Notre Dame-USC Revisited

I know what you’re going to think in just a few seconds. He can’t remember where he parked his car but he remembers minute details of a football game played 48 years ago.

I plead guilty, your honor.

Unbeaten and number one-ranked Notre Dame travels to Los Angeles this Saturday to meet the Southern California Trojans in circumstances almost identical to their 1964 clash at the Coliseum.

Forty-eight years ago the Fighting Irish also were unbeaten and ranked first in the nation, needing only a victory over USC to clinch the national championship. Ara Parseghian, in his first year as head coach at Notre Dame, shocked the world with one of the greatest turn-arounds in sports history.

The previous season under interim head coach Hugh Devore the Irish stumbled to a 2-7 record (the Iowa game was cancelled out of respect for the assassinated president John F. Kennedy).

Parseghian arrived in 1964 and performed his first miracle. Notre Dame rolled to nine straight victories. Only one game was close. That was a 17-15 squeaker over Pitt in Pittsburgh (the first Notre Dame game I covered for The Plain Dealer). The other eight winning margins ranged from 19 to 40 points, an average margin of 24 points. Was Notre Dame that good or did the Irish benefit from a weak schedule? None of Notre Dame’s opponents was ranked in the top 20 that year.

Nevertheless, Notre Dame was ranked #1 and needed only one more victory to clinch the national championship. Only Southern Cal stood in the way. In those days Notre Dame did not accept invitations to post-season bowl games for academic reasons. (That changed in 1969 when the Cotton Bowl waved a million-dollar check under Father Hesburgh’s nose.)

Notre Dame held a 17-13 lead and had the national championship in its grasp until USC scored with 1:33 left in the game to upset the Irish, 20-17.

Two years later Notre Dame put the finishing touches on the 1966 national championship by blasting USC, 51-0, in its final game.

A victory over USC will not clinch this year’s national championship for Notre Dame, but a loss would end all hope by knocking the Irish out of the BCS Championship Game.

That’s all for now.

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