O/NSO - ND diary review

Experiencing the Notre Dame game in South Bend and the days leading up to the rivalry in Chicago is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, and for many, an annual pilgrimage. In a departure from our normal style of column, we would like to give Trojan fans our four-day Notre Dame Weekender in diary form.

The Obvious – Thousands USC Trojan fans blew into Chicago like a cardinal and gold tornado coming off Lake Michigan for the annual Notre Dame Weekender, but it was the fifth-ranked USC football team that did the heavy devastation, as the Trojans (6-1) demolished Notre Dame 45-14 on a sunny, autumn Saturday afternoon upon the hallowed ground of Notre Dame Stadium.

The Not So Obvious – Experiencing the Notre Dame game in South Bend and the days leading up to the rivalry in Chicago is truly a once-in-a-lifetime event, and for many, an annual pilgrimage. In a departure from our normal style of column, we would like to give Trojan fans our four-day Notre Dame Weekender in diary form. Enjoy.

Thursday – Oct. 16

6:45 a.m. – Wake up to XTRA Sports radio and with one eye open, we focus on an aerial photo of Notre Dame Stadium on my bedroom wall in remembrance of the USC game at South Bend in 1997. The time has come to return.

7:20 – Eat my oat bran and toasted cinnamon bread thinking what the weather will really be like in both Chicago and South Bend, because it is so unpredictable.

8:40 – Arrive at airport with wife wearing my USC hat and the female airport security agent says, "All you (USC) guys have me excited about the game. I am going to have to watch it on TV, and I am not an SC fan."

9:00 – Our America West flight will go to Phoenix first and then we will change planes for Chicago. Don't see a lot of SC fans on the plane. Most,must have flown direct on American. We leave out of Gate 7, the same number as ND legendary quarterback Joe Theisman. Bad omen.

9:25 – Board plane and man in first class sees my USC hat and says, "Beat the Irish!" His wife says, "Is the game this weekend?"

9:32 – Mrs. 23Blast gets ready for the big game and flight by bringing out To The Nines by Janet Evanovich. I take out Blue and Gold Illustrated, the weekly Notre Dame football publication, and start reading the USC preview, which predicts a USC 23-20 victory. Woman sitting next my wife is wearing perfume that is bad as this year's Notre Dame offense.

9:52 – Lift-off. We are our way to back to the Midwest. We fly out of Orange County and there is that "free fall" thing over Newport Beach right after take-off. Hope freshman Brady Quinn, the Irish quarterback, passes float like this plane does over Newport Beach.

10:45 – Arrive Phoenix. Plane parks next to Phoenix Cardinals' team plane. Don't know if that is a good or bad football sign.

11:45 – Board flight to Chicago. Fans see my hat and start giving hoorays for USC, but still no sign of Irish fans. America West seats are so crammed there is no legroom. Reminds me of the small visitors' locker room in the "old" Notre Dame Stadium before expansion.

12:25 p.m. – In the air and we fly over ASU's Sun Devil Stadium. No sign of ASU quarterback Andrew Walter. However, lots of spring training sites. Don't know why, but I think of the Cubbies and will Chicago still be in a state of mourning when we get there. No doubt.

5:20 – Touchdown!!!!! We have landed at O'Hare Airport in Chicago. Our butts and backs are killing us from the lack of sitting spacer on our America West flight. This will be good preparation for the seats at Notre Dame Stadium, which are wooden and so thin you would have to have the backside of an ant to fit comfortably.

5:30 – Where are the Trojan fans? Ah, there they are. The luggage area looks like a pep rally. We are amongst friends. "Fight on" signs all over the place.

5:45 – Rent from National Car Emerald Isle so we can choose our car. Don't know much about cars, but wife thinks we should get the red one that is a Trojan color .We don't because it draws the attention of police, especially this weekend in South Bend.

6:00 – Traffic is a bitch heading into Chicago during rush hour. Who says LA has all the freeway problems. We pass a Wrigley Field sign, and I feel the urge to drive by. Have done it every time I ve come to the Windy City. A tradition. We break tradition because we need to eat.

