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Students, alumni reflect on history of Notre Dame vs. USC rivalry

| Thursday, October 10, 2019

As the Notre Dame vs. University of Southern California (USC) football game approaches, students and alumni prepare to witness once again the long-standing and celebrated rivalry between the two schools.

One of the most widely-known rivalries in college football, the Notre Dame vs. USC faceoff began in 1926 and has occurred every year since, with the exception of 1943-1945 during World War II.

How the rivalry actually began is a source of debate. Some cite a rumor that Bonnie Rockne, wife of Irish head coach Knute Rockne, was swayed by Marion Wilson, wife of USC athletic director Gywnn Wilson. Wilson’s argument, the rumor goes, was that a Notre Dame vs. USC rivalry would mean traveling to sunny and warm California for a bi-annual game during the frigid South Bend winter.

Others claim the rivalry began because of the financial needs of the teams, as well as the friendship between Knute and Trojans head coach Howard Jones.

Although there have been many famous games in this storied rivalry, the 1988 faceoff — wherein Notre Dame was ranked first in the nation and USC was ranked second with both teams carrying undefeated records — is remembered as one of the most nail biting yet.

David Sauve (’90) attended the game at USC with a group of Notre Dame students.

“For a period of about 20 years, the winners of the Notre Dame vs. USC game was likely playing for the national championship,” Sauve said. “So for that particular game there was still a lot of energy. … That entire aura around that game was spectacular because of that noteworthy status of both of those teams.”

Sauve said he sat on the Notre Dame side with other students, and with some USC alumni and fans in front of him.

“[The USC alumni] were all very kind and courteous to us because they knew we were students and treated us very well during the game,” Sauve said.

He said he remembers the moment he knew Notre Dame would win the game. It happened after the first play, he said, when Notre Dame player Raghib “Rocket” Ismail caught the football, even after quarterback Tony Rice slipped while throwing it.

“You knew as a Notre Dame fan when you saw that play that we were going to be fine because they weren’t afraid to be aggressive and take the tact to USC,” Sauve said. “We were ecstatic. We knew, since that was the last game of the year, that wherever Notre Dame ended up they would be playing for the national championship.”

This year, the USC game will take place at 7:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium. Community members are preparing with anticipation for the faceoff.

Sophomore Reynold Hamar, a board member of the Notre Dame California Student Club, has helped organize an alumni reception party for Notre Dame students and alumni from California visiting the University for this weekend’s game.

“I’ve been counting down the days, especially knowing friends that go to USC,” Hamar said. “It’s such a fun day and so great for our school. The way it brings people together and the whole campus together, I think it’s incredible.”

Originally from Southern California, Hamar said he is familiar with the long-standing rivalry between the two schools.

“Growing up 45 minutes from USC campus, I grew up hating Notre Dame and cheering against it,” Hamar said. “It’s interesting because I feel like, for me, Notre Dame and USC practically don’t make sense to be rivals. They are not geographically related … but in a lot of ways that is what makes the rivalry. Midwest vs. California. City vs. rural. … Football is the perfect catalyst for that. …  It is definitely one of the best rivalries in college football.”

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