Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Notre Dame vs. USC: A fair-weather series
When USC and Notre Dame take the field this Saturday in South Bend, Ind., the weather will be a crisp 50 degrees at kickoff, perfect for an autumn afternoon of football. The teams' frolic in the Indiana October splendor can be traced to a not-so-pleasant afternoon in the same stadium 50 years ago.
On Nov. 28, 1959, USC took the field at Notre Dame Stadium for its season finale and annual renewal of college football's greatest intersectional rivalry. The Trojans were enjoying one of their more successful campaigns under head coach Don Clark. USC was 8-1, the one defeat coming a week earlier to their cross-town rival UCLA. The Fighting Irish, coached by Joe Kuharich, had struggled to a 4-5 record, despite having a squad that included such stars as George Izo, Monte Stickles, Jim Crotty and Nick Buoniconti.
But on that day, the Irish had an ally USC couldn't match: the weather.
The Trojans, fresh from the warm sun and sand of Sorrento Beach near Santa Monica's famous pier, huddled on their sideline in biting cold. At kickoff, the temperature was a below-freezing 29 degrees. The crowd was the smallest of Notre Dame's home season. USC, with All-Americans Ron Mix and the McKeever twins, Marlin and Mike, produced just one touchdown in the fourth quarter and lost, 16-6.
After the game, word spread that some players had signs of frostbite on their hands and arms.
A few days later, Clark resigned despite his team's winning season. The unwritten rule for an SC coach is you can lose to Cal and Stanford as long as you beat UCLA and Notre Dame. Clark didn't and he was replaced by one of his assistants, John McKay.
Whether the reports of frostbite were true or not, McKay used them to help USC athletic director Jess Hill persuade Notre Dame to change USC's visit to South Bend from late November to mid-October. It isn't known if Hill held Notre Dame's hand to the fire and threatened to end the series if it didn't comply but in the 50 years since, the fair weather, both in the Midwest and in Los Angeles, has been one of the reasons the rivalry is the best in college football.

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