It’s always sunny in SoCal

Warm weather supposedly brought USC-Notre Dame together

According to one legend, the annual Southern Cal-Notre Dame game, generally considered the greatest intersectional rivalry in all of college football, came about because of a conversation between two women.

The story goes that while searching for a national rival in 1925, USC Athletics Director Gwynn Wilson and his wife traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, for the Cornhuskers’ Thanksgiving Day matchup with Notre Dame, which Nebraska won 17-0. While there, Wilson broached the subject of a yearly USC-ND matchup with legendary Irish coach Knute Rockne, who is said to have resisted the idea initially because of the travel involved.

But somewhere along the line Mrs. Wilson supposedly pointed out to Mrs. Rockne that a trip to sunny California every two years was much better than one to snowy Nebraska, Mrs. Rockne spoke to Mr. Rockne, and just like that a classic was born. The two first teed it up in Los Angeles on December 4, 1926, and, except for 1944 and 1945 in the midst of World War II, have met every year since.

Guess the 2,095 miles between South Bend, Indiana, and L.A. weren’t that much of a problem after all.

USC quarterback Mark Sanchez loads up against Notre Dame | Courtesy USC Athletics

There are other theories as to why these two perennial powerhouses will meet for the 90th time on Saturday in L.A. Coliseum. But whatever the reason, the series has certainly given us some of the iconic moments in college football history.

There was the 1966 game, dominated by visiting Notre Dame 51-0 and memorable not for the largest margin of victory in series history but for one of the best post-game quotes ever uttered by any coach anywhere. After the trouncing, USC head coach and noted quipster John McKay told his players, “take a shower, if you need one.”

A great shot from the 1974 game | Courtesy USC Athletics

There was the 1974 game which saw one of the greatest turnarounds in a single game in sports history and that Sports Illustrated labeled “That California Earthquake.” Trailing 24-6 after one half, the Trojans went on a rampage that saw them score eight touchdowns in just under 17 minutes of the second half to destroy the Fighting Irish 55-24.

Notre Dame jumped out 24-0 before USC quarterback Pat Haden completed a short touchdown pass to tailback Anthony Davis with 10 seconds left in the half. However, the Trojans missed a two-point try and things still looked pretty bleak for McKay’s bunch. But ever the optimist, McKay is reported to have told his Trojans at halftime, “Gentlemen, if you block like you should, Anthony Davis will carry the second-half kickoff back for a score, and we’ll go on from there. Let’s go!!”

Sure enough, Davis took the second-half kickoff back 102 yards for the score as McKay prophesied and went on to score three more TDs in the onslaught. The turnaround came so swiftly and with such ferocity that McKay actually pulled Haden with 13 minutes left in the game and let backups Vince Evans and Rob Adolph mop up Ara Parseghian’s suddenly huddled masses.

In the 17-minute blitzkrieg, Davis accounted for 26 of his team’s 55 points, Haden completed 8 of 8 passes for 144 yards and four TDs, and J.K. McKay, the coach’s son, caught four passes for 110 yards and two TDs. When the diminutive trio — none stood taller than 6 feet or weighed more than 183 pounds — came off the field together in the fourth quarter, papa McKay hugged them all together and reportedly told them, “There have never been three smaller kids who have done so much so often.”

University of Southern California vs Notre Dame Saturday, October 15, 2005 in South Bend, Indiana. USC won the game 34-31. © Jon SooHoo | Courtesy USC Athletics

Fast forward to 2005 and the matchup that will be forever known as the “Bush Push” game.

In its heyday under Pete Carroll, USC rolled into South Bend on October 15, 2005, having beaten the Fighting Irish by 31 points each of the previous three years (44-13 in 2002, 45-14 in 2003, and 41-10 in 2004). But this one would be much closer and would come down to a controversial push by running back Reggie Bush to decide it.

Trailing 31-28 with 2 minutes to play, USC stormed into scoring position on a 61-yard pass from Matt Leinart to Dwayne Jarrett. Four plays later Leinart scrambled and dove for the end zone but was stopped short and the ball was knocked out of bounds, making it second-and-goal at the 1 with only seconds to play.

Instead of kicking the tying field goal and going to overtime, Carroll went for the win. Leinart took the snap, plunged into the pile and, thanks to the Bush shoving him from behind, fell into the end zone for the score and a 34-31 win. Many observers felt a penalty should have been called, but even Fighting Irish head coach Charlie Weis admitted afterwards he would have wanted his running back to do the same thing.

USC quarterback Sam Darnold from the 2016 game | Courtesy USC Athletics

This year, the outlook is decidedly different. Notre Dame comes in 11-0, ranked No. 3 in the College Football Playoff rankings and looking to tighten its grip on the opportunity to play for either its 12th or 14th national championship depending on whose measuring stick you use. USC comes in 5-6 and looking for a win to even its record and remain bowl eligible.

While a Trojan victory isn’t considered likely, series history at least says it’s USC’s turn to win. Over the last five years, the schools have taken turns winning, going ND, USC, ND, USC, ND, and should that trend hold true, it would mean a USC victory. More likely, Notre Dame will increase its hold on its overall series advantage of 47-37-5.

It has been a series of streaks, with Notre Dame winning five straight twice and 11 in a row from 1983-1993. USC’s longest streak was eight in row from 2002-2009 though the Trojans later vacated the 2005 win because of NCAA penalty.

The Fighting Irish, which won last year’s game 49-14, should make it two straight on Saturday and prove once again that a trip to sunny California is indeed better than one to snowy Nebraska just like Mrs. Wilson said. H&A

 

Notre Dame vs. USC will air on ABC Saturday at 7 p.m. CST.

 

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