USC-Notre Dame: A Tip of the Hat to College Football's Greatest Rivalry

Reid BrooksAnalyst INovember 12, 2010

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17:  Braxston Cave #52 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish prepares to snap the ball against the USC Trojans during the second quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2009 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

As it so happens, we're only two weeks away from my favorite weekend of the year. And no, that has nothing to do with post-Thanksgiving shopping.

This year, I'm paying a little early homage to the USC-Notre Dame game. As a USC alumnus, it's the one thing I've been able to look forward to despite a couple of seasons of sanctions.

I know there are people out there who live for Oklahoma-Texas, Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, Georgia-Florida and maybe even a couple of purists who claim they can actually stand watching Army-Navy. It isn't my place to rank all of the great rivalries in college football. All of those games have great history, and if you're a fan of one of those teams, you'll never be convinced your biggest game isn't the biggest game in the sport.

But allow me to make the case for what makes USC-Notre Dame so special. Let me explain why it's worthy of two weeks of build up, even when both teams are having down years.

It pains me to admit this, but if you polled a large enough sampling, you'll probably still get people saying that Notre Dame is the greatest college football program of all time. But it is close to inarguable that both of these programs are in the top three all time, and it is flat out inarguable that they are top five.

No rivalry has produced more talent, as fellow Bleacher Report writer Jon Star pointed out in a May article: "USC and Notre Dame...have combined for 22 national championships, 14 Heisman Trophy winners, and 21 NFL Hall of Famers."

On top of that, this is the one non-geographic college football rivalry. It is the greatest intersectional rivalry in the history of American sports. The fact that it has been kept alive since the mid-1920s is spectacular, considering the amount of travel and dedication that had to be given to ensure that.

And that non-geographic deal is very unique in the college football world. How do schools from so far apart come to hate each other so much?

There is of course, the magnificent wives' tale tucked away within the pageantry, that long ago the better halves of Knute Rockne and Gwynn Wilson met up when Notre Dame was on the road at Nebraska; Mrs. Wilson convinced Mrs. Rockne that a trip to Southern California would be nicer annually than freezing on the plains.

The offer was accepted, and the teams haven't stopped since (aside from World War II, which they tell me was something of a big deal). Of course, it probably helped that Knute called the inaugural matchup the greatest game he ever saw.

In those early days, Rockne turned down an offer to take the head-coaching job at USC, but he suggested USC hire Howard Jones from Iowa.

What resulted was a five-year run where either USC or Notre Dame won the national title, stretching from 1928-1932. USC won it in 1928, 1931 and 1932, and Notre Dame took it in 1929 and 1930.

The rivalry essentially pits America's second and third largest cities against each other; it might as well be a brawl between Los Angeles and Chicago. And the numbers the games draw seem to prove that.

The 1929 meeting had the largest verified attendance in college football history until this year, at over 112,900. Michigan supposedly beat that in September with approximately 150 more people in attendance, but that ignores the legendary 1927 matchup.

It supposedly hosted more than 120,000 people at Soldier Field.

In 1978, USC played spoiler to Joe Montana, the greatest quarterback in NFL history (and probably in the history of the game in general).

USC has spoiled at least seven Irish national title campaigns: 1931, 1938, 1948, 1964, 1970, 1971 and 1980. Notre Dame spoiled USC in 1947 and 1952, and stole the title away from them in 1988 during a magnificent No. 1 and No. 2 matchup.

USC is currently dominating the Irish, coming off of eight straight wins. But all time, the rivalry is led by Notre Dame, 42-34-5.

That number will be bumped up once more this year for one team or the other, in a game that will largely fly under the college football radar.

But for those of us who know what it is all about, there truly is no better Saturday in any given year.

And that's what really makes it the greatest rivalry in the history of college football.


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