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This Irish Green Runs Deep and Adds to Intrigue

In front of about 40,000 fans strangely sitting in a football stadium where there was no game, Rudy Ruettiger was espousing the C"s “Cs” that will inspire Notre Dame against USC.

“Courage!” he shouted.

“Character!” he cried.

But he forgot one.

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Cheating.

At a pep rally on the eve of today’s basilica-sized showdown, the Irish revealed the drug with which they would slow down the fast Trojans.

Grass.

Ankle-deep grass. Pitching-wedge grass. Crass grass.

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The deep green stuff on the field at Notre Dame Stadium on Friday night was long enough to choke a Bush.

One of the fastest teams in college football history was not amused.

“It’s terrible,” said the Trojans’ LenDale White.

Notre Dame officials claimed innocence, saying that the field was torn up several weeks ago against Michigan State and needed to be grown as thick as possible to withstand a string of five consecutive home games.

One supposes that it has nothing to do with the fact that, while USC can run, Notre Dame is as slow as, well, watching grass grow.

The new Notre Dame coach is the same guy who, with the New England Patriots, once sent his kicker into the end zone to catch a touchdown pass.

Would anybody really be surprised if Charlie Weis’ new playbook includes “Z-X Red Right Fertilizer?”

As usual, the Trojans’ Pete Carroll, shuffling through the jungle during the team’s walk-through, looked at the bright side.

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“That would play at the U.S. Open,” Carroll said.

That’s the spirit. What would Notre Dame-USC week be without intrigue, innuendo and leprechauns falling out of horse’s rear ends?

That was one of the highlights of Friday’s hourlong pep rally, the school’s mascot dropping out of the bottom of a giant Trojan horse that appeared to be constructed with popsicle sticks in the dark.

So this isn’t Georgia Tech. What the place lacks in finesse, it makes up for in fortitude.

Where else would a one-loss team that has not won a national championship in 16 years fill half the stadium with fans cheering for, well, nothing?

Where else would a 10th-string linebacker whose entire career here lasted about 10 seconds -- yeah, the real Rudy -- address this crowd with the following inspirational cry:

“USC has a Trojan and a horse ... we have Our Lady and Jesus,” shouted Ruettiger, who sounded better when he was Sean Astin.

Notre Dame holds these rallies before every game. But this is only the second time in memory that it was held in the stadium, the crowds overflowing at the thought of their long-suffering Irish beating a team that hasn’t lost in three years.

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It began with two skits, both of which, surprisingly, involved trashing Trojans.

In one, a man who looked like Pete Carroll was called “a bad joke” and then summarily plowed into the ground by some dude in football gear.

In the other skit, a guy who was supposed to be Matt Leinart strutted around -- he takes ballroom dancing, get it? -- before being pounded to the ground by guys in Notre Dame football uniforms.

Goodness, three straight 31-point losses and people get all grumpy.

“USC says they own Notre Dame,” hollered Ruettiger.

And your point?

A couple of current players spoke, including linebacker Corey Mays, who talked about how the program used to be “down.”

“Tomorrow, the only thing that should be down are those two [bleep] goalposts,” he shouted, and here’s hoping Our Lady and Jesus were covering their ears.

Then came three former players, Joe Montana first, who voiced the spin that has become Weis’ mantra.

“A lot of our people out there don’t respect these guys behind me,” he said, pointing to the players that were sitting in risers on the field.

“When you want respect, you pick out the biggest and baddest bully

Montana then revealed Notre Dame’s other secret weapon.

“When their offense is on the field, I don’t want them to hear a thing,” he said. “Let them try changing their plays, changing their protection, but I don’t want them to hear.”

The Notre Dame fans must not have cheered much here lately, because Weis felt compelled to explain.

“When they have the ball, that’s when you make noise, not when we have the ball,” said Weis.

To illustrate the point, Ruettiger crouched alongside the lectern as if taking a snap from center.

The fans hollered, and howled, and Ruettiger stood there and looked silly, and the lesson was finally learned.

So, perhaps knowing that even the great Weis cannot make up five touchdowns in one season, the Domers are going to try to slow the Trojans with sod, and deafen them with shrill.

Who knows? Maybe it will work.

But, more likely, a bigger factor will be the one item that was not among Friday’s pep rally potpourri.

All these people, all these props, and not one sign of any football.

The Trojans assume they will be handed one today.

I assume that will be enough.

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. For previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.


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