In 1971 the Trojans went into South Bend with a 2-4 record to take on the 6-0 Irish. Trojan legends Craig Fertig, John Papadakis and J.K. McKay appeared on the Fox Sports Net "Regional Sports Report" to discuss that game and the impact on Trojan football. JK was a freshman at the time and did not make the trip, Fertig was an assistant coach while Papadakis was a senior linebacker. The game was interrupted for 20 minutes by a fight on the field and the Trojans ended up winning before going on a 42-3-3 stretch over the next 3 years that included two national championships. The Fox "Regional Sports Report" airs at 10:00pm and will continue with the Trojan panel on Thursday with a recap the 1964 game and a look at the 1974 game on Friday. The Friday show will also include each panelist giving their greatest USC vs ND moment as well as their perspective for this Trojan team.
Donoho "Talk about the mood from Coach McKay heading into that game"
Papadakis "It was intense. Coach McKay was a very intense man, he hated to lose but was humble in victory"
JK "We had had so much success and all of a sudden that success had stopped and I think he felt like he had let the University down in that they weren't as good as they needed to be. I think that win in 71 and the fight that took place in that game was important in changing the future of the program"
Fertig "Coach McKay, he lived for the Notre Dame game. As a kid he listened to Notre Dame play on the radio and he always wanted to go to Notre Dame. He respected Notre Dame and that was our game, it was a big game for us. The rest of em were football games but that was an event to him."
Papadakis "The fight was an explosion. It happened near the end of the 2nd period, Notre Dame was undefeated when we went to see them, when we paid them a little visit, and we had exploded for 28 points in the first half. So they were down 28 to 7, we had the ball and we were driving down once again and, out of frustration, some idiot named Marx.."
Fertig "Greg Marx"
Papadakis "Greg Marx started a fight with, well, the worst guy to pick on, John Vella, because he could wipe out half the Greek army just with his breath, well, he started on Vella and Vella was a brawler. He was my roommate, nobody messed with Vella. Vella took him down and it organically happened, it started with two or three guys here, then it was six guys there and then it was offense versus defense. The state troopers had to come in, the local police couldn't handle it, it was out of hand. The game stopped for no less than 20 minutes."
Fertig "It's the darndest fight I've ever seen. Charlie Young, our tight end, had a Notre Dame linebacker by the throat and this guys eyes are popping out of his head. I said "Charlie, come on, you're killing him" and the Notre Dame kid said "Thank god, coach, thank you very much." The Notre Dame kicker even kicked one of our guys. Everyone got involved in this fight."
Donoho "J.K., what did your dad say about the fight?"
J.K. "He said we won."
Papadakis "They started the fight, we finished it."
Donoho "Was that game the turning point for the program?"
Papadakis "Well, that game was my senior year and I can tell you that we were not defeated the rest of the year and we once again became a tough team. We won with pride and felt satisfied after that game. We recovered an identity, which was very valuable but not only that, Coach McKay himself changed his demeanor somewhat after that game. He was short on words but there was great gravity to what he would say. After the game he said "Thank you men, it looks like we're back to our winning ways." That's all. He had the cigar, the Coke and the big smile. It was very satisfying, we felt like we were in it together again. He started reaching out to the players more and that continued into the 72 team which was one of the greatest college football teams of all time, if not the greatest."
J.K. "The three years that I played (72, 73, 74) the winner of the USC vs Notre Dame game won the national championship each year. It was game that had great importance, at least in all the years I played. I particularly enjoyed the years when we played them at home because we would end the season with UCLA and Notre Dame. Some people think that's a disadvantage but I thought it was terrific to have these two incredibly big games in a row and it's particularly good when you win them."
Fertig "Coach McKay was a guy who would say "We're not backing down from anybody. We'll fight you, we'll meet you in the alley, we'll meet you in the parking lot, we'll meet you in the tunnel. A team takes on the identity of a coach and Coach McKay was a tough guy, within the rules. I think that fight kind of triggered our football team and, as John said, we went undefeated, had some good players come along and we just played real good after that."