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Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame Fighting Irish VS USC 1977

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Whose Trojan Horse?

Notre Dame University Photo by Notre Dame/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

We’re doing a two week rivalry extravaganza here on One Foot Down, so this week I am going to talk about some of my favorite Notre Dame Fighting Irish football rivalries, and highlight one game in particular. As far as my family goes, we have a few favorite Notre Dame rivalries among us. One would be the Notre Dame/Pitt rivalry, as my dad and I went to Notre Dame, and the rest of my aunts, uncles and cousins went to Pitt. Another favorite Notre Dame rivalry within my family is the Notre Dame/Michigan State rivalry, as my mom’s sister went to Michigan State. While we may not get along when Notre Dame and Michigan State face each other, there is one thing we do agree upon; Michigan sucks. The last favorite Notre Dame rivalry within my family would be the Notre Dame /USC rivalry, as we lived in Southern California for 10 years, and many of my dad’s work buddies and my friend’s parents either went to USC or were huge fans, making that game a fun rivalry every year.

Since I have previously written about the 1988 and 1989 Notre Dame vs. USC Trojans games, today I am going to spend a little time talking about the 1977 Notre Dame vs. USC game. I don’t exactly remember watching this game in 1977 (I was only six and while I’m sure my dad watched it, I’m not sure I was in to football at that point), I have certainly watched many clips of it over the years.

I did an impromptu survey on social media, asking people what their favorite Notre Dame rivalry was, and then what their favorite (specific) rivalry game was, and overwhelmingly Notre Dame vs. USC was the favorite rivalry. And the favorite rivalry game was: 1977 Notre Dame vs. USC game. In my opinion, it is one of the most legendary games in Notre Dame football history. I mean, the way they brought out the green jerseys alone was monumental, let alone bringing out the Trojan horse.

As recounted by Notre Dame Archives, after warming up in the traditional blue jerseys, the team went back into the locker room to find green jerseys hanging in every locker. “Suddenly, the locker room looked like we had just won the National Title and the game hadn’t even started,” cornerback Ted Burgmeier wrote in the 1978 Dome yearbook.

The players’ excitement at the change in jerseys was magnified by the crowd’s reaction once the players came out of the tunnel and on to the field. The return to green jerseys recalled some of the programs best years under coach Frank Leahy and heralded the promise of the 1977 season.

Irish coach Dan Devine had thought about using green jerseys since he arrived at Notre Dame for the 1975 season, but hadn’t yet seized the opportunity. The importance of facing fifth-ranked USC at home in 1977 led him to make the switch. While a few coaches and others knew about the green jerseys for this game, the secret was well kept. However, the players and fans were given many hints during the week leading up to the game.

At the Friday practice before the game tennis coach Tom Fallon sang several Irish ballads to the players, including “The Wearin’ of the Green.” Coach Devine followed with stories about the plight of Irish immigrants and their struggles in America. Later that night at the pep rally, Irish basketball coach “Digger” Phelps introduced a new cheer — “We are . . . the Green Machine.” The players were none the wiser despite all of the hints.

Pregame activities included rolling a student-constructed Trojan horse into the tunnel and out on to the field. The horse was fifteen feet high and had room for a small number of students who were dressed as football players. The student-inspired Trojan horse recalled earlier days when pregame activities came up from the students, including parades, snake dances, bonfires, floats, and dorm decorations. Some were planned, such as the Trojan horse, while others were more spontaneous.

Every Notre Dame football game against USC is a big one in my book, but the 1977 game was especially important as the Irish had not beaten the Trojans since 1973. Heading into the game both teams had one loss. The eleventh ranked Irish had lost to Mississippi earlier in the season, and the fifth ranked Trojans had lost to Alabama two weeks before facing Notre Dame.

The Irish football team, already energized from the green jerseys, took the field against the Trojans and never looked back. They dominated the Trojans on both sides of the ball, and USC had no idea what had hit them. Notre Dame quarterback Joe Montana ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more (both to All-American Ken MacAfee). Linebacker Bob Golic blocked a punt which defensive end Jay Case ran in for a touchdown. A botched extra point attempt turned into a two point conversion for the Fighting Irish. And the stout Notre Dame defense forced USC’s quarterback into throwing three interceptions. The final score that day was Notre Dame 49 - USC 19.

Ken MacAfee shared with me some of his memories from the legendary “Green Jersey Game”. We went out in our blue jerseys and warmed up as always. No one had any inkling of what was going to occur. On game day I had one ritual or superstition that I always followed. I had to be the last one into the locker room after warm-ups and the last one out of the locker room at game time. As I was coming towards the locker room I heard this commotion that was getting louder and louder the closer I got. As I walked up the stairs from the tunnel into the locker room it sounded as though we had just won the game. I walked into the locker room and everyone was taking off their blue jerseys and putting on these green ones. It was utter chaos in the locker room; everyone was jumping around. It was pretty impressive I must say.

It was remarkable what happened after that. Whether or not the green jerseys were a significant factor in that win, they certainly did have an impact. The aura surrounding that game with the addition of the green jerseys, we were more pumped up than you can even imagine. The coaches had to actually come into the locker room to settle everyone down. It was an enjoyable experience, but winning the game was even more enjoyable. We were just going to wear the green jerseys for that game and then someone said, “why don’t we wear the green jerseys for the rest of the year? Use them as our trademark and potentially win a national title.” And the rest, as they say, is history.

Want to hear a bit more about the “Green Jersey game?” Here’s some commentary from the 1977 team:

Cheers & GO IRISH!