ND and USC games count for five of the ten most-watched college football games in television history. The teams play for the Jeweled Shillelagh, a trophy that goes home with the winning team each year. Notre Dame currently leads the series 42-33-5.
The origin of the series is quite often recounted as a “conversation between wives” of Notre Dame head coach Knute Rockne and USC athletic director Gywnn Wilson. In fact, many sports writers often cite this popular story as the main reason the two schools decided to play one another. As the story goes, the rivalry began with USC looking for a national rival. USC dispatched Wilson and his wife to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Notre Dame was playing Nebraska on Thanksgiving Day. On that day, Knute Rockne resisted the idea of a home-and-home series with USC because of the travel involved, but Mrs. Wilson was able to persuade Mrs. Rockne that a trip every two years to sunny Southern California was better than one to snowy, hostile Nebraska. Mrs. Rockne spoke to her husband and on December 4, 1926, USC became an annual fixture on Notre Dame’s schedule.
Notre Dame and USC played their first game in 1926, a 13-12 win for the Irish. Rockne was quoted as saying it was the greatest game he ever saw. The following year, Notre Dame and USC would play a memorable game at Soldier Field in Chicago, a slim 7-6 Irish victory. An estimated 120,000 people were in attendance, a crowd that is considered to be one of the largest attended games in NCAA history. USC’s first win in the series also came during the same year they won their first national title in 1928. From 1928-1932, USC and Notre Dame combined to win the national title five straight years, with USC winning in 1928, 1931 and 1932, and Notre Dame winning in 1929 and 1930. During this period, there was some talk of canceling the series, due to the long amount of travel time it took by train from South Bend to Los Angeles. Rockne argued for the series against the Notre Dame faculty board and its chair, Father Mulcaire, countering that “he saw the day coming when most college teams will be going by air exclusively.
Both schools combined have produced the most national titles (21), Heisman trophy winners (14), All-Americans, College Football Hall of Famers and future NFL Hall of Famers (21) than any other collegiate series.
In 1900, in Oklahoma Territory, Oklahoma A&M (later Oklahoma State) veterinary medicine professor Dr. L.L. Lewis assembled a group of A&M students to participate in the first territorial Track and Field Meet. Held on May 4, 1900, the event included Alva Normal College, Central Normal of Edmond, Kingfisher College and the University of Oklahoma, along with OAMC. The prize of the tournament was a silver cup donated by a local jeweler named Douglas. Surprisingly, A&M won the meet and returned to Stillwater with the traveling trophy.
In 1901, A&M won again, and a third consecutive win would mean permanent retirement of the Douglas Cup in Stillwater. The meet was held on May 23, 1902, with the Aggies amassing the most points. Oklahoma filed a protest based on the pole vault competition not having been completed due to darkness, however, Oklahoma A&M claimed the Douglas cup.
The next day the Sooners held their own vault competition and declared themselves the victor. Several weeks later, the Douglas Cup was missing from its place in a glass case at the Oklahoma A&M chemistry lab. Suspecting that OU students had stolen the Cup, a group of A&M students retrieved the Cup from Norman, supposedly burying it under Old Central for safekeeping.
Ten years later, when excavation was being done for A&M’s Gundersen Hall, the trophy was found.
The first Bedlam game was held at Island Park in Guthrie, Oklahoma. It was a cold, and very windy day with the temperatures well below the freezing mark. At one moment in the game when the Oklahoma A&M Aggies were punting, the wind carried the ball backwards behind the kicker. If the Oklahoma A&M squad recovered the ball it would be a touchback and if the University of Oklahoma squad recovered it, it would be a touchdown. The ball kept going backwards and rolled down a hill into the half-frozen creek. Since a touchdown was at stake, members of both teams dove into the icy waters to recover the ball. A member of the OU team came out with the ball and downed it for a touchdown, eventually winning the game 75-0. Thus was the beginning of Bedlam.
Author Steve Budin, whose father was a New York bookie, has recently publicized the claim that the 1954 Bedlam Game was fixed by mobsters in his book Bets, Drugs, and Rock & Roll. Allegedly, the mobsters threatened and paid off a cook to slip laxatives into a soup eaten by many OU Sooner starting players, causing them to fall violently ill in the days leading up to the game. OU was victorious in the end, but their 14-0 win did not cover the 20-point spread they had in their favor. However, many people involved in the 1954 contest do not recall any incident like the one purported by Bodin to have occurred.
Oklahoma currently leads the series 81-16-7.