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Not All Rivalries Are Created Equal: Five Conclusions from ND vs. USC

Not every school, city or team has a rival. For those that do, Spirit Week is a euphemism for rivalry week. And, with the Bruce Mahoney football game this Friday night at Kezar Stadium, students at St. Ignatius College Prep and Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory know what this contest, this week and this rivalry is all about.

Rivalry week offers me the opportunity to discuss one of my favorite topics: What makes for a good rivalry? How and why is it a blessing to have a rival? And on the heels of Notre Dame defeating USC, I was ready to compare and contrast, discuss and debate this topic as long as possible. I think my students are part of one of the best rivalries in all of high school sports and I believe the Notre Dame/USC rivalry is among the best. Here are but five conclusions on the importance of that one.

It's a Family Affair
The significance of the Notre Dame vs USC rivalry is in my DNA. When the Irish defeated the Trojans 48-20, I felt victory deep in my bones. I have always felt the dislike and utter disdain for that red and gold. I grew up hearing the stories of how many seasons, too many national championships all of these dreams deferred because of USC (My Dad really can't get through the 20-17 loss in 1964 without ire).

My grandfather, Dad and his brothers planted this seed. We grew up in Pac 10 territory; two family members actually worked for the conference. The final trip my Grandpa took before he died was to Notre Dame with my father and Uncle Jay for the rivalry game. A picture from that trip hangs on my wall.

For years, I have traveled south over Thanksgiving weekend to join in the game day pageantry at the LA Coliseum—a historic and painful venue. Every time I go, I swear I will not return. I do. Hope springs does the draw of a rivalry.

Parity and Pain
It's not a rivalry if it's a one-sided affair. There must be a sense that the outcome of this game is anything but given. Neither party can mail it in; the stakes and the pressure are just too high.

My favorite shirt of all time commemorated a "Decade of Dominance." This tee had small tares and holes in the right places; it was perfect for running and working out., and, it is emblematic of my time at ND. 

From 1983 to 1993, the Trojans went winless against the Irish. A freshman in the Fall of 1992, the student body I joined didn't know the pain of losing to USC. Fans didn't enter into those match-ups with quite the same animosity and fear that we did against other schools. But our rivals rose again, aggravating and assaulting top ranked teams—pushing their own into the end zone (see Bush Push).

Chatter and Star Power
One sure sign of a rivalry game is that it generates a lot of chatter. For example, one of my students mentioned that a lot of people at the gym want to talk to him both before and after this particular game. These contests offer an easy talking point—and a spirited one at that.

One aspect I anxiously anticipate in a rivalry game is the list of who's who on the sidelines. I'm a glutton for star power. I was not surprised to see Matt Leinhart. I enjoyed seeing Keyshawn Johnson in that loud and proud USC jacket. ND's all-star list was impressive: Jerome Bettis, Tim Brown, and Joe Montana to name a few. The illuminati however is not just for the fans.

Standing outside the locker room door after the game was Joe and Jennifer Montana. The camera showed Sam Hartman shaking his hand. I thought what a thrill and what a cool connection. From one Irish QB to another—Congratulations are in store! 

Rudyard Kipling, wrote “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” With all due respect to the English writer and poet, I guess he never took history at Notre Dame.

During orientation weekend, the alumni association runs the movie "Knute Rockne, All American" in the Eck Visitor's Center. I appreciate that the University indoctrinates in many ways—including this one. From that film, I learned more about the history of one of football's winningest coaches of all time, and his fingerprints on this storied rivalry.

Therefore, when someone asked me how longstanding is the rivlary between Notre Dame and USC, I had two data points of reference. The Rock and a legendary photo I love that features both Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. 

This photo of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig was taken the night before the 1927 USC-Notre Dame at Soldier Field in Chicago. According to an article in the Dec. 4, 1927 Los Angeles Times, it was an annual All-American dinner thrown by Christy Walsh, who was known as the first baseball agent and agent to Ruth.

Ruth and Gehrig performed a skit at the start of the dinner with Ruth impersonating a Notre Dame player while Gehrig was a USC player.

Below is a photo of Ruth and Gehrig at the game. They were part of the 120,000 in attendance!!!

Emotion. Passion. Fandom.
A good rival brings out the best and worst emotions in us. My own Dad admitted that he kicked the ottoman so hard when ND lost in 1964, that it broke. He said "I totally lost it." I actually thought one of my uncles punched a hole in the wall. Someone might have. Regardless, the family lore lives on (see above!). 

The flip side of this coin is the running on the field and the fireworks. While many fans were critical of this effusive response to victory, my DNA allowed and accommodated for all of it. I couldn't get enough of the social media posts from friends and family—in celebration of a strong, solid W. 

We must relish moments like these for the truth of a rivalry is that they will return next year for one more. They remind us of who we are, what we value and why we care....and do.

Great win Irish! Enjoy a much-deserved week off! I look forward to seeing my friends that went to USC. I don't have many of those.... ;-) 

Photo Credits
Babe Ruth




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