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Thursday, October 17, 2013
A Saturday like no other for USC-ND

By Greg Katz

LOS ANGELES -- There is nothing quite like a Notre Dame football Saturday in South Bend, and yet in all its beauty and aura, there is something dramatically different when USC comes to this little northern Indiana hamlet.

“I think our players will be the first ones to admit that this is our rivalry game,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “This is our game that we look forward to against USC.

“It's one that it's on our calendar as I don't want to say a red-letter game, but one that we look forward to. It's such a great matchup, great tradition, great history. It's part of the history of Notre Dame football that they really recognize as that one singular game.”

And Trojans interim head coach Ed Orgeron concurs with his coaching counterpart regarding one of college football’s greatest rivalries.

Ed Orgeron
Ed Orgeron knows the atmosphere on Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium will be electric.
“When we first got here, the great USC coach, Marv Goux, sat down with me and Coach [Pete] Carroll and told us about the importance of this game to the university, the fans, and of those great traditions that we still carry on,” Orgeron said.

It’ll be the 85th meeting in primetime on Saturday between the two longtime adversaries, and the Irish campus and it’s iconic stadium will be as magical and theatrical as ever -- a majestic sea of blue and gold intertwined with flowing waves of cardinal and gold.

If you’ve never been to storied Notre Dame Stadium for this extraordinary experience, you need to immediately add it on your ultimate bucket list. It’s not a game; it’s an event -- a glorious collegiate gridiron happening. The level of respect between the two fan bases borders on aristocracy.

For the 15,000 or more Trojans fans who make the bi-yearly trip, the game is of such magnitude that fans without tickets have been known to still make the long trip from Chicago by way of the Indiana toll road just to experience the campus pregame festivities.

Seeing the glistening reflection of the Golden Dome above the trees coming off Exit 77 alerts even the most experienced veteran to an exhilarating wonderment.

Once on campus before the game, fans of both teams partake in so many rituals on the hallowed grounds that if you knew nothing about this rivalry, just listening to the two highly energetic marching bands, the recollections of rivalry memories and the intense pregame arrival of both teams would be enough to get one’s heart racing.

The whole place is like a motion picture location -- think "Rudy" -- with a spectacular combination of autumn leaves and icons like The Golden Dome, The Grotto, and, of course, Touchdown Jesus, the iconic mosaic that overlooks Notre Dame Stadium.

There must be something about the place that is truly captivating because you never meet a first-time Trojans visitor who says the experience doesn’t live up to expectations. For many USC fans, it just takes one visit and it becomes part of their bi-yearly football calendar. They don’t call it the Notre Dame Weekender for nothing.

To be objective, Notre Dame Stadium’s actual crowd noise isn’t Oregon’s Autzen Stadium, but there is something about the ghosts of The Four Horsemen, The Gipper, and Rockne that always seem to be in play.

The last time these two teams met in Notre Dame Stadium in 2011, so confident were the Irish that they were going to destroy the Trojans in primetime and with a boatload of blue-chip recruits, they broke decades of tradition by piping in heavy medal rock music and wearing new metallic golden helmets that glistened in the lights. Rockne had to be shaking his head.

Trojans fans, however, welcomed the Hollywood presentation and presented their version of Tinseltown by upping their volume of support during the game while being accompanied by the full ensemble of the USC Marching Band.

The Trojans upstaged the Irish that chilly evening, winning 31-17, and highlighted by safety Jawanza Starling’s late fourth-quarter, 90-yard touchdown fumble return just as it appeared the Irish were on the verge of scoring and changing the momentum of the game.

At one time, Notre Dame Stadium was once a house or horrors for USC teams, but Carroll put a stop to that after an initial 27-16 loss in 2001. The Men of Troy have defeated the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium five straight times, and that hasn’t been lost among the Irish faithful.

So, with the Irish slightly favored on Saturday and Notre Dame fans knowing that the Trojans have treated Notre Dame Stadium like their own personal timeshare, the intensity from the home folks should be extra wild and crazy.

Just the type of day and challenge that USC fans want -- ticket or no ticket.