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Not that USC players didn't become active participants in these goings-on—indeed, full of themselves at halftime, when they had a 17-7 lead, some Trojans ill-advisedly sang the Notre Dame Victory March in a mocking way as the teams entered the tunnel together. But Smith justifiably snapped that it is up to Notre Dame to control this stuff. Some USC players went so far as to say that the pregame melee started when a Notre Dame player deliberately hit Marinovich with a forearm.
Smith was gracious enough to say that the brouhaha hadn't affected the outcome of the game, and he was right. But that didn't stop Trojan wide receiver John Jackson from fuming, "It was really low class on their part." Even Irish linebacker Ned Bolcar said, "We do not care to continue mishaps like that." Damage was done not only to this game but to the heavily tarnished image of the college game as a whole. Can't you guys walk through a tunnel together without a confrontation? Please.
Ironically, the game was as cleanly played as could have been hoped for. And it was chock-full of big plays and great hits. Notre Dame fell behind 7-0, rallied to tie, fell behind again by 10 and came back to score the winning touch-down with 5:18 left. That was accomplished when quarterback Tony Rice, who had a generally mediocre day (5-for-16 passing with one interception, 99 yards rushing on 18 attempts and a fumble), connected with Ismail, who had a generally miserable day (two fumbles, both of which led to USC touchdowns), on a 40-yard pass that Ismail caught in full stride and took to the USC 15-yard line. On the next play, Rice ran an option left, dodging four tacklers en route to the end zone.
The Irish had to withstand one final onslaught from Marinovich, who drove the Trojans to the Irish seven, with 2:39 remaining in the game. But Marinovich, who has matured enormously since USC's first game of the season, a 14-13 loss to Illinois, reminded everyone that he still is, after all, a freshman. He threw three straight incompletions, and Notre Dame hung onto a No. 1 ranking that had looked as if it was gone.
Yet Marinovich was the star despite that interception, despite being on the losing side. You could sense it coming. One day last week in L.A., he was sitting on a cement wall on campus in shorts and a T-shirt and musing about playing in Notre Dame Stadium: "I've never been there, so I don't know how spooky that place is." The answer, of course, is real, real spooky. The Trojans know that better than anyone; they traveled to South Bend for 10 games in 25 years, from 1941 to '65, and didn't win once.
Names like Gipp, the Four Horsemen, Rockne and Parseghian cast a palpable feeling of invincibility over the stadium. There is no other place like it. Plus that doggone Golden Dome sits there as a kind of arrogant exclamation mark. "Yeah, I've heard those names, I guess," said Marinovich without certainty, "but they don't mean much to me. All I know is good players play at their best in big games. What stadium we're in doesn't make any difference."
That, as much as anything, may explain why Marinovich was able to shoot out almost all the lights. He completed 33 of 55 passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns, sweet revenge after having been heavily criticized for his performance against the Illini, and not bad for a youngster whose grooming for stardom since infancy has made him an object of curiosity, even animosity (SI, Feb. 22, 1988). True, he got a lot of help from his friends, including Jackson, who caught a school-record 14 passes for 200 yards, and hard-hitting safety Mark Carrier, who had 13 unassisted tackles, an interception and a fumble recovery.
As for Notre Dame, it survived, though without style and without much class. Now Holtz has to get the Irish cranked up again this week for a home game against Pitt. Let's hope that while he's doing it, he also teaches the children some tunnel etiquette.