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Unfinished Business : USC's Ross Won't Be Happy With Career Until Notre Dame Is Beaten

November 23, 1990|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

He has been a starter at USC since the middle of his freshman season, making almost 400 tackles for the Trojans. Three times, he has been named to the All-Pacific 10 Conference first team.

A starter in three Rose Bowl games, he never played for a team that lost to UCLA. Last week, he was named to the Kodak All-American team.

"I've accomplished more than I expected to accomplish," linebacker Scott Ross said.

Yet in his time, the Trojans are 0-3 against Notre Dame.

"I have great respect for Notre Dame, but after what happened last year in the tunnel (a pregame melee incited by the Irish), and losing to them three years in a row, I don't even like talking about them," Ross said. "I don't even like to mention them."

He will regard his collegiate career as incomplete, he said, if USC loses again to the Irish Saturday night at the Coliseum.

USC hasn't beaten Notre Dame since 1982, a string of seven losses, the longest in the history of a series that started in 1926.

Ross was on the field for three of them, and he has seen enough of the Irish to say: "They're all the same. They're all big and ugly."

Ross told a group of reporters this week: "They think they have God on their side, and when you play them at Notre Dame, you have priests yelling at you. I've got news: God's on everyone's side."

In an interview with the Daily Trojan, USC's campus newspaper, he said: "They think they are so righteous." And: "When I think of them, I get disgusted."

Not surprisingly, Ross is a great admirer of former USC linebacker Rex Moore, who six years ago at the Coliseum, in a game that was nationally televised, threw a handful of mud in the face of Notre Dame running back Allen Pinkett.

"I was watching," Ross said. "Rex is one of the major reasons I came here."

Ross, like Moore before him, is a loose cannon who, by his own account, was almost drummed out of school as a freshman because of his off-the-field antics.

He lived on the top floor of an on-campus dormitory and one of his favorite pranks was to put his stereo speakers up against an open window, turn up the volume on a heavy metal album or radio station and head off to class, locking the door behind him.

"Just to get them (ticked) off," Ross said. "I'd put on Iron Maiden full blast and I could hear it (across campus) as I was walking down to class. I'd come back an hour later and it would still be going.

"They didn't like that. They told me, 'You can't live in university housing anymore,' which pleased me because I didn't like living there. Rex had advised me, 'Just do a few things wrong and you can have your own place. They'll move you out.' "

The strategy worked. But Ross, who now rents a house off campus, almost took it too far.

"Basically, I was given an ultimatum, 'Stay out of trouble or stay out of college,' so I cleaned up my act," he said. "I don't get in trouble anymore."

While he used to brag about his aggressive driving habits and a propensity for smashing cars, Ross has learned to limit his mayhem to the field, where two years ago he led the Trojans with 137 tackles and fell one vote shy of being chosen the Pac-10's defensive player of the year.

And, for the most part, he has enjoyed his time at USC, with a few notable exceptions:

--Three years ago at South Bend, Ind., with Ross only a few months removed from El Toro High, the Irish ran for 351 yards in a 26-15 victory over USC.

"I had my gloves on and I was freezing," Ross said. "I had no thoughts of getting into the game because I hadn't played in the first (six) games. All I was trying to do was keep warm. I was over there bouncing around and Coach (Tom) Roggeman turned around and said, 'Can you stop them?' I said, 'Sure,' and ran in there.

"(Linebacker) Marcus Cotton was yelling, 'What's this freshman doing in here?' I sort of couldn't believe it, either. I ran around with my head cut off and didn't do a thing for the whole series.

"I weighed 215 pounds (he has since added 20 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame) and I looked at those (Irish) linemen and they looked like monsters. I said, 'I can't believe this.' It was freezing and they were out there in, like, tank tops.

"I got a taste of Notre Dame and a taste of defeat."

Ross was taken out after only one series, but in the next week of practice, Coach Larry Smith opened the competition at all positions and Ross earned a place in the starting lineup. He has been a fixture ever since.

The next season, No. 2-ranked USC and No. 1-ranked Notre Dame were both 10-0 when they met at the Coliseum. USC enjoyed a statistical edge, but Notre Dame took advantage of several Trojan miscues to win, 27-10.

"I felt like I had my best game against them, but the big hand in the sky came down and drew some plays for them and they pulled it off," Ross said. "I thought we had them beat.

"It was really disappointing. If it wasn't for one or two plays, we would have won. That's how it is with them. Those things happen to all the other teams (they play)."

--Last season, Notre Dame beat USC at South Bend, 28-24.

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