7:10 – Get off the Dan Ryan Expressway at Ohio Street (those Buckeyes) and arrive at Hyatt Regency, headquarters for the Trojan Weekender. Finally, look at the lobby full of cardinal and gold. Nirvana.

7:24 – Hyatt check-in. We start with Room 2751 and going up the elevator a woman says, "Why are there so many USC people here at this hotel?" Her escort says, " You are really going to South Bend?" No. We're on our way to Muncie.

8:30 – Dinner at P.F. Changs. Just love the lemon scallops, sweet and sour chicken, and the BBQ ribs. Run into a couple that are SC grads who live in Chicago and work at a law firm. They have tickets for the game, but mention they could never get into SC now with academic standards so high. Female says her sister wanted to play in the Trojan band, but she didn't get in and instead went to Cal. Wow.

10:00 – Walking back, members of the USC band are now on Michigan Avenue. The town is starting to look cardinal and gold.

10:15 – Run into EETrojan, who says he is going to his first game in South Bend since the 80's. Good guy. Says he is taking some pictures now for WeAreSC, the mag. There is a great singing group on the third floor of a massive bar singing Motown stuff. Excellent. They sound cool and do some Temptation dance steps as they sing. Crowd goes wild when Yanks tie Red Sox 5-5.

11:00 – The little woman and I decide to turn in. Looks like a romantic ending (Wink, Wink).

Friday – October 17

7:00 a.m. – Wake up and fall back to sleep thanks to the snooze button. Hope the Irish defense is also taking a snooze on Saturday.

9:10 – Opps. Finally get up. This is no way to adjust to the time change. How will we get up for the early departure to South Bend tomorrow? Trying to get my wife up is as hard as trying to block Shaun Cody one-on-one.

10:30 – Ride the elevator down with Trojan fans and people you have never met are giving the "Fight on " sign. My wife finds it amusing and weird. Of course she does, she went to Wisconsin. I tell her it's better than wearing a cheesehead.

10:35 – A woman scratches my back and it turns out to be the wife of the late Marv Goux. She mistakes me for being "Woody'. She apologizes, but I remind her we had met many years ago under different circumstances. We have a friendly conversation and wish each other the best.

10:55 – Arrive at the Navy Pier, a combination tourist trap, amusement park, and convention center, which jets out onto Lake Michigan. Sign says 46 degrees. Some SC fans in shorts. That's the spirit of "Conquest!"

11:20 – A group of 8th grade boys on a school field trip see all the SC fans and one of the boys wearing an ND hat walks up to me and says, Notre Dame is going to beat you!" We reply, "Like last year at the Coliseum!" Trojan fans start gathering at the "steps" for the noon pep rally with the Spirit of Troy.

11:40 -Pier plays 60's music and out blasts the Electric Prunes' "I've Had Too Much To Dream Last Night". Ah, a good warm-up for Art Bartner's band.

11:48 – First appearance of Trojan fans with signs that says they need tickets. Next comes another group that makes the same request with notes attached to their clothes. This is gonna be a tough tickets. Nobody is selling. The crowd is swelling and a little girl appears wearing a USC cheerleader outfit. Wife points that one out. Women love that stuff, don't they?

12:02 p.m. – Waiting for the band. The area looks like a cardinal and gold avalanche. Guy wearing a Trojan helmet say this is a sellers' market for tickets as opposed to other years when it was a buyers' market. No ducats to be seen. One lady says to the Mrs. 23Blast that they looked at tickets on the net, and that they were in the hundreds of dollar variety.

12:30 – A packed house. The band finally appears 30 minutes late, but whose counting? Director Art Bartner is in red tie and classy coat. Band starts with yelling, "Beat the Irish!" Band opens with Fanfare and the rally in underway.

