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Notre Dame and USC: The perfect storm

Acker, Molly | Friday, October 14, 2005

It seems as if the entire sporting world has descended upon South Bend this weekend for the matchup between No. 1 University of Southern California and the ninth-ranked Fighting Irish tomorrow. Some in the media have been quick to point out that Notre Dame has wallowed in mediocrity for the last decade. They have predicted that the Trojans will win in a blowout, and they question whether the intense hype surrounding the game is warranted. For all the nay-sayers out there, here’s a little crash course as to why it might be a good idea to hold onto to your ticket to tomorrow’s game.

First, Notre Dame football is back. To be sure, it is true that the football program has been dormant for more than 10 years. (In fact, since Lou Holtz left the Irish sideline, it seems as if we have won little more than a handful of coin-tosses and a few games against Navy.) However, things are different this season. We come into tomorrow’s game with a competent head coach who has transformed a sputtering offense into a well-oiled machine that can move the ball and score at will. Unlike our recent encounters with USC, our players will take the field knowing that they have coaches who can match wits with our opponents and exploit their weaknesses. Throw in the fact that Coach Weis had an extra week to prepare for the Trojans, and it seems like a given that the Irish will be ready for battle tomorrow.

Second, USC comes in toting a 27-game winning streak, the nation’s longest. As we know, Notre Dame has traditionally been a place where winning streaks go to die. In 1953, the Irish ended Oklahoma’s 47 game streak, which remains the longest winning-streak in college football history. In 1988, the Miami Hurricanes entered Notre Dame Stadium having won 36 straight regular season games. After a hard-fought 31-30 Irish victory, the Canes’ streak, as well as their No. 1 ranking, were a thing of the past. The history of the Irish snapping opponents’ winning streaks is not limited to the gridiron. In 1974, the basketball team ended perhaps the most famous streak in all of college sports when it beat another team from Los Angeles, UCLA, and halted the Bruins’ winning streak at 88 games.

Third, and most importantly, this is Notre Dame and USC, one of college football’s oldest and greatest rivalries. As legend has it, the annual contest between the Irish and the Trojans can be attributed to Mrs. Knute Rockne. After Notre Dame played a road game at Nebraska in 1925, a USC employee told Mrs. Rockne that she would surely enjoy a trip to sunny Los Angeles more than a trek to Lincoln for an away game. Mrs. Rockne agreed, and she talked Knute into this idea. (Perhaps that is where we get the adage “the woman behind the man.”) Thus began college football’s greatest intersectional rivalry.

The Notre Dame-USC rivalry has become legendary not only because of the coaches and players who have taken the field against each other, but also for what it represents. The USC-Notre Dame rivalry pits titan against titan, tradition against tradition, legend against legend: Hollywood vs. the Heartland; Tommy Trojan vs. the Leprechaun; Yell Leaders vs. the Irish Guard; Fight On vs. The Victory March. It is unlike any other game in college football.

This is why the atmosphere will undoubtedly be electric this weekend. Tickets are going for thousands of dollars, and a room at the Saint Mary’s Inn costs more than a suite at the Ritz. Even tonight’s pep rally has enjoyed a build-up unlike any other in my four years in South Bend. Not only because it will take place in the Stadium rather than the JACC, but also because of the countless rumors circulating. First I heard that Bon Jovi is going to surprise everyone with a concert. Now Bruce Springsteen will apparently play. This rumor is legit … so people say. Bruce has a concert Thursday in Chicago and one Milwaukee Saturday. What rock n’ roll star wouldn’t want to come to South Bend on his Friday night off? Don’t forget that the Boss and Coach Weis are both from Jersey. Clearly the rumors must be true.

It has also been circulating that former head coach Lou Holtz will be speaking at the pep rally. Joe Montana is also slated to speak, as is Rudy, Father Hesburgh, Tim Brown, Dick Vitale, Digger Phelps and Regis. (I even heard that Touchdown Jesus will be stepping down from the wall of the Library to address the crowd.)

It doesn’t matter whether all these rumors turn out to be true. We should enjoy this weekend for the unique experience it presents. Tomorrow will not only be our biggest game this season, but also our biggest game since 1993. With a rejuvenated Notre Dame team, a 27-game Trojan winning streak, and the greatest intersectional rivalry in football, a perfect storm has arrived in South Bend this weekend. Now it’s just a matter of Shaking Down the Thunder.

Molly Acker is a junior communication and humanistic studies double major at Saint Mary’s. She can be contacted at acke6758@saintmarys.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.