduate manager, the equivalent of today's athletics director) Gwynn Wilson who decided way back when that this matchup would be a good idea.

Here's your handy A-to-Z guide on the Notre Dame-USC series:

A: Atlanta - That's the location of the College Football Hall of Fame, in which 45 Irish players have been inducted (more than from any other school), to 31 for USC.

B: Beuerlein, Steve - In his final college game, Beuerlein found himself on the bench after throwing an interception in 1986 as USC led 30-12. He earned a second chance and threw three late touchdowns passes, and the Irish won at the end (see below) in what proved to be Tim Brown's audition for the following season's Heisman Trophy race (Brown's late 56-yard punt return set up the winning points).

C: Carney, John - His 19-yard field goal with two seconds left (missed live by CBS's cameras due to a commercial break) netted a 38-37 Irish comeback win in 1986 in the season finale of Lou Holtz's first campaign in South Bend.

D: Denson - First-year Irish running back coach Autry Denson knows a little bit about the Trojans. Notre Dame's all-time rushing leader, Denson carried 109 times against USC in his career for 434 yards and three TDs (27 for 95 and a TD in 1995, 33 for 160 and a TD in 1996, 30 for 133 and a TD in 1997 and 19 for 46 in 1998). He also caught 10 passes for 47 yards against USC.

E: Emerald - That's what the shamrocks are made of for Notre Dame victories on the shillelagh that annually goes to the winner of the Notre Dame-USC game (when USC wins, a ruby Trojan head is added).

F: FBS (only) - Notre Dame and USC are two of only three schools (also UCLA) that have never played a football game against a Football Championship Subdivision opponent (formerly non-Division I-A).

G: Graduate Assistant Coach: Current Irish offensive line coach Harry Hiestand served in that capacity at USC in 1987.

H: Haden, Pat - USC's quarterback turned current director of athletics is a former NBC Sports analyst on Irish football games.

I: Ismail, Raghib (Rocket) - As a true freshman in 1988 at the Los Angeles Coliseum, Ismail hauled in a 55-yard pass from Tony Rice on Notre Dame's very first play from scrimmage against the unbeaten and second-ranked Trojans (Notre Dame won 27-10).

J: Jersey (as in green) - Notre Dame surprised everyone in 1977 by warming up at Notre Dame Stadium in its traditional blue, then re-emerging in green. The Irish won 49-19 on their way to the national title.

K: Kelly, Brian, and Kiffin, Lane - In 2010 Kelly and Kiffin both were rookie head coaches at Notre Dame and USC, respectively. That had not happened in the rivalry since 1941 (Frank Leahy at Notre Dame, Sam Barry at USC).

L: Landreth - Former Notre Dame volleyball coach Debbie Landreth Brown helped USC win a pair of volleyball national titles as a player in 1976-77. Meanwhile current Notre Dame volleyball coach Jim McLaughlin won an NCAA crown as the USC men's volleyball coach in 1989-90 (he spent seven years as head coach of the Trojans).

M: Montana, Joe - The former Notre Dame quarterback played maybe his greatest game in the last regular-season contest of his career in 1978 in the Los Angeles Coliseum. Unfortunately, most Irish fans don't talk about it because the Trojans kicked a field goal with four seconds left to win 27-25. Before that, Montana threw for 358 yards (far and away his collegiate career high, as were his 20 completions) and two touchdowns and helped his Irish come from behind (Notre Dame trailed 24-6) with three fourth-period touchdowns-one of them a TD pass with 45 second left in the game. It may have been Montana's greatest comeback.

N: "Notre Dame vs. USC: The Rivalry" - The most recent book on the Irish-Trojan wars, published in 2012, authored by Don Lechman, published by The History Press.

O: Overtime - It only happened once (in 1996) and the Trojans won it 27-20 on a pass from Brad Otton to Rodney Sermons. That marked USC's first series win since 1982.

P: Postseason Bowls - USC has played 51 (won 34). Notre Dame has played 34 (won 17).

Q: Quinn, Brady - In four starts against USC (2003-06) he completed a combined 71 passes in 143 attempts for 811 yards and six touchdowns. The Irish lost all four games against Trojan teams ranked (respectively) fifth, first, first and third.

R: Rivalries (Hottest): On the cover of Nate Aaseng's book "College Football's Hottest Rivalries" is Irish quarterback Steve Beuerlein playing against USC. Inside, the author refers to it as "football's classiest rivalry."

