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Four decades later, a return to 'the Holy Grail'

Published Aug. 25, 2007

When UCLA visited South Bend, Ind., in 1963 and 1964, no program defined college football more than Notre Dame, and players said it was an awe-inspiring moment to run onto the same grounds where Knute Rockne coached, and where Paul Hornung, George Gipp and the Four Horsemen played. Today, for the first time in 42 years and third time in history, UCLA and the 10th-ranked Fighting Irish meet. It has been 18 years since Notre Dame's last national title, and 19 seasons since Tim Brown won the school's seventh, and last, Heisman Trophy, but it remains a benchmark program. "This is like the Holy Grail of college football, right?" UCLA junior middle linebacker Christian Taylor said. A look at today's game and the past two meetings:


Jim Colletto, UCLA's offensive line coach and a fullback/linebacker in those 1960s games, said the aura of the Notre Dame program was an enormous attraction.

"I don't know what kids today think, but growing up we knew who the Four Horsemen were," Colletto said. "You heard the stories. You knew Knute Rockne. You knew all that stuff. I remember walking in the locker room, and it was old, but you know who played there. It was a big deal."

He recalls readying to sprint downfield and cover a kickoff, he glanced above the north stands and saw Touchdown Jesus, the mural emblazoned on Notre Dame's library, overlooking the field. "I saw Touchdown Jesus and all these gold helmets, and I was like, 'What the hell am I doing here?' " Colletto said.


John Richardson, a UCLA sophomore in 1964, says: "I hope Notre Dame decides to mow the lawn this time. Those guys like to have a few tricks up their sleeves. Keep the long grass to make the running backs a little slower."


UCLA coach Karl Dorrell says the Bruins will approach today "just like another Pac-10 game," perhaps a bad idea since UCLA has already lost to Pac-10 teams Oregon and Washington.


Both games had incidents. In 1963, a 27-12 Notre Dame win, UCLA's Kent Francisco grabbed a cheerleader's megaphone and hit Notre Dame's Jim Carroll in the face. It was in retaliation for a late hit from Carroll.

UCLA finished that season 2-8, while the Irish were 2-7.

"As bad as we were, both times, they had kids driving around that hotel all night long blowing their horns," said Byron Nelson, a UCLA running back/safety as a sophomore in 1963. "I thought they were the most abusive, racially motivated people. They were very abusive toward our black players."

In 1964, a 24-0 Irish victory, UCLA quarterback Larry Zeno and teammates Mike Haffner and Steve Sindell were forced to wear Notre Dame's road jerseys after theirs were stolen from the locker room the night before.


UCLA usually struggles to sell a few hundred tickets for away games. The 5,000-ticket allotment for this game sold out a long time ago, and the school is expecting as many as 115 of its former players to be in attendance.

"We've been talking about this since early in 2001, right around the time we went to the Alabama game," said Brandon Huffman, a contributor to " ... Even then people were talking about this one. It would take death for me to miss this."


University of Miami president Donna Shalala, echoing a decades-old Hurricane theme while addressing last weekend's brawl with FIU: "We've always known we can't make mistakes. We don't get a break."

Then-UM coach Dennis Erickson after the Hurricanes brawled with Colorado: "We're a target every time we line up."

Then-UM coach Jimmy Johnson after the Hurricanes brawled with South Carolina: "Everyone in the media takes their shots at us."

Georgia Tech coach Chan Gailey criticized the trash talking that led to the Miami-FIU brawl ... then acknowledged that, well, some Yellow Jackets also like to talk during a game ... then clarified that his players' trash talk is different: "They're not picking on any players or demeaning anybody. They're just patting each other on the back very loudly.''


Top 25

#1 Ohio State vs. Indiana, Noon

#2 Michigan vs. Iowa, 3:30

#5 Texas at #17 Nebraska, Noon

#6 Louisville at Syracuse, Noon

#7 Tennessee vs. Alabama, 3:30

#8 Auburn vs. Tulane, 2:30

#10 Notre Dame vs. UCLA, 2:30

#11 California vs. Washington, 3:30

#12 Clemson vs. #13 Georgia Tech, 7:45

#14 LSU vs. Fresno State, 9

#15 Arkansas vs. Mississippi, 12:30

#16 Oregon at Washington State, 5

#18 Boise State at Idaho, 5

#19 Rutgers at Pittsburgh, 5:45

#20 Oklahoma vs. Colorado, 7

#21 Wisconsin at Purdue, Noon

#22 Boston College at Florida State, 3:30

#23 Texas A&M at Oklahoma State, 7

#24 Missouri vs. Kansas State, 2


N.C. State at Maryland, Noon

Miami at Duke, 1

Boston College at Florida St., 3:30

Southern Miss at Virginia Tech, 7

Georgia Tech at Clemson, 7:45

Big East

Louisville at Syracuse, Noon

Rutgers at Pittsburgh, Noon


Mississippi at Arkansas, 12:30

Mississippi St. at Georgia, 1

Tulane at Auburn, 2:30

South Carolina at Vanderbilt, 3

Alabama at Tennessee, 3:30

Fresno St. at LSU, 9