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NO. 1 USC (10-0) VS. NOTRE DAME (6-4) Saturday, 5 p.m.,
Coliseum, Channel 7

Return to Glory

It has been 30 years, but no one at USC or Notre Dame will forget Anthony Davis and 'The Comeback' to 55-24

November 24, 2004|Gary Klein | Times Staff Writer

According to records, USC's 1974 game against Notre Dame drew a Coliseum crowd of 83,552.

J.K. McKay, a senior receiver for the Trojans that year, suggested recently that a recount might be in order.

"Based on the number of people who say they were at the game, there must have been 2 million there," said McKay, the son of former Trojan coach John McKay.

All who were there, though, on Nov. 30, 1974, saw one of the most stunning comebacks in college football history as USC erased a 24-0 second-quarter deficit and routed defending national champion Notre Dame, 55-24.

USC scored a touchdown just before halftime and then, ignited by Anthony Davis' 102-yard kickoff return, reeled off seven more in less than 17 minutes of the second half.

"The Trojans were scoring touchdowns so fast in the third quarter that the scoreboard couldn't handle it and went on the blink," wrote the Times' Mal Florence.

"Yes, it's fair to say, this is one of the wildest things that ever happened on a football field," Coach McKay said after the game.

According to veteran broadcaster Keith Jackson, it remains so 30 years later.

"I've never seen anything quite like that," said Jackson, who called the 1974 game for ABC and will be back in the Coliseum booth for Saturday's sold-out game between the top-ranked Trojans and the Fighting Irish.

Delirious USC fans remained on their feet for the entire third quarter and part of the fourth in '74 as the Trojans capitalized on every Notre Dame miscue.

"It was one of the loudest stadiums I've been in," Gerry DiNardo, a former All-American guard for the Irish who is now coach at Indiana, said last week. "After they got going, every little thing they did, it got louder and louder."

Charles Phillips, a USC safety who intercepted three passes that day, says he still gets chills when he thinks about the electric atmosphere.

"The more it went our way, the louder it got," Phillips said. "It was deafening."

Davis recently described the wall of sound in 1974 as an almost living entity. He said the roar made it feel as if he was running through butter on his kickoff return, his third in three games against the Irish.

Said then-USC quarterback Pat Haden, a Los Angeles businessman who also works as a television analyst on Notre Dame broadcasts, "The word 'momentum' is often used, maybe overused, but that was the first time I felt it going through my body."

Sixth-ranked USC began the game with an 8-1-1 record and was a four-point favorite. The Trojans had lost their season opener at Arkansas and had tied California, but were coming off consecutive victories over Stanford, Washington and UCLA and were headed for the Rose Bowl.

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame was 9-1 and ranked first in the nation on defense. The Irish had given up only eight touchdowns before Coach Ara Parseghian's final regular-season game and had already locked up an Orange Bowl date against Alabama.

"We're not going to score a lot of points against them," John McKay had warned. "They do not leak. They submerge you."

DiNardo said Notre Dame had added some new plays and with quarterback Tom Clements directing the attack, the Irish took a 24-0 lead.

"At that point, it truly seemed hopeless," Phillips recalled.

Haden, who had set up two Notre Dame touchdowns by throwing an interception and falling short on fourth and inches, said J.K. McKay tried to lighten the atmosphere.

"He says to me, 'You can't have a great comeback unless you fall way behind,' " Haden recalled.

USC finally scored with 10 seconds left in the first half on a seven-yard swing pass from Haden to Davis, but the Trojans headed up the Coliseum tunnel trailing, 24-6.

Clements, now the Buffalo Bills' offensive coordinator, said last week that Notre Dame was unfazed by the Trojan touchdown.

"We still felt pretty good," he said.

DiNardo sensed nothing unusual. "There was no panic at halftime, it was very routine," he said. Meanwhile, over in the USC locker room

"I was thinking, 'Man, we're going to get chewed out,' " recalled Mosi Tatupu, the father of current Trojan linebacker Lofa Tatupu, who was a fullback and special teams player for the Trojans as a freshman.

Safety Marvin Cobb chuckled when recalling assistant Marv Goux's address to the defense.

"He wasn't letting us out of the locker room unless we signed in blood that we were giving our lives for the cause," said Cobb, now the executive director of the California Academic Decathlon.

McKay, however, was calm. He reminded his team that USC had overcome a 17-0 halftime deficit to beat No. 1 Notre Dame, 20-17, at the Coliseum in 1964.

"Then," recalled Davis, a Southland real estate developer, "all of a sudden, he paused and he said, 'They're going to kick the ball to A.D. and he's going to bring it all the way back.' I looked at guys like J.K. McKay and thought, 'He's lost his mind. He might be a good coach and he might be your father, but he's a nut.

" 'There ain't no way we're coming back on these guys like that.' "

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