Notre Dame vs. USC, 1977

Football Program Cover – Notre Dame vs. Southern California, 10/22/1977

The 1977 game versus the University of Southern California is one of the most legendary games in the history of Notre Dame football all because of the color green. After warming up in the tradition blue jerseys, the team went back into the locker room to find green jerseys hanging in every locker. “Suddenly, the locker room looked like we had just won the National Title and the game hadn’t even started,” cornerback Ted Burgmeier wrote in the 1978 Dome yearbook.

The players’ excitement at the change in jerseys was magnified by the crowd’s reaction once the players came out of the tunnel and on to the field. The return to green jerseys recalled some of the programs best years under coach Frank Leahy and heralded the promise of the 1977 season.

Irish coach Dan Devine had thought about using green jerseys since he arrived at Notre Dame for the 1975 season, but hadn’t yet seized the opportunity. The importance of facing fifth-ranked USC at home in 1977 led him to make the switch. While a few coaches and others knew about the green jerseys for this game, the secret was well kept. However, the players and fans were given many hints during the week leading up to the game.

Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. Navy?, 1977. Coach Dan Devine with players in the tunnel.  The players are wearing green jerseys, which continued throughout the 1977 season after the USC game.

At the Friday practice before the game tennis coach Tom Fallon sang several Irish ballads to the players, including “The Wearin’ of the Green.” Coach Devine followed with stories about the plight of Irish immigrants and their struggles in America.  Later that night at the pep rally, Irish basketball coach “Digger” Phelps introduced a new cheer — “We are . . . the Green Machine.”  The players were none the wiser despite all of the hints.

Pregame activities included rolling a student-constructed Trojan horse into the tunnel and out on to the field. The horse was fifteen feet high and had room for a small number of students who were dressed as football players. The student-inspired Trojan horse recalled earlier days when pregame activities came up from the students, including parades, snake dances, bonfires, floats, and dorm decorations. Some were planned, such as the Trojan horse, while others were more spontaneous.

Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1977/1022. Students surrounding the wooden Trojan Horse on the field in Notre Dame Stadium.

Over the years, the 1977 USC game has become known as much for the Trojan horse as for the green jerseys.  The game is often referred to as the “Green Jersey Game,” however, in celebration of the 40th anniversary of the game in 2017, the Notre Dame Bookstore is selling a commemorative tee-shirt with the words “Trojan Horse Game.”

Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1977/1022. Field-level view of the wooden Trojan Horse on the football field.

Coach Devine had correctly predicted the excitement in the locker room before the game against a long-time rival. In his post-game comments he said, “I didn’t even go in the there. I had nothing to say. Everything had been said.” As the players exited the locker room, the Trojan sideline was confused, wondering if the green jerseys were being worn by students leading the team out of the tunnel. The Irish had not beaten the Trojans since 1973, and the eleventh-ranked Notre Dame team had already lost a game to Mississippi early in the season. USC, ranked fifth going into the Notre Dame game, also had one loss. The Trojans were favored by seven points.

Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1977/1022. Player Jerome Heavens (#30) running with the ball.

The pregame excitement carried over into the game with the Irish dominating on both sides of the ball. Burgmeier noted, “in order to win, we needed the help of the student body, and that we got.” Quarterback Joe Montana ran for two touchdowns and threw for two more. Linebacker Bob Golic blocked a punt and defensive end Jay Case ran it back for a touchdown. A bobbled extra point try ended up as a two point conversion for the Irish. The Notre Dame defense pressured the USC quarterback into three interceptions. The final score was 49 to 19.

Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1977/1022. Player Ken MacAfee (#81) and other players celebrating.

After the game Coach Devine commented, “It was a team victory in every sense of the word.” The Irish went on the win the remainder of their games, including a 38 to 10 victory over the Texas Longhorns in the Cotton Bowl. The Cotton Bowl win gave the Irish the national championship.

Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. Southern California (USC), 1977/1022. Coach Dan Devine and players celebrating in the locker room after the game.

Ara Parseghian at Notre Dame

Legendary coach Ara Parseghian died on August 2, 2017, at the age of 94.  He came to Notre Dame in late 1963 from Northwestern University having previously coaching at Miami University in Ohio, where he served first as assistant coach under Woody Hayes and then as head coach.  As Notre Dame’s first non-alumnus head coach since Jesse Harper’s last season in 1917, Parseghian inherited a struggling Notre Dame football program that finished the 1963 season with a 2 and 7 record.  Parseghian quickly turned the program around, going 9 and 1 in 1964.  He missed the national championship title by 1:34 in a squeaker defeat against USC, the last game of the season.  However, Parseghian and the team won other accolades that year:  Parseghian was named Coach of the Year by multiple organizations and quarterback John Huarte won the coveted Heisman Trophy.

Scholastic Magazine issue 01/17/1964, page 27:  Article by Terry Wolkerstorfer about the hiring of new football coach Ara Parseghian.

Over the course of his 11 years at Notre Dame, Parseghian compiled a record of 95-17-4, winning national championships in 1966 and 1973.  As a coach he was known for his intensity and attention to detail.   After leaving Notre Dame he worked as a television commentator covering college football, but he kept close to Notre Dame offering advice, when asked, to later generations of coaches.  Among his former players, Parseghian was known for his loyalty and lifelong friendship.

Dome yearbook 1974, page 119: Football Coach Ara Parseghian speaking at the “Salute to the 1973 National Championship Football Team” in the Joyce Center (JACC), 1974/0120.

In 1994, tragedy struck the Parseghian family when three of Ara’s grandchildren were diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder that causes early death in children – Niemann-Pick Type C (NPC).  The family quickly established the Ara Parseghian Medical Research Foundation to bring attention to the devastating disease and to try to find a cure.  After his coaching career, Parseghian stayed connected with Notre Dame and the South Bend community.  In part because of this relationship, Notre Dame added NPC to the other rare and neglected diseases it was researching.  A formal partnership between Notre Dame and the Parseghian foundation was established in 2010 and much progress toward a cure has been made since the foundation’s beginnings in 1994.  More information about these efforts can be found at

GPHR 24/08: Football Game Scene – Coach Ara Parseghian and assistant coaches running out of the tunnel, c1960s.

Ara Parseghian, his spirit, his leadership, and his generosity will be greatly missed at Notre Dame.  In a fundraising letter written after his resignation from Notre Dame, Parseghian noted, “Wherever I am, I will never leave Notre Dame, not really” [March 1975, PATH/Parseghian].

GRST 2/36: Football Game Scene – Notre Dame vs. California, 1967/0923.  Coach Ara Parseghian and players on the sidelines.