S: Seven and Six - Number of Heisman Trophy winners from Notre Dame (7) and USC (6).

T: Ties - There have been five-in 1936 (Irish came in rated ninth), 1948 (Irish were ranked second), 1968 (Irish were #9, Trojans #2), 1969 (Irish were 11th, Trojans third) and 1994 (USC was 17th).

U: Upsets - On 19 occasions, the lower-ranked (or unranked team if only one team was rated) won the football game. Ten times that was Notre Dame. That hasn't happened since 1998 when unranked USC defeated ninth-rated Notre Dame 10-0 in Los Angeles. The last Irish win in that category came in 1995 when 17th-ranked Notre Dame defeated fifth-ranked USC 38-10 in South Bend.

V: Vagas (as in Ferguson) - Notre Dame's tailback had a career day in 1979 at Notre Dame Stadium in rushing 25 times for 185 yards and two touchdowns. The only problem was that USC's Charles White went for 261 yards of his own on 44 carries. USC won 42-23.

W: Wins - 45 for Notre Dame (most by any USC opponent), 36 for USC (most by any Notre Dame opponent). Lou Holtz has the most wins of any coach in the series with nine (he was 9-1-1, Pete Carroll 8-1, Frank Leahy 8-1-1).

X: (Roman numeral for 10) - Number of times Notre Dame and USC have met in Notre Dame Stadium with both teams ranked in the top 11 (AP): 1939-52-65-67-69-73-77-79-89-05 (the Irish are 5-4-1 in those contests).

Y: Yonto, Joe - Notre Dame's longtime defensive line coach (1964-80, 1986-87) tutored a long list of standouts who toiled against the Trojans-including Ross Browner, Greg Marx, Mike McCoy, Steve Niehaus, Alan Page, Walt Patulski and Frank Stams (all consensus All-Americans).

Z: Zorich, Chris - Notre Dame's all-star defensive tackle liked playing the Trojans. In 1988 as a sophomore he made eight tackles against second-rated USC. In '89 he made 12 tackles. In '90 as a senior he led the team with eight solo tackles and added a sack and tackle for loss.

##########

The Notre Dame-USC rivalry speaks for itself (in fact, print out the Wikipedia file under the heading "Notre Dame-USC rivalry" and the content fills 22 pages):

-- "We went back to South Bend the next year, and every two feet on the sidewalk on campus were signs that said, 'Kill Mike Garrett.' That was their idea of fun." - former USC quarterback Craig Fertig, talking about the 1965 USC-Notre Dame meeting in South Bend, a year after Fertig's last-minute game-winning TD pass ended Notre Dame's unbeaten season.

-- "Oh, my god, they've shot him." - USC coach John McKay, after Trojan returner Mike Hunter brought back the opening kickoff in 1965 to the eight-yard line and then fell down.

-- "After that '74 game (USC rebounded from a 24-6 halftime deficit to win 55-24), I was walking out of the locker room. There were about 20 Irish fans milling around and one of them, this lady, walked up to me. I don't know if she was serious or not, but she pulled out a small crucifix on a chain and started swinging it in front of my face. And you know what she said? She said, 'Nobody's ever done that to Notre Dame, A.D. You've got to be the devil.'" - USC tailback Anthony Davis, who returned the second-half kickoff 102 yards.

-- "They shouldn't have kicked it to me." - Davis' response to that same woman.

-- "I wore my blue blazer that said SC on it with my cardinal and gold tie. I walked in and there was a bonfire in the middle of the floor. There was a mass of people. It looked like German storm troopers were protecting the band. The football players were up in the balcony, and each of them came down to the microphone and said what they were going to do the next day. They had dummies of the Trojan players and they were throwing them on the fire. At that point, I folded up my Trojan jacket, took off my tie, and put on a green derby. That night, I learned their fight song." - Fertig, after attending the 1965 Notre Dame pep rally at the Fieldhouse.

-- "Truthfully, the only remorse I feel is that it wasn't worse." - Notre Dame halfback Nick Eddy after his Irish defeated USC 51-0 in 1966.

-- "We almost did it. Congratulations, Knute." - USC coach Howard Jones after the teams' first meeting in 1926, a 13-12 Irish win at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

-- "Thanks. It was the greatest game I ever saw." - Rockne, in response to Jones.

-- "I was trying to pull two guys apart when I felt someone kick me right in the butt. I turned around and it was the Notre Dame leprechaun. He ran up in the stands, and I sure wasn't going to chase him into that crowd." - Fertig, on a "confrontation" between the two teams during the 1971 game at Notre Dame Stadium.

