Notre Dame vs. USC 1977: The Green Jersey Game

The Wearin' of the Green: Notre Dame's Legendary Uniform Change and Its Impact on the 1977 Season

The Wearin’ of the Green might be more associated with St. Patrick’s Day but for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, it’s been an occasional uniform of choice. On October 20, 1977, it became part of the program’s lore when the Irish surprised everyone with their new wardrobe that preceded a 49-19 rout of Southern Cal.

Green uniforms for Notre Dame date back to the Knute Rockne era, with Frank Leahy and Terry Brennan also embracing the color for Irish uniforms. However, before the matchup against the Trojans, it had been nearly 14 years since Notre Dame’s last donning of green uniforms. That previous meeting was the final game of the forgettable 1963 campaign.

Entering the Southern Cal clash, the Irish sported a 4-1 record, the lone defeat coming in the second week at Mississippi. The Trojans were 5-1, with their only loss coming in a one-point defeat against powerhouse Alabama. Despite those blemishes, both teams still harbored title hopes.

Dan Devine Seeks Redemption Against Rival Trojans in Crucial Third Year with the Irish

Dan Devine was in his third year with the Irish. Despite such lofty talk, Devine was still trying to establish himself after replacing Ara Parseghian. His 21-7 record to this point was good but still led to rumors that he’d be dismissed after the season. He had yet to beat the Trojans in two tries, continuing the Irish’s frustration of just one win in the past decade in this storied rivalry.

John Robinson was in his second season with the Trojans and was also a coach who had the unenviable task of replacing a coaching legend in John McKay. Entering this game, he’d won 16 of 18 games and was putting together a potent squad for the first of his two tenures at Southern Cal that spanned a total of 12 years.

Key Players: Joe Montana and Ken MacAfee Lead Notre Dame’s Balanced Attack

Notre Dame:

  • Joe Montana: The junior quarterback showed a knack for performing under pressure, despite modest overall statistics.
  • Jerome Heavens and Vagas Ferguson: This running back duo stepped up after Al Hunter’s departure, providing critical support to Montana.
  • Ken MacAfee: Montana’s go-to target at tight end.
  • Bob Golic and Luther Bradley: Defensive stalwarts who anchored a defense allowing fewer than 11 points per game.

Southern Cal:

  • Rob Hertel: As a quarterback, Hertel played a more conservative, game-managing role.
  • Charles White: A promising sophomore and future Heisman Trophy winner, who was already proving his prowess.
  • Randy Simmrin and Calvin Sweeney: Key receiving options for Hertel.
  • Defensive Stars: Featuring future NFL talents like Clay Matthews, Dennis Smith, and Dennis Thurman.

Notre Dame’s Dramatic Jersey Switch Spurs Dominant Victory Over Southern Cal

Key Moments:

  • First Quarter: Notre Dame’s initial 80-yard drive culminated in a four-yard touchdown run by David Mitchell, establishing an early lead.
  • Second Quarter: Southern Cal’s Mario Celotto capitalized on a fumble to tie the game. Notre Dame regained control with touchdowns from Montana and a two-point conversion by Ted Burgmeier. A crucial interception by Bradley led to another score, giving Notre Dame a 22-7 halftime lead.
  • Third Quarter: Golic’s blocked punt set up another Irish touchdown, and a subsequent goal-line stand led to a commanding 35-10 lead by quarter’s end.
  • Fourth Quarter: Despite Southern Cal’s efforts, Notre Dame extended their lead with another Montana touchdown and a final scoring pass from Rusty Lisch.

Devine had continued the Parseghian era tradition of navy blue jerseys and this game appeared to be no different, with the Irish doing their pre-game prep in those togs. However, the green jerseys were being placed in each player’s locker during this time frame to heighten the drama. The Irish co-captains were aware of the subterfuge, having briefly donned them earlier in the week and having been sworn to secrecy about their presence

Not surprisingly, the change brought about an enthusiastic response from the Irish players. The team’s first offensive possession moved 80 yards in 11 plays and concluded with a four-yard scoring run by David Mitchell. However, the quarter would end with Notre Dame still clinging to that 7-0 lead
The Trojans then tied the game when Terry Eurick’s fumble deep in Irish territory was caught in mid-air by Southern Cal’s Mario Celotto, who had an easy five-yard runback. In the final five minutes before halftime, the Irish then took control of the contest after each team had fumbled in the Trojan Red Zone.

Leroy Leopold’s fumble recovery immediately followed Mitchell’s turnover, with Montana soon sneaking over from the one with 2:37 left. A bad snap on the subsequent extra-point try forced holder Ted Burgmeier to scramble on a two-point try, where he found a diving Tom Domin to make it 15-7

Bradley then picked off a pass, which led to a field goal try that turned out to be a fake which Burgmeier converted into a first down. Montana then found MacAfee in the end zone with 22 seconds left, giving Notre Dame a 15-point cushion at the break.

Any fears that the Irish would love their momentum in the second half quickly faded after Golic blocked a Trojan punt. Jay Case picked the ball up for the Irish and romped for another score to make it 29-7. Case’s path was an easy one, thanks to a thunderous block from Ross Browner

Before the third quarter was over, Notre Dame scored again to give them a 25-point lead. Southern Cal appeared to have stopped the Irish on a goal-line stand but Montana made a one-yard to toss for another score. One of the few things to go wrong for Notre Dame at this point was the extra-point try, which hit an upright.

The Trojans did make an effort to get back in the game, scoring early in the fourth quarter off a fumble. However, they were then stopped on fourth down, with another Montana sneak into the end zone making it a 42-13 game. Southern Cal scored again but came up short on a two-point conversion attempt for the second time. Notre Dame then rubbed it in on a four-yard pass from Rusty Lisch to Keven Hart with just 12 seconds left.

Notre Dame Rides Dramatic Wins and a Cotton Bowl Triumph to National Title Glory

Besides the big win, the Irish got a boost after Michigan was knocked from the ranks of the unbeaten that day. Notre Dame won their final five regular-season contests and were ranked fifth, good enough to get them to the Cotton Bowl to face top-ranked Texas. With a little luck of the Irish, they could be in contention for the national title

That luck materialized on the second day of 1978, when the Irish routed Texas, 38-10, while fourth-ranked Michigan lost in the Rose Bowl. Meanwhile, second-ranked Oklahoma was on the wrong end of a shocking blowout that night against Lou Holtz’s depleted Arkansas squad. Third-ranked Alabama made things interesting by blowing out Ohio State, but voters decided that thrashing the top-ranked team earned Notre Dame its first national championship in four years.

Devine’s teams would again wear green jerseys during his final three seasons before Gerry Faust then mothballed them. After Faust departed, the jerseys came out only periodically over the next few decades. Since then, they’ve been featured in big or notable games to hopefully bring with them the magic they delivered in 1977. The most notable recent uses were the 2005 Bush Push game against the same rival Trojans and just last season when Notre Dame wore green jerseys and green pants against Ohio State for their first trip to Notre Dame in nearly 30 years.

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