12:40 – Chicago police on a boat float by and stop and listen. Midwest guy with no affiliation with SC has his kid on his shoulders and is talking on a cell phone. He tells the listener, "This USC stuff is bad. I mean this is really cool!" Conquest is played and the place goes bananas.

1:12 – Rally concludes, the band marches out, and the wife and I eat lunch on the pier at a place called Billy Goats Tavern. They serve the usual burgers and chips, but the guy that takes your order is right of John Belushi's "cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger." The bad news is the burger meat is the size of McDonalds.

2:30 – We head to Michigan Avenue and I see my favorite caramel popcorn store, Garrett's Popcorn. I love this stuff like I love watching Omar Nazel rush the quarterback. This place is a big hit with visitors. Looking at other Trojans in the popcorn line, guy in line comments, "Everywhere I go, I see Southern Cal. You guys really travel well!"

2:50 – Now what the wife has been waiting for…..a trip to Marshall Field's, the ultimate Midwest department store across the street. She is in Valhalla. Let's just say it lives up to her Midwest expectations of seven floors of clothes, perfume, and jewelry.

4:50 – Cruise into H&M, a trendy clothing store. Hey, there's Daryl Gross, assistant USC athletic director checking out some hip stuff.

5:40 – Return to the Hyatt and get a room change because we need a King bed. Change also gives us a larger room. Complementary Chicago Tribune is in our room, and there is a story by Avani Patel on Trojan receiver Mike Williams. Williams says the Trojan offense has not yet been in sync despite a 38.5 average. I tell the wife that Saturday would be a good day to get in sync. Take out Thursday's OC Register and read Steve Bisheff's story on the five greatest games in the USC/ND rivalry. We both agree it was the 1974 55-24 win in the Coliseum. Having been there, I have never seen anything quite like it.

6:05 – Turn on the television and see a horrible fire near us at the Cook County Office, which was built in 1963. People are dying and ambulances are racing by our hotel. Puts everything into prospective. USC/ND is just a game compared to this. Really tragic.

7:00 – Go to the Hyatt Ballroom for the big Trojan Rally at $20 a person. The band is there, and so is my daughter's high school English teacher. We decide one rally is enough, and we have the Hyatt concierge get us quick reservations at Harry Caray's restaurant. Great food

7:20 – Waiter tells some SC people next to us that the Indiana Toll Road and Skyway is doing construction and that it could take us up to three hours to get to South Bend tomorrow. Well, there goes the 9:00 a.m. departure. It looks like 8:00 now.

9:10 – Return to Hyatt and the place is alive. Total Trojan fans. Fan are looking for tickets. Ah, one guy says he has some and he'll sell two for $350 each. Ouch! The place and scalper prices are reminding me of a Final Four atmosphere.

10:50 – Before turning in, we set a wake-up call for 7:00 a.m. (5:00 SoCal time). One last glance at today's Chicago Sun-Times and the headline says, "Irish have a score to settle with USC." The sub-head reads, "Last year's wipeout motivation for ND." What a nice bedtime story for relaxation. I think I'll count shamrocks to drift away.

Saturday – October 16th

6:55 a.m. – Hyatt wake-up call. Somebody choke the rooster. The 23Blast is ready, but the wife is Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

7:05 – After a shave and corn flakes in the room, one last look at the Chicago Tribune and there is a story on ND freshman tackle Ryan Harris, a Trojan recruit who attended last year's Trojan smashing of the Irish at the Coliseum. Kid says he didn't like USC beating the Irish that day. Wonder how he might feel if it happens again, though not likely.

7:35 – Decide to wear my "Southern Cal" white shirt. Sorry powers-that-be,but I decide to wear it in honor of former ND replay announcer Lindsey Nelson, who always referred to USC as "Southern Cal."

7:59 – We are on our way. We leave the Hyatt and a line around the block of red-clad Trojan fans, who are ready to board the busses for the trip to northern Indiana. We get on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

8:24 –Toll Booth No. 1 - $2.00 in Irish green.

