"But the kids themselves, you talk to them, it really is just another game in a series of 12," said Haden, who went 2-1 against the Irish as a player, then called another dozen as a broadcaster. "I think all of us, maybe you and me old-timers view it differently than current players do."
Maybe Haden just wasn't talking to the right players.
Running back Marc Tyler has never played in South Bend, pushing him to work through a dislocated shoulder in the hopes of carrying the ball Saturday (4:30 p.m., NBC) as a redshirt senior.
Freshman wide receiver Marqise Lee will get another chance to see Notre Dame Stadium two years from now, but he too is pushing himself through a shoulder injury to play in college football's most renowned intersectional rivalry.
"This means a lot," freshman guard Marcus Martin said. "Over the years, I watched USC versus Notre Dame. To be able to be a part of it is amazing."
Maybe the extra emphasis on this game is because for the first time in nearly a decade, it is USC that has something to prove.
Consider it the lingering effect of last season's 20-16 loss to Notre Dame, which ended a historic run of eight consecutive wins.
It still stings, beyond Ronald Johnson's drop of a game-winning touchdown in the closing minutes.
"I don't think it will ever leave, really," USC head coach Lane Kiffin said. "This week brings it back because you have to watch it again to learn from the tape."
Quarterback Matt Barkley, who did not play last season because of an ankle injury, called it "just a terrible feeling."
There were four wasted takeaways, including three interceptions of Notre Dame quarterback Tommy Rees, as an ultra-conservative game plan for backup Mitch Mustain in a downpour prevented the Trojans from taking advantage of excellent field position all night long.
But USC (5-1, 3-1 Pac-12) can soothe those memories by extending their winning streak under the gaze of Touchdown Jesus to five in a rare night game, the first at home for Notre Dame (4-2) in more than two decades.
To do so, it will need a standout effort from its defense, which wilted at the most inopportune moments last season, but is coming off a 30-9 win at California in which it forced five turnovers.
Notre Dame lost five fumbles and threw five interceptions in its losses this season, but has not committed a turnover in the last 10 quarters.
A win would see Barkley join Matt Leinart and Len Dawson of Purdue among the handful of opposing quarterbacks ever to win multiple starts in South Bend.
He threw for 380 yards, two touchdowns with one interception in 2009, as USC held off a fourth-quarter Notre Dame rally to win 34-27.
Cornerback T.J. Bryant, who knocked down a fade for tight end Kyle Rudolph in the end zone as part of a goal line stand in the final seconds, still remembers the feeling leaving the field.
While Bryant won't be playing this week, as coaches are redshirting him this season, he summed up what USC hopes to be feeling at the end of a long, chilly Midwestern night.
"Everyone would love to be where we were the last time we went out there," he said.