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THE INSIDE TRACK | T.J. SIMERS

USC Misdirection Ploys Kill the Irish Every Time

November 22, 2000|T.J. SIMERS

Craig Fertig made my mother cry.

She's dead now, and I'm pretty sure Fertig played a role in that too.

On a happier note, I guess it's a good thing she passed before having to watch Notre Dame football teams coached by Bob Davie.

*

MY MOTHER HAD been such a happy woman--after all, I was her son.

As I remember it, it was 36 years ago this week, and I was home in Wheaton, Ill., a cute kid on vacation from the seminary at Notre Dame--as you know, required training to deal with many of the heathens I come in contact with today . . . and that's just walking across the USC campus.

Notre Dame, under first-year Coach Ara Parseghian, was 9-0, ranked No. 1 in the country and playing USC. The game was on the radio, the Irish ahead 17-0, and scoring again before USC's referees considered that too much, and took away a touchdown for a holding penalty. My good mother had no idea it's a tradition for the officials to assist USC when playing the Irish in the Coliseum.

She was also unaware of the extent USC coaches would go to dupe their thugs--just to beat the good kids who go to Notre Dame, 20-17 and swipe their national championship:

* A day before that 1964 game, a package arrived for the USC football team, postmarked South Bend. USC assistant coach Marv Goux opened it, found green cream puffs and passed them out to the players, while reading a letter from Notre Dame fans wishing the "ladies from USC" luck.

The players became enraged, and Goux had "The Spirit of Troy," the marching band, on hand to stoke their anger with the school's fight song.

Years later, another USC assistant, Mike Giddings, admitted having a friend in South Bend and putting him up to the whole thing.

* That same day, Coach John McKay told the team it had been knocked out of the Sheraton Hotel, which it traditionally stayed in the night before home games--to make room for Notre Dame. McKay told the players they would have to stay in a run-down motel. The Sheraton probably sat empty.

* At the pregame meal, the players were surprised when McKay broke with routine preparations and delivered a passionate speech on the meaning of playing Notre Dame. USC fullback Ernie Pye got so excited, he ran through a plate-glass window and sliced an Achilles' tendon, knocking him out of the game.

"I remember Coach McKay turning to [assistant] coach Dave Levy and saying, 'I think they're ready to play,' " says Fertig, and to this day he's still grinning.

With the game on the line and less than two minutes to play, wide receiver Rod Sherman suggested to McKay that USC run "Haw 84 Z-delay." The play called for quarterback Fertig to look for Mike Garrett, or Sherman.

Two Notre Dame defenders went with Garrett, leaving cornerback Tony Carey on Sherman. Fertig rolled left, Carey slipped, and Fertig delivered the ball just a moment before being clobbered by Alan Page.

"I never saw the play," says Fertig, and to this day he's still grinning. "But I heard it turned out real good."

Bill Dwyre, a Notre Dame graduate, sports editor of The Times and probably known best for his unbiased approach to USC, calls that the worst day of his life, saying of Fertig's pass, "As far as I know, that's the only pass Fertig ever completed."

Fact is, it was the last pass Fertig threw in his competitive USC career, and the ball now sits in his den, like some sort of trophy--my mother dead.

In her memory, I asked Fertig on Tuesday if that one pass to beat Notre Dame was worth any chance he had of going to heaven, as if anyone from USC has a chance, and he still seemed to be rather pleased with himself.

"I was just so happy to beat Notre Dame," he says. "Still am."

Says Dwyre: "He's the nicest man in the world I hate."

*

NOW AS CHANCE would have it--31 years after that lucky pass--a pair of Carey's law partners, looking for tickets to USC's game the next day with Notre Dame, happened to bump into Fertig in a downtown Chicago tavern.

If you're going to run into an ex-Trojan, a tavern would be a good place to start.

Fertig asked Carey's associates to call the former Notre Dame cornerback and join him for dinner to talk about old times.

"I had taken a table, and bought a couple bottles of wine when Carey's associates came back to me and said he wasn't coming," Fertig said. "They told me he had a message for me: 'Go to hell.' "

That would keep him away from my dear mother.

*

ARE WE SUPPOSED to feel sorry for David Cone, a guy who made $12 million a year ago and is now being asked to take an $11.5-million pay cut?

How would you like a pay cut that would leave you earning only $500,000 next year?

*

THE NO. 1-WATCHED TV program last week in L.A. was the Oakland-Denver Monday night game, topping "Friends" and "Will & Grace."

There are a lot of Bronco fans in L.A.

*

USC RUNNING BACK Petros Papadakis told the Associated Press USC will make its decision to keep or fire Coach Paul Hackett based on money.

"Everything revolves around money--that's what this is," he said. "The guys play because they love football. Coach Hackett coaches because he loves football. It's a huge money-maker for the university--that's the bottom line."

Kids--where do they get this stuff?

*

THIS SAYS IT all: "With the character of the guys on this team, hopefully we can at least get one win," Charger running back Terrell Fletcher said.

*

IF THE DODGERS are going to have Jack Clark as batting instructor, I think the Cardinals should hire Tom Niedenfuer as pitching coach.

*

USC GAVE A raise to Lou Holtz--don't you like the sound of that?

*

TODAY'S LAST WORD comes in an e-mail from Vince:

"You make me ill."

Take two aspirin and don't read me in the morning.

*

T.J. Simers can be reached at his e-mail address: t.j.simers@latimes.com.

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