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Mike Penner / SOUND AND VISION

Taking One of Many Pages From Rivalry Handbook

October 15, 2005|Mike Penner

Notre Dame vs. USC is the best rivalry in college football, according to the big, thick book that just came crashing down on my desk, rattling the laptop next to it.

In fact, ESPN's new College Football Encyclopedia -- 1,630 pages in all, bigger than even Texas' media guide during the pre-NCAA-cutback era -- says it twice.

In the Notre Dame section: "Through it all, the Notre Dame-USC rivalry remains the most colorful in all of football." In the Southern Cal section (yes, the book lists USC as "Southern Cal," meaning you have to work to find it squeezed between South Florida and Southern Miss): "[The Trojans'] intersectional rivalry with Notre Dame is considered the greatest in the sport on a national level."

It hasn't been so great in recent years, but now that this October finds USC ranked No. 1, as usual, and Notre Dame No. 9, a very recent development that has stoked much wistful nostalgia, today's 12:30 p.m. game at South Bend prompted NBC to plant a half-page ad in USA Today that cries:

THE YEAR'S BIGGEST GAME! *

*SO FAR

The year's biggest college football book -- kickers will read it, but they will need an offensive lineman to carry it -- gets its heft by including such Notre Dame-USC trivia as:

Through 1959, the annual Notre Dame-USC game was played in November. But after the Trojans "performed so miserably in a cold-weather 16-6 loss at Notre Dame . . . [USC] Athletic Director Jess Hill proposed October home dates for the Irish and late November dates for Notre Dame to visit USC."

The "biggest upset" in USC history goes to the Trojans' 1964 regular season-ending 20-17 victory over a previously unbeaten Irish team. Notre Dame led, 17-0, at halftime, but USC Coach John McKay rallied his players with perhaps the shortest and most effective halftime speech in the history of halftime speeches.

"If we don't score more than 17 points in the second half," McKay told his players, "you'll lose."

Four decades ago, Notre Dame-USC was bigger than the biggest rivalry in college football. Reminiscing years later about that 1964 upset, Craig Fertig, the Trojans' quarterback that day, recalled that "after the game, someone sent me papers from Paris, London, Frankfurt and a bunch of other countries. The game was on the front page of all of them."

Today's game doesn't figure to stop presses in Europe. But if Notre Dame keeps it close long enough to keep viewers from switching over to baseball on Fox, NBC will be happy.

Also available for viewing this weekend:

TODAY

* Chicago White Sox at Angels

(Channel 11, 5:15 p.m.)

Today's topic for discussion: Will Josh Paul's unholy roller do to the Angels in this series what Marty McSorley's curved stick did to the Kings in the 1993 Stanley Cup finals?

Similarities: McSorley's gaffe also happened on the road, in Game 2, with the visiting Kings on the verge of taking a 2-0 series lead.

Differences: Among other things, the '93 Kings had to combat the tradition, mystique and aura of the Montreal Canadiens. White Sox tradition: No World Series titles since 1917. And one other thing: Patrick Roy is not in the house.

* St. Louis Cardinals at Houston Astros

(Channel 11, 1 p.m.)

The Angels in 2002, the Marlins in 2003, the Red Sox in 2004. The last three World Series have been won by wild-card teams, and the case for Houston getting the chance to become the fourth reads like this: Roger Clemens starts Game 3 today, with Andy Pettitte set up for Game 5 on Monday and Roy Oswalt, if necessary, for Game 6 on Wednesday.

* UCLA at Washington State

(FSNW, 3:30 p.m.)

It is difficult to be 5-0 and ranked No. 12 in the country and still fly under the radar. But with USC on a 27-game winning streak, ranked No. 1 and playing Notre Dame on national TV, flying under the radar is precisely how the Bruins got to Pullman, Wash.

SUNDAY

* Jacksonville Jaguars at Pittsburgh Steelers

(Channel 2, 10 a.m.)

This became a much more interesting matchup after: a) the Jaguars handed Cincinnati its first defeat last week; b) the Steelers probably lost quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to a knee injury. More interesting to bettors and CBS, that is, not necessarily the Steelers.

* New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys

(Channel 11, 10 a.m.)

Some amazing statistics surround this one. Giant quarterback Eli Manning has 12 touchdown passes and no intercepted passes in his last 110 throws. Cowboy quarterback Drew Bledsoe has 10 touchdown passes after five games. The Giants are 3-1, the Cowboys 3-2 and Giants-Cowboys is a marquee matchup for the first time since 1993.

* Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks

(ESPN, 5:30 p.m.)

Might I recommend White Sox at Angels, Game 5 ALCS, 5:15 p.m. on Channel 11, instead?

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