8:31 – Toll Booth No. 2 – 50-cents. Hey, where are the autumn leaves and colors? Everything is still green as we pass the South Shore train carrying Trojans fans by rail to the game.

8:56 – Toll Booth No. 3 - $1.55 and still 55 miles from South Bend

9:45 – We're here!!! Traffic is Rose Bowl crowded for the three exits into Notre Dame. We take Exit 77, the closest. Weather is very windy and very cool.

9:51 – Golden Dome sighting. Reminds me of the excitement I had as a kid when I saw the Matterhorn at Disneyland from the Santa Ana Freeway.

10:17 – Hit the Knute Rockne restrooms. In the lobby they are playing a video showing the history of ND football and narrated by the great John Facenda of NFL films. Autumn leaves are out, but not as bright as years past.

10:41 – Pick up tickets at Will Call. Temp is now 56 degrees and scalpers are asking $200 per ticket. Many fans have signs needing tickets. Not a good buyers day.

10:57 – Purchase game program for $8.00. Cover has a huge picture of the 1966 National Championship ring. Very nice program and includes color mugs of players for both teams.

11:14 – Trojan fans await team's arrival at tunnel entrance to stadium. Many Trojan fans are taking group photos of "Touchdown Jesus." Moon is shinning out of the Northwest, according to my wife.

11:26 – Notre Dame team arrives from church. This is the least unimpressive Irish players I have seen in person. Notre Dame "looks" down in talent. Guess who the last player is to enter through the players' gate? It's Trojan recruit Jeff Byers from Colorado, who is on his Notre Dame recruiting visit. I tell my wife this could really be a Trojan gold mine or a disaster. Byers looks amused by the loud reception from ND fans.

11:43 – Trojan fans form a spirit tunnel as the Trojan team arrives lead by coach Pete Carroll. Chanting "We Are….SC", Trojan fans are making their heroes feel the game is being played at the Coliseum. The Trojans look very serious about their mission. Former Trojan linebacker and Greek restaurant owner John Papadakis greets the team with hugs and handshakes.

12:07 p.m. – Walk back across campus and listen to the Notre Dame Marching Band do their pregame concert. Hearing the band play the Notre Dame Victory March is truly impressive and classic. Well worth taking the time to listen.

12:42 – Have lunch in the student union and it's a Subway chicken on honey wheat for me and a salad for the wife. Will we make kickoff at this rate? Pass the Malox.

1:12 – USC band takes the field while the Notre Dame band plays the Victory March just outside the USC locker room. Doesn't sound like a good idea. This could get the last Trojan to come out smoking.
1:20 – Enter the stadium and I am reminded why I love watching a game at this place. It is second to none as far as viewing. We don't need the glasses. For most, you are right on top of the action. The best. I am on the 20 yard line, 24 rows up behind the Trojan bench. It doesn't get any better than this.

1:32 – Eight Army folks drop from the sky and with the wind kicking up, they hit the field without injury.

1:35 – Notre Dame public address announcer Mike Collins, who is an anchor at WSBT television in South Bend, tells the crowd that the temp is 61 degrees, the wind 16-21 miles, and the high will be 63 degrees and mostly sunny. Cheers from both sides.

1:37 – ND takes the field and the Trojans wait and come through the tunnel four minutes later, an old McKay technique, to a sea of booing Irish fans. This is the most hostile ND crowd I have seen in my many trips back here. There really want revenge. More of a basketball environment this afternoon.

1:44 – Kickoff. It is on!!!!!!!!!!!! Both teams come out smoking and you get the impression the defenses are non-existent. The ND crowd is in a frenzy, but so is the USC offense, as Leinart leads his team down the field for the first score on a perfect 18-yard touchdown to Keary Colbert.. USC 7-0.

1:54 – It doesn't take ND long to tie the score on an explosive 22-yard TD run by senior Julius Jones, who is looking like the best ND running back since Ricky Waters. Can anybody stop this guy, Pete? SC linebackers are getting dusted, especially off the left side. USC 7, ND 7. ND students are doing mass push-ups with each other.

