The story is that the wife of USC Athletic Director Gywnn Wilson and the wife of Notre Dame Coach Knute Rockne were the catalysts for what is now the most celebrated intersectional rivalry in college football.
Marion Wilson and Bonnie Rockne set the foundations in a one-to-one conversation where Mrs. Wilson sold Mrs. Rockne on the virtues of traveling to Southern California to enjoy warm weather apart from the freezing winter temperatures of the Midwest.
As for me, well, my first college game outside of Honolulu came in 1964, after I flunked out of the University of Hawaii and moved to Los Angeles. Flunking out was bad, but there was a good side to it. My Hilo High School classmate was attending USC and invited me to sit in the student section during the game against the undefeated #1 ranked Notre Dame.
I remember emerging from the Los Angeles Coliseum’s tunnel and feeling a bit giddy and unsteady. I swear I almost stumbled and fell. There were 108,000 fans in the stands, the Trojan student section filled with white shirts (me too), and I felt as though I was being sucked into a maelstrom.
My heart quickened when the Spirit of Troy, the Trojan band, marched out of the field tunnel in crisp formation, playing "Fight On." And I became a hooked-in fan when USC's white stallion, Traveler, carrying Tommy Trojan on his back, galloped around the stadium to the roars of the crowd.
The Irish, 9-0 near the end of the 1964 season, were favored by 11 points over the unranked Trojans (6-3). And what a great team they had, featuring their star quarterback, Heisman Trophy winner John Huarte and outstanding receiver Jack Snow. USC’s quarterback was Craig Fertig, the principal receiver was Rod Sherman, and the top Trojan running back was Mike Garrett.
USC upset the Irish 20-17, ruining their hopes of a national title (they ended up #3). We had hoped the great victory would have thrust us into the Rose Bowl, but UCLA was given that honor by the committee.
The next year, 1965, the Trojans were undefeated early in the season; the Irish were 3-1. The tables were turned and they beat us 28-7.
This year’s game is unusual. The Trojans are playing their fourth consecutive game against the Irish, with four different coaches – Lane Kiffin, Ed Ogeron (interim after Kiffin was fired), Steve Sarkisian, and Clay Helton, USC’s offensive coordinator who is interim head coach because Sarkisian was fired last week.
It’s sad about Steve Sarkisian. He has alcohol problems and it showed during a game or two, and practice.
So anyway, there is always great drama when USC and Notre Dame clash helmets on the field. This year promises to be no different.