They'll play the biggest Notre Dame-Southern California football game Saturday night in South Bend, Ind., since the refs breathed life into a Trojans team that should have died near the south end zone of Notre Dame Stadium after the worst illegal play in sports history.
Yeah, I'm still bitter.
The Clock. The Timeout. The Spot. Oh, and The Push, because they all led to a Notre Dame loss that should have been a Notre Dame victory with the momentum sweeping the Fighting Irish into the national championship game after that 2005 season against Vince Young and his Texas Longhorns. You know, the same bunch that won it all against USC.
So don't bore me with how NFL officials should have blown their whistles like crazy on the Immaculate Reception. Who cares that maybe two of the five (ahem) laterals during "The band is on the field!" madness between Stanford and Cal were forward passes? And, yes, Michael Jordan pushed Bryon Russell before dropping his NBA Finals-winning shot.
None of that surpasses Reggie Bush spending the last seconds of that October game 12 years ago spitting on the rule book by shoving Matt Leinart across the goal line for a quarterback sneak and USC's 28th consecutive victory. While the Trojans were the nation's top team back then before the opening kickoff, Notre Dame was ninth. Now No. 11 USC will meet the 13th-ranked Irish during what is essentially an elimination game for the College Football Playoff. Just like that, the national buzz involving Notre Dame is everywhere, and as a South Bend, Ind., native who bleeds blue and gold, my mind keeps drifting. It goes from whether the Irish can run past USC as they've done against everybody else not named Georgia to why nobody ever discusses that other stuff back then beyond Bush Push involving the refs.
Does anybody else remember that other stuff?
"I do, because you just think at the end, and I mean, the outcome of the whole thing obviously stinks, but you just think back to everything that was going on, and the tough part was being out there watching it all, because you could see clearly what was happening," Brady Quinn told me this week, taking a break from his role as a college football analyst for Fox Sports. He was Notre Dame's quarterback during that game, and he had one of the world's best views of Bush Push and that other stuff down the stretch.
Before I dissect the rest of this Notre Dame horror, trust me. I usually don't whine about officiating or umpiring, but this was outrageous.
Or was it just typical?
"At the end of games, for whatever reason, people have a tendency to look the other way on things, whether it's this situation, or whether its basketball, and you're going one-on-one, and you know you can go strong to the hole because you're probably not going to get them calling a foul," Quinn said, before recalling how the whole world went from lovely to lovelier that autumn evening after his five-yard touchdown run with barely two minutes left gave the Irish a 31-28 lead. On USC's next possession, Leinart was sacked along the way to a fourth-and-forever pass from his 26, and Quinn said, "I've never heard it louder in Notre Dame Stadium. Then it was kind of nuts after that, especially to see the crazy chain of events that ensued."
How's this for crazy? Leinart completed that fourth-and-forever pass to the inside of Notre Dame's red zone. Even so, with USC driving toward the end zone, the Irish defense knocked Leinart into a fumble after he scrambled near the goal line as the ball tumbled out of bounds. The clock went from seven seconds to zero, and most of northern Indiana went screaming onto the field.
"Well, I eventually heard on the PA system that they were trying to clear the field, and I saw the officials kind of huddled together, and then I saw (USC coach) Pete Carroll throwing a fit to the officials as well, and I'm sure he had a good rapport with that group," Quinn said, referring to USC's affiliation with that conference, and here's the deal: Since the Irish are independent, they traditionally use the other team's officials in these situations. "So I wasn't surprised at Pete trying to get into the ears of the refs, trying to get another opportunity to win the game on offense."
Mission accomplished for Carroll.
First, the Trojans got seven seconds placed on the clock, which was about right. Then they had the ball placed on the one-yard line of Notre Dame instead of the three, which was absolutely wrong.
"I always felt that the spot they got was pretty favorable, and I would have more liked to have seen the tape on where the ball should have been spotted," Quinn said, speaking to the right guy. I've pushed reverse on my remote control more than a few times through the years regarding that spot, and the ball should have been at the three. That's huge, which is why Quinn added, "At that point, Matt probably wouldn't have been able to run a quarterback sneak. It would have most likely have been a pass play, because they would have been a little too far out. With the correct spot, that would have changed the whole dynamic of that play. I've always thought that got overlooked."
Tell me about it. Not only that, but if you look on replays around the time of the Leinart fumble, you see Brennan Carroll running along the USC sideline as a graduate assistant for his father. The younger Carroll is signaling for a timeout, but the Trojans didn't have any. That should have been a 15-yard penalty, and that would have kept us from Bush Push.
Courtesy of that penalty, the Trojans would have been left to attempt a game-tying field goal on Notre Dame Stadium's old raggedy grass.
"There was so much chaos going on at that time. I mean, I'm not surprised something like timeout try got overlooked," Quinn said. "Unless it was Pete himself, or maybe one of the coordinators, I'm not sure the referees would have taken that seriously. Who knows? The referees might have thought that was a signal for their offense or something."
Then came Bush Push. Sigh.
"You knew it was illegal when it happened, but at that point, once there wasn't a flag, what else could you really do about it?" Quinn said. "We didn't have replay for that game, but it's not a reviewable play even now. To be honest, in that moment, you do what you can to win. You're not really thinking about rules and consequences. I kind of went walking off the field back then thinking, 'If I was in Matt's shoes, would I have hoped (Notre Dame running back) Darius Walker would have pushed me in?' Yeah, I probably would have."
Fair enough. So one of these centuries, I might forgive the refs for Bush Push, and I'll give them the benefit of the doubt on The Clock.
As for The Timeout and The Spot, never.