Throwback Thursday: Notre Dame, USC settle for tie in 1968

Two great teams fight to a 21-21 tie, O.J. Simpson held to 55 rushing yards

Margaret Fosmoe
South Bend Tribune

"Irish, USC battle to tie: O.J. 'squeezed' to lowest yardage in career," screamed the headline in the next day's South Bend Tribune.

It was a game for the ages, played Nov. 30, 1968 at the Coliseum in Los Angeles.

Click here to see the Tribune's front page from that game:

Southern Cal came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the nation, led by running back O.J. Simpson. The Irish at the time were 7-2.

Simpson would rush for 1,709 yards and 22 touchdowns that season, and win the Heisman Trophy.

He later played in the NFL for the Buffalo Bills, leading the league in rushing four times and becoming the first NFL player to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a single season.

Simpson, of course, is best known for his arrest and trial in the 1994 murder of his former wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ron Goldman, of which he was found not guilty.

But all that was decades after the 1968 Fighting Irish-Trojans matchup.

Click here to see the Tribune's sports page from that game:

Terry Hanratty was Notre Dame's quarterback that season. But Hanratty had suffered an injury several weeks earlier, so Joe Theismann started as quarterback for the ND-USC game.

"Theismann, the slim little sophomore who was pressed into service when Terry Hanratty injured his knee four weeks ago, was voted the back of the game," South Bend Tribune sports editor Joe Doyle reported.

On the second play of the game, Theismann threw an interception that Trojan defensive back Sandy Durko returned for a touchdown and a 7–0 lead for USC. By halftime, however, Theismann had brought the Irish to a 21–7 lead.

The Trojans scored twice in the second half to tie the score. After two unsuccessful field goal attempts by Notre Dame kicker Scott Hempel in the fourth quarter — including a 33-yard try in the final minute — the game ended in a 21-21 tie.

USC head coach John McKay wasn't pleased with settling for a tie against Notre Dame, according to Doyle's report. "Let's play until midnight if we have to," McKay said when asked if he liked the concept of an overtime period.

It would not be until 1996 that the NCAA changed its rules and mandated overtime play to break tied scores.

Simpson was held to 55 rushing yards in the game, his lowest of the season.

How did Notre Dame contain Simpson? "We tried to squeeze him, meet him from either side and head on," Notre Dame head coach Ara Parseghian said in the next day's South Bend Tribune.

The Irish finished the season ranked fifth, with a 7–2–1 record. USC would play in the Rose Bowl, losing to eventual national champion Ohio State.

1968 marked the last of Notre Dame's self-imposed 45 years of non-participation in bowl games.

As Notre Dame's starting quarterback, Theismann went on to compile a 20–3–2 record, while throwing for 4,411 yards and 31 touchdowns. He later was an NFL quarterback, including 12 seasons with the Washington Redskins, where he helped the team to appearances in two Super Bowls. In 2003, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.


South Bend Tribune file photo