2:08 – Oh my, Trojans Reggie Bush takes a pitch from Leinart and I see it coming. Look out. Here comes the cut across the grain. Bye! Great down field block from tight end Greg Guenther Jr. USC 14-, ND 7

2:14 – Oh , no. Trojan linebacker Matt Grootogoed is hurt. Houston, we've got a problem! In comes Dallas Startz. Here's your big chance kid, on the big stage.

2:15 – Out goes injured nose tackle Mike Patterson. Hey, is this the ghost of Joe Moore coaching the Irish offensive line. These ND guys are blocking like the 1973 National Champions.

2:17 – ND's Quinn hits soph tight end Anthony Fasano with a diving catch in the back end zone just to my right. Mother make it stop! USC 14, ND 14 Notre Dame Stadium is rockin', and we aren't even out of the first quarter.

2:28 – He's back!!!!!! Mike Williams reminds the Irish why he is one of the best receivers in the nation with a 7-yard TD reception from Leinart. USC 21, ND 14. Pass the Advil.

2:38 – Irish QB Quinn keeps evading the Trojan rush. Kid must think he is Joe Theisman. Out goes Grootogoed, again. Finally, the end of the first quarter. Crowd is like a heavyweight championship fight between rounds, exhausted.

2:56 – Hey, freshman Whitney Lewis gets in at receiver. Six minutes later it's Hershel Dennis doing his Mal MacKenzie circle-out-of-the-backfield impression for a 3-yard pass over the middle from Leinart. Suddenly Leinart is looking to the Irish a lot like that Carson fella, and ND fans around us are making the comparison. Pass the Advil to the fans in the green. USC 28, ND 14

3:04 – During the TV timeout, the Trojans' special teams get together and safety Mike Ross starts dancing and being funky. Kid is ready to hit on the kickoff.

3:12 – SC defense starts to settle in and the pressure is starting to show on Irish QB Quinn, not to mention the ND offensive line. Once again, the Trojan start slow on defense and pick it up in the second quarter. Oh, and no fake punt this year in South Bend. Yeah!!

3:19 – Oh, no. Another Irish blocked punt of Tom Malone. The ND hero is Cory Mays. I guess this is a new tradition in this storied rivalry.

3:20 – The hitting is getting stronger and DT Shaun Cody limps off the field. Trojan fans hold their breath. In comes supersub LeJuan Ramsey.

3:23 – There is an Anthony Munoz sighting on the Trojans' sidelines. The Hall of Famer is one of many stars in South Bend. NBC is following him around. Maybe they will do a nice recruiting interview with him.

3:24 – Leinart takes a knee twice to end the half. The Trojans run off the field and the Irish walk off the field. The wife says that the Irish are trying to be polite and let the Trojans go first. It sure didn't look like ND was going to run. USC 28, ND 14

3:32- A bit of controversy at half as it appears the SC band will not let some members of the Irish band on the field after the Trojan band comes off the field from their performance. Order is restored and then the Irish honor quarterback Joe Theisman.

3:49 – Third quarter starts and DT Shaun Cody gets into a joust with a ND offensive lineman. The Trojans look ready to humiliate the Irish. There is a sense of impending doom from Irish fans around us.

3:56 – Irish get called for a facemask penalty on Trojan tailback Reggie Bush, and ND fans points out the refs are from the Pac-10. Hmmmmm. Sorry, but from where we are sitting, you could see the mask twist.

3:58 – Open the cardinal flood gates, Leinart just passed 7 yards to tight end Guenther, and its USC 35, ND 14. Key to the play was splitting out both Hershel Dennis and Brandon Hancock out of the backfield. Norm Chow is hotter than the penetrating sun. Notre Dame Stadium is as quiet as a wholly mass. Trojan fans are going bonkers. We've got a ways to go in the quarter, yet Troy is just three points shy of their seasonal scoring average. It's starting to look like last year in the Coliseum and Irish fans know it.

