Share a memory of Notre Dame and USC? Sure thing, boss. You know, this isn’t like asking someone for a recipe or whether or not they like Dollar Shave Club. This is asking me to cut open my abdomen with a shoddily sterilized instrument, pull out a slimy filet of my soul, and then present it to everyone with minimal preparation like a last minute book report. Ok, that’s dramatic. But so are my memories of Notre Dame vs. USC…..2005.
Before this game became the Bush Push, it was New Pope. New Coach. New Era. The Notre Dame faithful were still shielding their eyes from the blinding gleam of Charlie Weis’ Super Bowl ring, and there was no reason yet for second guessing. After all, the Irish were 4-1 with three ranked-team wins under their belt.
Swirling in the fresh rapture, I called a friend of mine and fellow ND diehard and essentially told him, “we are going to this game,” and I hung up the phone. The next week of online ticket searches was mostly sticker shock. As can happen with ND, the prices were inflating rapidly with the hysteria. As can happen in your early 20’s, a ticket like that isn’t pocket change. Cue the gears of creativity in the minds of these two would-be attendees. How do I get the wife/fiancée to sign off on this?
I am sad to confess, we both took routes of deceit, blinded by the anticipation of this game. I purchased the tickets and told my wife they cost a lot less than what I paid. (Due to a marital agreement signed in the aftermath, the actual price can never be spoken/printed again). My friend decided to tell his fiancée that he was only going to South Bend to tailgate, but actually attended the game with me. Neither of us consulted each other on the strategy up front, although we did have a laugh at our own awesomeness on the drive to our own, personal ‘game of the century’.
Here the story intertwines with your own memory. You remember the game. Notre Dame comes out in green, as if we needed the extra drama. Sure, they were like an 80’s prom dress, beautiful in the moment but hideous in historical pictures. I had never seen USC in person. Sharp jerseys of their own. Colossal linemen, jacked backers, beautiful cheer squad, annoying band – as advertised. To this day, Reggie Bush was the most electric player I had seen in person.
The game was a complete roller coaster of emotion, deafening noise shot up into the dark October night from a place people thought was loud - until they heard it actually get loud. The experience in the stadium was wrapped in much more confusion than a TV viewer would recall. Uncertainty sprang from the loud noise, controversial calls, seeing the students run on the field and then run off. I have more memory of not knowing what exactly happened when the clock struck zero than I do of feeling defeated. The mood carried out to the cars among fans of ND and USC alike. The noise evaporated. Both sides were speechless. Shock. Confusion. Finality. The feeling that you were inches from the greatest thing that could ever have happened, but also miles from it.
After the game, we were catching a ride back to our own car and our phones start going off. Buddies back home we figured, wanting to know what it was like to see it live. Nope. Wife. Fiancée. Wife AND fiancée. They were together. Two women, each told a different lie by their beloved, were together. One can only imagine how that conversation went. “I can’t believe those tickets were $x, thank God they didn’t go to the game.” “And I can’t believe they got tickets for the low-low price of $x” “What…what?” “WHAT?!”
We were found out, tried, convicted, and sentenced together in a matter of seconds. We still had two hours to drive home. We would’ve taken 30 feet down death row to the chair. My last memory of that night was stopping for a ceremonial last meal. Sitting quietly in a small town McDonalds with my buddy, mashing cheeseburgers and pondering not only what will happen to Notre Dame football after a game like that, but also what the world will be like without either one of us in it. We laughed and shook our heads like only dead men can do.
We both received our punishments, but happy to report we are still married to those women, with children, and still keeping the Irish faith. I can’t help but think that night that we shared a bit of similarity with ND. Save for 2012, it represented the closest they had come to realizing the dream. But they had to play out of their minds to show it, suspending reality for a moment. I regret suspending the truth to get there, but I am glad I saw that moment in Notre Dame’s football history.