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Tradition Tuesday: USC

Nov 20, 2012, 6:26 PM EDT

George Atkinson III scores a touchdown on a kickoff return vs. USC (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Celtics vs. Lakers. Red Sox vs. Yankees. Packers vs. Bears. Ali vs. Frazier.

The sports world is full of great rivalries.

But no game riles the emotions of Irish fans more than Notre Dame vs. USC.

The Fighting Irish and Trojans enter this season’s matchup (Nov. 24 at 8:00 pm ET on ABC) on very different trajectories. USC (7-4) began the season as the nation’s top-ranked team and quarterback Matt Barkley had his sights set on the Heisman Trophy.

Instead, it’s Notre Dame (11-0) looking to earn a spot in the BCS national championship, and linebacker Manti Te’o shooting for an invitation to next month’s Heisman presentation.

As they’ve proven over their long history, anything can happen when these two teams meet on the football field. Here’s a closer look at the series…

The worlds of South Bend and Los Angeles have collided every fall since 1926 (except 1943-45 during World War II). The teams have played a total of 83 times, with Notre Dame leading the series 43-35-5. The Trojans are tied with the Purdue Boilermakers as Notre Dame’s second-most common opponent, behind only Navy (86).

Introduced in 1952, the Jewelled Shillelagh is awarded annually by the Notre Dame Club of Los Angeles, with emerald or ruby ornaments being added each year for the respective winner.

As legend has it, or better yet, as the “old wives’ tale” goes, the series between Notre Dame and USC began following a conversation between Knute Rockne‘s wife and USC athletic director Gwynn Wilson’s wife when the Irish were playing at Nebraska. Supposedly, Mrs. Wilson convinced Mrs. Rockne that a trip to sunny California every two years was better than a visit to cold and snowy Nebraska.


The Jewelled Shillelagh (Photo courtesy of

The more likely story suggests that perhaps Notre Dame’s alumni had been looking to get Rockne to bring his team west, and that a pacific coast game could prove to be lucrative for the Irish. Notre Dame had first received an invitation from USC, but played Stanford in the 1925 Rose Bowl. Subsequently, Notre Dame decided to continue its trips to California, developing a home-and-home series with the Trojans.

During even-numbered years, it’s a post-Thanksgiving trip to the Los Angeles Coliseum. In odd years, mid-October at home in South Bend.

In 1927 and 1929, the teams met at Soldier Field in Chicago with Notre Dame winning by a single point in each of those contests. Early on, the rivalry emerged as one of college football’s best because both teams were perennially among the nation’s elite. Notre Dame won the championship in 1929 and 1930, while USC claimed that title in 1928, 1931 and 1932.

Many of Notre Dame’s past national championship runs have involved big wins over their nemesis, and it will take another one on Saturday for the Irish to earn that chance to play for the coveted crystal football on Jan. 7, 2013.

One of the most notable games of Ara Parseghian‘s 1966 national championship season was the 51-0 blowout victory to close out the season in Los Angeles (which we featured as a ‘Strong and True’ moment earlier this week). The top-ranked Irish crushed the 10th-ranked Trojans, on their way to the university’s eighth football title. To this day, it is the largest margin of victory in the storied history of the series.

During what would be Notre Dame’s ninth national championship season, the eighth-ranked Irish hosted the sixth-ranked Trojans in late October of 1973. Notre Dame had not beaten the Trojans since 1966, but Parseghian’s team knocked off unbeaten USC, 23-14.

In 1977, another national championship year, men’s basketball coach Digger Phelps called students and fans to action at the pep rally on Friday. In what has often been dubbed the “Green Jersey Game,” head coach Dan Devine surprised the crowd, and his team, by pulling a switch on game day.

Until returning to the locker room before kickoff, only the captains were aware of the different jerseys. The change-up ignited the Irish, who arrived on the field behind a giant Trojan horse assembled by a group of students. Notre Dame cruised to a 49-19 victory.

From 1983-93, the Irish won 11 in a row against USC. One of those victories came in a key matchup during the 1988 season, when head coach Lou Holtz took his team to Los Angeles for the regular season finale. Both Notre Dame and USC were undefeated and ranked #1 and #2, respectively, the only time that has occurred in series history.

Led by quarterback Tony Rice, Notre Dame won, 27-10 (This game was also recently featured as one of our 125 ‘Strong and True’ moments).

In 2010, the last time Notre Dame played at the Los Angeles Coliseum, it sought to break an eight-year losing streak against USC. With 6:18 remaining in a rain-soaked battle, Notre Dame took over on its own 23, beginning an unforgettable drive that was capped by a five-yard touchdown run by senior Robert Hughes. USC had one last chance to regain the lead, but Harrison Smith sealed the Notre Dame victory with a key interception near the end zone, ending the streak and giving the Irish a 20-16 win.

Over the years, Notre Dame and USC have played countless classic games – too many, in fact, to include in this blog post. Some of these memorable moments will be featured in the coming days in our celebration of 125 Years of Notre Dame Football, so stay tuned to

  1. hardcoredomer - Nov 20, 2012 at 7:06 PM

    I think Notre Dame v. Michigan has usurped Notre Dame v. USC. Sadly, the powers that be don’t seem to respect that rivalry.

  2. punzosmc - Nov 21, 2012 at 11:09 PM

    Reblogged this on PUNZOSMC.

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