-- "Father (Theodore) Hesburgh (then the Notre Dame team chaplain) called us together and reminded us that this game would be seen all over the country. He said, 'Wouldn't it be nice if the priests and nuns all over the country could see us win?'" - Notre Dame's John Lattner, talking about the 1951 meeting in Los Angeles in the first college football game to be nationally televised.

-- "I was psyched up when I went on the field, and I'm still psyched. I'll probably be psyched till the day I die." -- Notre Dame halfback Eric Penick whose TD run sparked Notre Dame's 23-14 win in 1973.

-- "I really respect John McKay. He never complained, never accused us of running up the score, and I saw him do one of the darndest things of my career. We had an injured center, George Goeddeke, who wanted to get into the game in the worst way. Well, on the last play, Ara sent him in. McKay saw what was happening, so he sent in a player with strict orders to stand over Goeddeke and not touch him. That was about the classiest thing I've ever seen in football." - Eddy on the '66 meeting.

-- "There's a billion Chinamen who could care less who won this game." - McKay on the '66 game.

-- "It's like Nick Lachey eyeing Jessica Simpson, each from across a crowded room for the first time." - Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated, describing the rivalry in 2005.

-- "I don't know how he did it. Every time I took a snap I got a handful of mud." - USC quarterback Jimmy Jones, talking about Irish counterpart Joe Theismann who threw for a record 526 yards against the Trojans in 1970.

-- "The Notre Dame-USC series is football's finest hour. . . . In the days when Notre Dame's coach was Ara Parseghian and USC's was John McKay, it was like watching a clinic in offensive football. It made the pro game look like shuffleboard on a world cruise, dominoes at the California Club." - Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray in 1979.

-- "Without the Notre Dame game, USC would probably be an Iowa State today." - Murray in '79.

-- "You could feel the noise on your face." - USC coach John Robinson talking about the reaction after the '77 Notre Dame team emerged in green jerseys.

-- "There's no greater thrill in football than playing in South Bend." - McKay.

-- "The good Lord is pretty busy this time of year, but if he is going to make a football game in a particular season, it will be the Notre Dame-SC game." - McKay.

##########

Here are introductions and recognitions at the 2015 Notre Dame-USC football game:

* The national colors will be presented by Richard C. Notebaert, chair of Notre Dame's Board of Trustees, and his wife, Peggy. The former chairman and CEO of Quest Communications, Notebaert was elected chair of the University's Board in 2007 and is now in his third term. He has been a trustee since 1997 and serves as a Fellow of the University. He previously served as CEO of Tellabs and of Ameritech Communications.

* 2015 Pro Football Hall of Fame inductees Jerome Bettis and Tim Brown will be introduced on the field just prior to kickoff. Bettis and Brown will be special guests at the Notre Dame-USC pep rally that begins at 5:45 p.m. Friday on the Hesburgh Library quad.

Bettis came from Detroit, he rushed for 2,356 yards from the fullback position in the early 1990s and set an Irish record with 20 rushing TDs in 1991. The 10th overall pick in the NFL 1993 draft, he played 13 seasons with the Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams and the Pittsburgh Steelers, gaining more than 13,000 yards on the ground and helping Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl title in his final pro season in 2005.

Brown came from Dallas, he set the Notre Dame career record for receiving yards, won the 1987 Heisman Trophy and was inducted in the College Football Hall of Fame in 2009. He was the sixth overall pick of the Raiders and played 16 seasons with that franchise and one more with Tampa Bay. He finished his career with nearly 15,000 pass receiving yards and was a nine-time Pro Bowl pick.

* The Presidential Team Irish Award will go to Building South Bend.

* The returning 1995 Notre Dame NCAA Championship women's soccer team will be recognized at a first-period timeout. Twenty years ago Notre Dame won its first NCAA title in women's soccer. That team, led by national coach of the year Chris Petrucelli and headlined by captain Cindy Daws and All-Americans Holly Manthei, Jen Renola and Kate Sobrero, finished 21-2-2 and won 11 straight games to cap the year.

* The Notre Dame faculty recognition will go to Declan Kiberd, Donald and Marilyn Keough Professor of Irish Studies and Professor of English and Irish Language and Literature.

