In a day, maybe two, when Larry Smith would prefer to be lecturing USC's football players about missed tackles and missed opportunities, to be congratulating John Jackson on great catches and Junior Seau on great hits, and above all else to be patting the Trojans on their backs for coming so close to upsetting college football's No. 1 team Saturday, he will be doing nothing of the kind. Or so we suspect.
Because the USC coach has something else to discuss with his players this week, something less pleasant. Smith needs to speak with them about the difficulty of beating Notre Dame without complicating matters by beating themselves. He must address them on the subject of unnecessarily provoking the opposition. He might even mention that there is a reason these people refer to themselves as the Fighting Irish.
However proudly USC was represented on the playing field in Saturday's 28-24 disappointment--and the Trojans played great, just great--Smith simply has to question his players on the wisdom of deliberately interrupting Notre Dame's pregame drills, which led to a somewhat wild and childish fistfight, or singing Notre Dame's fight song in sarcastic harmony while leaving the field at halftime with a 10-point lead.
"People shouldn't mock somebody's fight song," one of the Irish captains, Ned Bolcar, said after the game. "We sing our fight song in victory, and that's our right. We would never do anything like that to USC's student body."
Said Notre Dame running back Ricky Watters: "They came into our home and tried to bulldoze us. "They ran right through our practice, when they should have been giving us our proper respect. We just don't take that kind of stuff. They've got to learn to be a class act."
Added nose tackle Chris Zorich: "I had tears streaming down my eyes, I wanted to beat USC so bad after the stuff they pulled. Singing our fight song, scuffling with us by the tunnel, trying to intimidate us--tell me about it, man! What was USC trying to prove out there? They're a good football team, why do they feel the need to pull that other bull?"
At this point, Zorich hadn't even heard about the replay that showed repeatedly to a nationwide television audience USC quarterback Todd Marinovich celebrating a fourth-quarter touchdown by whacking Notre Dame defensive end Scott Kowalkowski with an elbow in the back as he walked off the field.
"Do you believe that?" Zorich asked. "USC, man. I would love to tell you honestly what I think of them right now, but it's a couple of swear words and you wouldn't be able to use it."
Notre Dame players had nothing but good things to say about the way USC's players played. They felt lucky to have prolonged a two-season, 19-game winning streak, just as they felt lucky to have defeated the Trojans for the seventh consecutive time.
It was that other stuff that got them agitated. The mini-brawl before the game, that was just like the one before the Miami game last season, and even though their coach, Lou Holtz, shouldered the blame for a breach of security and apologized to USC for permitting such a thing to happen, Notre Dame's players wondered why opponents felt the need to take pregame bullying tactics to such extremes.
"Miami was a little different," Irish fullback Anthony Johnson said. "Miami felt like they had to intimidate us, to set the tone for the way the whole day was gonna go. But with USC, we were the top dogs, the No. 1 team in the nation, the national champs. The last thing they should have done was fire us up. They should have hoped we were flat. Instead, they got us hot under the collar."
The game itself was wonderful enough--"really and truly a classic," Holtz called it--without all these distractions. USC couldn't have asked for more favorable conditions. Tony Rice was not his usual Heisman-candidate self and Rocket Ismail was fumbling footballs left and right. Free safety Todd Lyght, the stud of Notre Dame's secondary, found himself getting taken to the cleaners by USC's Jackson, Larry Wallace and Gary Wellman, all of whom caught touchdown passes. The Irish were ripe.
"I couldn't believe it when we finally took the lead in the second half," Holtz said. "I looked at the scoreboard and said, 'Nah, we should be further back than that.' "
USC was playing superbly, particularly the passing hookup of Marinovich to Jackson, which clicked 14 times for 200 yards in a performance of Dan Fouts-to-Kellen Winslow yeoman proportion. Seau, the linebacker whose surname is pronounced "Say - ow," seemed to be absolutely everywhere, chasing Rice, causing fumbles, while linebacker Delmar Chesley got in on 13 tackles and Mark Carrier played like the All-American he is.
What a waste of a great effort. USC was victimized by a couple of bad plays and a couple of bad calls, but Notre Dame is not undefeated for nothing. When you overcome five turnovers and defeat a good team, then you are a good team--a very, very good team, even though Holtz keeps insisting that he's not sure about these Irish yet.
His players sure did feel like winners when Saturday's game was over, though. Bolcar called about a dozen of his teammates together and sang the Notre Dame fight song, just loud enough for some of USC's guys to hear. They showed good sense. They waited until after the game to sing.