Sunday, October 16


USC 34, Notre Dame 31

This is why I can't be a sports journalist: I'd never be able to file an actual story on this game. It hurts too much.

When you lose a game like this by, say, 31 points, as Notre Dame has to USC each of the last three years, it hurts, but not that much. If they're that much better than you, you just tip your hat and move on to the next team. There was nothing you could do.

I'd rather lose 50-0 than lose like this, where you spend unbearable hours or days second-guessing and playing what-if. I'm sure a couple people will spend the rest of their lives thinking about this game.

In every aspect but the final score, Notre Dame beat USC yesterday. The team that some had claimed faded into obscurity still couldn't get respect with a new coach and a new attitude. The Irish would go 1-5 in their first six games, they crowed, maybe even 0-6. Not even three wins over ranked teams garnered much admiration, since those teams have since wallowed in mediocrity. Their #9 ranking was a fluke, they said, and the unstoppable juggernaut from Troy would surely expose them for the pretenders they were. This Leviathan of a team coasted into South Bend on a 27-game win streak and three straight blowouts of ND, only to find the green-clad Irish waiting to smack them in the mouth.

From top to bottom, the Irish were just better than USC, with one exception: the extraordinary performance of Trojan playmaker Reggie Bush, who finished the day with 265 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns. They humbled defending Heisman Trophy winner Matt Leinart, forcing him into two interceptions and preventing him from throwing a touchdown pass entirely. They bottled up LenDale White, the front half of the vaunted "Thunder & Lightning" combo with Bush, allowing him just 26 yards on ten carries.

And the only way the undisputed "best team in the nation" escaped with a win was by an entire series of flukes. Leinart converted a 4th-and-9 by floating a pass to Dwayne Jarrett on the left sideline. Bush rushed for a first down inside the Notre Dame 5, stopping the clock. On the next play, Leinart couldn't find an open throw and scrambled desperately off the left end. He couldn't score, and the clock ticked to zero, convincing fans that Notre Dame had scored the stunning upset. But when Leinart was hit, he fumbled the ball, and it fluttered harmlessly out of bounds, again stopping the clock. After the ball was placed at the ND 1 and seven seconds restored to the clock, Leinart scored on a QB sneak when Reggie Bush helped push him in the end zone.

Matt Leinart scores the winning touchdown after being pushed into the end zone by Reggie Bush. (AP/Joe Raymond)

The wild finish was a cruel trick to Irish fans. After we had thought the game was over — won — our hearts were ripped out. The greatness of the game and the heroism in defeat are cold comfort, and overwhelmed by the numb torture of what-if.

What if ND tight end Anthony Fasano had protected the ball while running unimpeded deep in USC territory, with the score tied 21-21 late in the third quarter? He was carrying the ball so loosely that Trojan defensive back Darnell Bing literally popped it several yards out of his hand. USC's Keith Rivers recovered the fumble at the Trojan 6.

What if, on their next drive, ND had only gone for the first down instead of the touchdown from 3rd and 3 at the USC 14 at the start of the fourth quarter? Convert that and the possibility remains open for the TD instead of settling for a field goal.

What if ND kicker D.J. Fitzpatrick (a fellow alum of Marian High School) made his second attempt, from 34 yards away with 7½ minutes to go? If ND takes the lead by 6, when they scored their next touchdown following USC's score, they could have gone for 2 and made it a seven-point lead.

What if ND had dropped into coverage instead of blitzing on the 4th and 9 play? Blitzing opens up the possibility for a big play, which the Irish could not afford. Even if USC converts, they still have to go about 65 yards for a touchdown (or 40 for a decent field goal attempt to tie) with less than 90 seconds and no timeouts.

What if the referees don't look the other way on the Bush push? That's a five-yard penalty.

What ifs, maybes, second guesses . . . all for naught.

The only possible consolation was that all the recruits head coach Charlie Weis brought to the game saw the glory of South Bend Saturdays in full display and the magic of Notre Dame football in near-full display. And the Irish announced loud and clear to all but the most vicious ND-haters (like ESPN's Mark May, who insisted on "College GameDay Final" that ND had accomplished nothing, even with former Irish coach Lou Holtz sitting within slapping distance on his right) that we are back.

But it's no silver lining. As Weis said, "If you're waiting for me to say it's a good loss, you won't hear that here."

This one hurts. And it will hurt for a long time.


Location: Mishawaka, Indiana, United States

I graduated with an English degree from the University Of Notre Dame in 2001, and in 2008 I have a day job that has nothing to do with my degree but gets the bills paid in a semi-regular fashion. (I have running water five days a week!) The idea is that once I get turned around on my bills, I go to grad school. I also have an idea for cold fusion. Anyone's guess which will be feasible first. In non-work mode, I'm usually reading columns by famous and well-read thinkers, blogs by critically praised writers, or sometimes blogs by overzealous cranks who make me laugh. I yearn to be all three at once; until then I'll settle for being the third. I also have an undying love for the Chicago Cubs and Notre Dame football. Praise them and I'll buy you a beer; curse them and I'll dump it over your head. If that's not enough, I'm becoming quite the fan of no-limit Texas Hold'em. My games have one of two results: I either win all the money or whine because I didn't win all the money.

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marchand chronicles has such massive readership and influence that it makes me weep.
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Damn right.


What's Your Line?


I absolutely love the name of your site.

Scott "Big Trunk" Johnson, Power Line
Just the name? Not the content? . . . I'll take it.

You have something in common with Dave Barry, Hemingway, and Mark Steyn: I'm not linking to them, either.


That's good stuff there Mark.

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Psst, it's "Mike."

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