##########

Here are feature stories scheduled for the Notre Dame-USC official game day program:

* Tim Brown--Pro Football Hall of Fame (by Todd Burlage)
* Jerome Bettis--Pro Football Hall of Fame (by Craig Chval Sr.)
* Keith Gilmore feature (by Denise Skwarcan)
* Games of the Century in Notre Dame History feature (by Todd Burlage)
* 1964 ND-USC game feature (by Todd Burlage)
* KeiVarae Russell feature (by Curt Rallo)
* Gia Kvaratskhelia feature (by Lizzie Mikes)
* The Last Word (by John Heisler)

Featured on the game program cover and the tickets this weekend is former Irish All-America safety Jeff Burris in recognition of his role in the 1993 victory by the unbeaten and No. 2 Irish over unbeaten and No. 1 Florida State.

Programs are $10 per copy and are available all around campus all weekend as well as at specific Notre Dame Stadium locations on game day.

##########

Here's what happened the previous two times an Irish football team started 5-1 by winning its first four games, losing its fifth, then winning its sixth:

Year Final Record Final AP Ranking
1916 8-1 ---
1972 8-3 14th (Orange Bowl)

Here's how 20 other Notre Dame teams finished that started 5-1 (no matter when the defeat occurred). Eight of these teams played in bowl games and seven finished in the Associated Press top 10:

YearFinal RecordFinal AP Ranking
19066-1---
19088-1---
19157-1---
192110-1---
19257-2-1---
19327-2---
19448-29th
19517-2-1---
19549-14th
19558-29th
19657-2-19th
197410-26th (Orange Bowl champion)
19758-3---
19769-312th (Gator Bowl champion)
197711-11st (Cotton Bowl champion)
19878-417th (Cotton Bowl)
19909-36th (Orange Bowl)
199110-313th (Sugar Bowl champion)
19989-322nd (Gator Bowl)
200610-317th (Sugar Bowl)

##########

Notre Dame's six future opponents stand a combined 22-10, its past six opponents are a combined 15-17 and the five Irish wins are over teams that are a combined 10-17. USC's seven future opponents stand a combined 29-11, its past five opponents are a combined 12-12 and the three Trojan wins are over teams that are a combined 8-9.

##########

Notre Dame athletics lost a good friend and colleague last Saturday with the passing of former Chicago Tribune sportswriter Joe Tybor at age 68. A Chicago native and owner of two degrees from DePaul (undergraduate and law), Tybor worked for the Associated Press before joining the Tribune staff. He was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in 1986. He covered Notre Dame athletics from 1989 through 1996--in the heart of Lou Holtz's Hall of Fame tenure as Irish football coach--and two years later became director of communications for the Illinois Supreme Court. In an era when sports websites were in their infancy, Tybor created the "Irish Eyes" blog, with phone lines for his customers run out of his home.

John Heisler, senior associate athletics director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 1978. A South Bend, Indiana, native, he is a 1976 graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a member of the College Sports Information Directors of America Hall of Fame.

Heisler produces a weekly football commentary piece for UND.com titled "Sunday Brunch," along with a Thursday football preview piece. He is editor of the award-winning "Strong of Heart" series. Here is a selection of other features published recently by Heisler:

-- Brey's Crew Receives Rings, Prepared to Raise Banner-and Moves On

-- Jim McLaughlin: New Irish Volleyball Boss Is All About the Numbers

-- Men's Soccer Establishes Itself with Exclamation

-- Australia Rugby Visit Turns into Great Sharing of Sports Performance Practices

-- Bud Schmitt Doesn't Need a Map to Find Notre Dame Stadium

-- Sunday Brunch: Irish Film Credits Roll On and On

-- Community Service a Record-Setting Event for Irish Athletics in 2014-15

 

 

Event Calendar

Delta

September 2
3:30 PM
Temple
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
September 9
7:30 PM
Georgia
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
September 16
TBA
Boston College
Chestnut Hill, Mass.

TBA
September 23
TBA
Michigan State
East Lansing, Mich.

TBA
September 30
5:00 PM
Miami Ohio
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBCSN
October 7
TBA
North Carolina
Chapel Hill, N.C.

TBA
October 21
7:30 PM
USC
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
October 28
3:30 PM
North Carolina State
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
November 4
3:30 PM
Wake Forest
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
November 11
TBA
Miami Fla.
Miami Gardens, Fla.

TBA
November 18
3:30 PM
Navy
Notre Dame, Ind.

NBC
November 25
TBA
Stanford
Stanford, Calif.

TBA

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