Commentary

Assistants get reunited with the rivalry

Three USC assistants who were players in the ND rivalry return as coaches

Updated: October 19, 2011, 11:52 AM ET
By Garry Paskwietz | We Are SC

LOS ANGELES -- When the USC Trojans gather in the locker room Saturday in South Bend, Ind., there will be a lot of talk about tradition and those who played in the game before them. For three members of the Trojans coaching staff, these words will mean a little bit more, because they once suited up for USC as part of this great rivalry.

USC assistant coaches Kennedy Polamalu (1982-85), Joe Barry (1991-93) and Sammy Knight (1993-96) all know what it's like to play against the Fighting Irish in South Bend. Polamalu remembers being a young fullback having to take on Notre Dame outside linebacker Mike Golic. Barry was a linebacker charged with trying to stop running back Jerome Bettis, while Knight defended against passes from quarterback Ron Powlus.

None of the three ever won a game at Notre Dame Stadium, as all played during the 13-year winless streak against the Irish, but the memories of playing there are still strong, as they get ready to head back as coaches.

"We didn't win there, so my memories aren't very good, but what I do remember is the great pride of the people who had gone before us, people like Marv Goux," Polamalu said. "I'll always remember coming out of the tunnel and at the time you could look up above the stands and see Touchdown Jesus. You can't do that anymore because of the renovation. It was always special for me to play there, because I took a recruiting trip there, so to come back as an opponent was a lot of fun."

For Barry, it will be his first trip back to Notre Dame since his stint as a graduate assistant for the Trojans in 1995.

"It's a special feeling," he said. "We had some epic battles in that stadium. The neat thing, and I'm sure this is the same for anybody that comes to the Coliseum or any place with a lot of history, is that you think of all the great players and all the great games that took place there. All lot of stadiums have history, but the Coliseum and this place have great history.

"It's not about the stadium though. We could go play them on their practice field or they could come here to ours; it would still be a great game. The fact that we both play in great, historic stadiums is something that makes it all the better."

Knight grew up with the rivalry while watching his brother, Ryan, who was a Trojans running back from 1984 to 1987, and his first trip to South Bend as a freshman brought back memories of wanting to play against the Irish.

"There's definitely something special about playing at Notre Dame," Knight said. "For me, it was big just to go in that locker room. I remember seeing Lou Holtz on the sideline. I remember they just had a beast of a defense. Bobby Taylor was one of the best college defensive backs I've ever seen -- he was a monster out there.

"I think the biggest key is keeping your composure. The players across from you are going to be ready to compete at the highest level and you know that going in. You have to think about all the players who came before you and you have to go out there and represent yourself and compete like they did."

When it comes to defining the emotion and tradition of this annual matchup, there might not be anyone better than Goux, a former USC player and assistant coach. Goux loved this rivalry, calling the game "big man on big man." He often said one of his greatest honors was being named to a Notre Dame all-opponent team, and he told his players, "You have to know them better than they know themselves."

"Coach Goux, I was blessed to be a freshman in his last year coaching at USC," Polamalu said. "He did not let you forget this game; he had so much passion and commitment for this rivalry. He would get up and sing their fight song; it was a joy to be around that kind of passion. I guess there was some osmosis, because that's what I'm trying to do as a coach is to help these young men understand the rich tradition."

On Saturday, those lessons will be taught once more in South Bend.

Garry Paskwietz is the publisher of WeAreSC.com and has covered the Trojans since 1997. He can be reached at garry@wearesc.com.

Garry Paskwietz | email

Publisher, WeAreSC.com