Pat Haden, a Rhodes scholar who played at USC and has broadcast Notre Dame games, said the length of the series, its constancy, is what sets the USC-Notre Dame rivalry apart.

"I've always thought of this game as one of the few that is part of a long continuum," Haden said. "I went to the game with my father. I've taken my kids to it and I anticipate my kids taking their kids to it. It's a constant in an ever-changing sports landscape."

Haden came from a Notre Dame family and his first memory is of the 1964 game. "I remember going to Thanksgiving Mass with the Notre Dame team," Haden said. "My father was so excited. We sat up in the nosebleed section, Row 86 or something, and watched Craig Fertig ruin Notre Dame's perfect season and national championship hopes."

Another memorable game was in 1977, when Notre Dame Coach Dan Devine secretly ordered the Irish green jerseys -- instead of blue -- just for the USC game. Other than the Irish captains, none of the players knew what they'd be wearing until the team had come back to the locker room after pre-game warmups.

The Irish returned to the Notre Dame Stadium turf to be greeted by stunned silence, then ear-shattering noise.

Notre Dame romped, 49-19, for Devine's only win over the Trojans in his six seasons as coach.

The late Marv Goux, known as Mr. Trojan until his death earlier this year, was both a player and coach for USC.

His widow, Patti, who will participate in the coin toss Saturday, said her husband once described his walk up the tunnel at Notre Dame. "Marv said the tunnel was fairly narrow, then you walk out and the opponents are right there..... You're looking at the field and there's the sun shining on the cardinal and gold leaves of autumn."

Patti laughed at this, Marv making the South Bend leaves into USC talismans.

Last year, Patti said, Marv went to USC practice during Notre Dame week. "Marv had formed a real bond with [first-year USC Coach] Pete Carroll," Patti said. "Marv talked to the team and to Pete and tried to convey the meaning of this game. He told them about going up the tunnel and the leaves.

"When the game is in South Bend, kickoff is always 11:30 our time. About 10 a.m., the phone rang and it was Pete. He had the cell phone in his hand. He told Marv he was walking out the tunnel. 'I had to tell you,' Carroll told Goux, 'it's just like you said it would be.' That meant the world to Marv."

Fertig said the magnitude of the rivalry was never clearer than after that 1964 game. "After we won that game," he said, "we had a team party. A guy that worked for the L.A. Times, he had collected newspapers from all over the world. He had papers from London, Frankfurt, Munich, Paris. And on the front page of all those papers, there was the story about USC and Notre Dame. I still have those papers."