In the fourth quarter when it became all too apparent the Irish jig was up and the score was mounting by the minute, the priest sitting in tunnel four turned to his sport-jacketed companion. "John," he asked sternly, "didn't you go to Mass this morning?"
For the Irish sidewalk alumni from coast to coast and the Cadillac alumni high in the stands of the Los Angeles Coliseum, the good father's jest was no laughing matter. Down on the field, a Notre Dame team was being licked as only five Notre Dame teams in history have been licked, by a team scoring more than 40 points. And this Irish team which USC was trouncing 42-20 was no weak, wartime squad but a proud, hard-running set which had lost only one other game this year.
Coach Terry Brennan had tried to sound sincere in his pregame warnings that SC would be tough, but the experts put this down to a Leahy legacy of never admitting you might make a first down. When the Irish team romped on the field in their gaudy Kelly-green jerseys, Irish hearts were happy from end zone to end zone. The impromptu Irish rooting section even taunted the SC Trojans to "line up on side for a change."
The Trojans left the laugh rattling in their throats when Jon Arnett came within a shirttail—the one a prone lineman grabbed—of running the kick-off back for a touchdown. The Trojans proceeded to grind downfield 68 yards in 11 plays for the day's first of nine touchdowns. There were so many green jerseys splattered on the field by Trojan blocking that at times the line of scrimmage looked like a tossed salad. But not even when the score was 21-7 were Notre Dame men really worried. The Irish quarterback, Paul Hornung, gave evidence of being more than a match for the Trojans all by himself. With only a minute to go till half time, the Trojans let an Irish pass receiver get behind them, and Hornung almost laughed as he threw the ball over their heads for a touchdown.
December 5, 1955
But the second half was probably the blackest 30 minutes in Notre Dame football since the Blanchard and Davis holocausts for Army during the war years. The crowd couldn't have been more shocked if the Christians had started to eat the lions. Astute observers knew Southern California had the material to give any team in the country a pasting—but it had never had the direction a young Pennsylvania quarterback with the unfootballish name of Ellsworth Kissinger supplied in this game. And a stampeding John Henry of a fullback, C. R. Roberts, as reckless as a runaway steer, jeered at puny Notre Dame efforts to stop him. "Just give Roberts the ball and get out of his way," implored one hatless, tieless, perspiring rooter at one crucial point. Kissinger usually obliged and Roberts stampeded for 13.42 yards per carry.
By no means did Notre Dame play as badly as the score indicates, but Notre Dame was not the superbly prepared crew Frank Leahy used to bring to the coliseum either. When the score was 21-20 in favor of SC, Hornung incredibly let Jon Arnett, who should have been the most marked man on the field, get behind him. Quarterback Jim Contratto hit Arnett with a 64-yard touchdown pass to make the score 28-20 and put the overalls in the chowder for good. Thereafter, Trojans intercepted Hornung passes as though they were intended for them, as, indeed, some of them looked. They converted interceptions into touchdowns so fast the game abruptly became the rout that was flashed to the shocked sports world. Notre Dame racked up a thumping 521 yards and 18 first downs but mostly it was just good exercise for them.
In the dressing room, Father Theodore Hesburgh, Notre Dame president, smilingly congratulated Coach Jess Hill, who was in tears when his team carried him on their shoulders to confront the rooting section in the gathering darkness. Before the game, the wags had cracked: "SC has nothing to lose but its coach." And after the game, Irish Coach Terry Brennan grinned broadly as he cracked: "I guess this makes us nice guys."
It was probably SC's finest win of the tradition-studded series. This was small comfort for one Irish rooter as he stood outside the coliseum after the game and listened to his wife, who observed: "I'm sure the Southern California boys are a lot of fine, clean young men." "That they are," assented her husband gravely. "And I'll tell you something else—they block very well, too."