It was 4th and 9. The Fighting Irish were up by 3 with 1:30 to go, and it looked like the Trojans 27-game winning streak was in serious jeopardy.
This is my first ever college football memory.
You wouldn’t know it, but tucked away in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina lives a faction of insatiable Irish fans. On this particular night in 2005, it seemed like every single one of them were huddled around my friend Eric’s television, Heineken in hand, drunk and ready to explode should their beloved boys from South Bend pull out a fourth down stop.
Matt Leinart takes the snap and lobs a beautiful pass down the left sideline to Dwayne Jarrett for 60 yards to bring USC into the redzone.
“I TOLD YOU,” screamed one of the neighbors who was over for the big game. “IT WILL NEVER HAPPEN, THEY’RE TOO DAMN GOOD!”
It was at that exact moment that I decided I was going to be a USC Trojans fan.
Despite having a lot of friends who bled green and gold, I was never a supporter of Notre Dame. The fans I knew were rather obnoxious, and something about having a quarterback named Brady just didn’t sit well with this Giants fan (still doesn’t). I was, however, a fan of dynasties. At 10 years old, I could rattle off the statistics of any Yankee from Murderers Row to Jeter and Joe. Too damn good? That sounded like my kind of team.
Leinart rolls left, the pump fake and he’s gonna run. He’s at the goal line, and he is STOPPED!
I probably got splashed with more beer during that play than during my four years of frat parties and downtown life combined.
The timekeeper in the stadium hadn’t seen the ball fly out of bounds, and neither had anyone I was with. So when the student-section began to flood the field (and subsequently more beer flooding my head), I thought the game was over.
Imagine the reaction when the ball was placed on the 1-yard line, and clock reset to 7 seconds just a few moments later. If you remove all the expletives, the short version would be “THE FIX IS IN.”
The next few moments, I will remember as long as I live. Matt Leinart began looking around at the line signaling to his teammates that he was going to spike the ball. In retrospect, with no timeouts and a kicker who had set the NCAA record for PAT’s that season, a spike seemed like the right call. Let Danelo hit this chip shot and let’s take this thing to overtime.
“They’re just gonna down this ball… Leinart, gonna try to sneak it in?! Did he get it? TOUCHDOWN SC!”
The announcer was more stunned than the crowd, but nobody was as stunned as Eric’s dad when I stood up and yelled “LET’S GO NUMBER 11” followed by my best Ric-Flair “WOOOOOOOOOOOO.”
The look on his face told me I would never be invited over again (I wasn’t), but I didn’t care. Ten year old’s make friends all the time, and I had just made a new one. He wore a cape, carried a sword and rode on the back of a big white horse.
Although the NCAA wants to tell me that it never happened, that play will forever be singed into the history books as one of the all time greatest moments in football history.