4:02 – Reserve linebacker Bobby Otani, who is a Trojan fan as well as football player, replaces Grootogoed, who is really hurting. Save'em for Washington next week.

4:08 – Trojans try for a kill as Colbert takes a reverse and tries a throw-back to fullback Hancock. Chow must want the 40 Point Club. The old master is opening up his bag of tricks.

4:12 – Hey, Trojan kicker Ryan Killen wants to play and does by kicking a 29-yard field goal. Irish coach Tyrone Willingham has that Gerry Faust look. Speaking of Faust, he was signing autographs in the ACC before the game. USC 38, ND 14.

4:15 - Killeen is pumped and the kickoff goes into the end zone and some Irish fans start for the exit.

4:20 – Sun is going down and so are the Irish fans from their seats. They are going down the steps, out the tunnel, and into the South Bend late afternoon. The Trojans front four is now having Brady Quinn for Irish stew. It's getting painful to watch this kid take a beating after looking like a pro in the first quarter.

4:25 – Nothing could go wrong for the Trojans until star offensive tackle Jacob Rogers goes down with an injury. This does not look good. Looks like a knee. In comes John Drake and Rogers goes to the bench. Petros Papadakis, former USC runner and Trojan radio sideline reporter, comes over and pats Rogers on the head for support.

4:55 – LenDale White is showing America his running back skills with an 11-yard run in the fourth quarter down to the Irish 10 yard line. Pure power, baby.

4:58 – Hershel Dennis gores the bull with a 2-yard run and the Irish season is in ruins. Irish fan yells, "Go back to Stanford, Willingham!" USC 45, ND 14.

5:00 – Driven to insanity by the Trojans dominance, a fan comes out of the stands and runs around the field, which brings the crowd to life. Give most of the Irish and students credit, they are staying the bitter end.

5:00 – Trojans insert John David Booty at quarterback to run the clock out. Kid comes in with a very nice, clean white Trojan turtleneck shirt. Even reserve tailback Chauncey Washington get some carries. Who's next? Andre Woodert?

5:12 – On the last play of the game, walk-on tailback Andre Woodert gets the call. At first public address announcer Collins gives the wrong name, but corrects the miscue and Woodard gets his "Rudy" claim to fame. Good for the kid. Final score – USC 45, ND 14.

5:13 – USC players walk to the band for some "Conquest", and Notre Dame players walk with gold helmets in the air to their student supporters. Class by both teams.

6:30 – After a trip to the ND Bookstore and no dinner decisions, we make the long trip back to Chicago. Getting out of South Bend after the game is like trying to get out of the Rose Bowl – fruitless.

10:30 – In one of the worst traffic snarls we have ever seen, thanks to that feared road construction along the Indiana Toll Road and Skyway, we arrive back at the Hyatt. What a freakin mess.

Sunday – October 19th

8:00 a.m. – Wake-up for return to SoCal. Trojan fans are all smiles in the lobby, but all look a bit tired from the celebrations.

9:30 – Arrive at O'Hare Airport and sitting down with a ND fan, who discusses the game while my wife still shops for gifts. The ND fans says there is nothing like a "Southern Cal" versus Notre Dame game. Yes, that is true, especially with one of the worst beating of the Irish in Notre Dame Stadium history and during a Notre Dame Weekender.

The Obvious – Land in SoCal at 2:45 p.m. and normal folks are coming up and congratulating me on the Trojan victory. It's a good time to be wearing a USC hat.

The Not So Obvious – You know I had to get one off. On the plane back from Chicago to Phoenix, we had a chance to discuss some bowl possibilities with a rep from the Fiesta Bowl. He told me that 45 reps were in South Bend to look at the Trojans as a Fiesta Bowl candidate and to look at Notre Dame for the Insight.Com Bowl at Bank One Ballpark. I reminded him there was a little bowl called the Rose, and the chaos begins again in earnest next Saturday against the Huskies in Seattle. That reminds me, you've got 24 hours, Trojan fans, to celebrate your Irish stomping.

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