13 Saturdays: The Come Back Game

Legend has always had it that after the National Champion Notre Dame Fighting Irish came into Los Angeles in 1966 and hammered the USC Trojans 51-0, that Trojan coach John McKay swore through clinched teeth that “Notre Dame will never beat us again”. Or, something very similar. john mckay and anthony davis

The legend, like most legends really wasn’t true, but it made for a great story that fans love and the Trojans would beat the Irish the very next season, 24-7 and win the National Championship.

In the 1960s and the 1970s, both the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the USC Trojans were a pretty big deal. The annual game between the 2 giants usually had a bearing on national rankings and even on the outcome of the National Championship.


The annual game on November 30th, 1974 was huge as always placing the previous 2 season National Champions on the same field together.


USC won the National Championship in 1972.

Notre Dame won the National Championship the following year in 1973.

This was 1974, and both schools were in the running for the National Championship yet again.


I was a late bloomer and went into my senior year of high school as a 16 year old, so I was never really good in high school at football. But, a couple of childhood heroes were involved with this game. USC WR JK McKay was one of my favorites as a kid because I played WR as a youth. I liked McKay because he had long blond hair and I thought he was cool. I was a blond kid and my dad always made me keep my hair cut short. JK McKay was California cool.


On the other side, Notre Dame Tight End Ken MacAfee was one of the great college Tight Ends of that era and most any other era of college football.

Robin Weber, the man who made ‘the catch’ in the 1973 Sugar Bowl which sealed the game for the Fighting Irish and the National Championship was the starter for the Irish in 1974, but true freshman Ken MacAfee was the future.

Dave Casper was a far better NFL player than MacAfee, but at Notre Dame MacAfee was a super star. Ken MacAfee was also from Brockton, Massachusetts the home town of legendary boxers Rocky Marciano and Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Casper caught all of 21 passes at Notre Dame and MacAfee caught 128. He dominated at the college level and Casper dominated in the NFL. Rules were changed in the NFL because of the great Dave Casper.

I played WR all of my life other than some in high school when I was moved to Tight End. I grew the year after I graduated high school and I truly regret not walking on at some college. I could never have been a Dave Casper or a Ken MacAfee or a Robin Weber but for a vast majority of my life I have walked around over 6-5 and 235 to 240 and people always asked where I played.


I recollect watching this game at my grandparents house when I was a kid.

This game could never be considered a Game of the Century like the others I have written about. But, it was an important game and a well remembered game and would have bearing on the national championship in 1974.



Notre Dame just absolutely dominated the 1st half. The Fighting Irish were up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter and 24-0 with time running out in the half.

Trojans’ legendary QB and current Athletic Director Pat Haden completed a couple of nice passes to Shelton Diggs and got them down inside the 10 with about 15 seconds left in the half. QB Pat Haden pitched out to Anthony Davis who took it the distance for a Touchdown. Extra point was blocked and the new score was 24-6 Notre Dame at the half.


Second half kick off was what made this game famous and it was returned 102 yards for a TD by Anthony Davis. 2 years previously, Anthony Davis ran 2 Kick Offs back for TD’s against the Irish and he did it again in 1974.

USC went for 2 and Pat Haden was denied making it 24-12. Drew Mahalic for the Fighting Irish came up with a big play, but it was basically too late. The momentum of this game had changed completely and then suddenly, after completely dominating the first half, the Irish could not do a thing.


USC defense stepped up and stopped the Irish who punted and in 3 plays the Trojans were on the scoreboard again and it was now 24-19 after yet another Anthony Davis touchdown.

USC had all the momentum at that point and scored again right after a big catch by my childhood hero, JK McKay. It was then 25-24 in favor of USC after Anthony Davis scored his 4th TD and then Anthony Davis scored on the 2 point conversion running the old school USC student body right. It was now 27-24 and the Trojans were then hot.

ND could not move the ball again and then USC’s Marvin Cobb returned the punt almost for a score and a 54 yard return. Gerry DiNardo, an Irish Offensive Lineman saved the TD for Notre Dame. He would become the future coach Head Coach at LSU and Marvin Cobb was also an All American Baseball player on those old Trojan champion baseball teams.


Anthony Davis was an Irish killer that day and scored the first 27 points for the Trojans. JK McKay was shut out the first half but came on strong in the second half  and he caught a big TD pass from his long time best friend, Pat Haden.  These were the first points for USC that weren’t from Anthony Davis. 34-24 USC lead.


Notre Dame finally had a nice drive going when Clements threw an interception to Charles Phillips from USC. Notre Dame was still in the game at that point and the big interception by Phillips stopped any possible chance of a change in momentum.



Pat Haden hit a basically wide open childhood hero of mine, JK McKay for another TD.


Anthony Davis and JK McKay had a huge day. McKay basically had a great 3rd quarter with 4 catches for 112 yards and 2 TDs.

The score was 41-24 at the end of the 3rd quarter.


Kick Off to Notre Dame and then they fumbled at their own 16. First play from there was a pass from Haden to Diggs for a TD. 48-24 USC and Notre Dame was all but history at that point.

Charles Phillips was the other huge USC star that day had his 3rd interception of the day. Phillips  returned the last one for 6 points and that ended the scoring at 55-24.


One of the most famous or infamous games of all time considering which view you had. Considered one of the great come from behind games of all time. Anthony Davis, Pat Haden, JK McKay, Charles Phillips and Marvin Cobb all had big days for the Trojans and I know I am leaving out a bunch of linemen.

Tom Clements had a miserable day for the Irish, or at least a really bad second half. Great game and memories for the USC Trojans and horrible game and memories for the Irish fans.


Oklahoma was crowned National Champs by one poll and USC one of the others.

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