Pat Haden: ND-USC rivalry not same

LOS ANGELES -- USC athletic director Pat Haden, a broadcaster on Notre Dame football games for a dozen years, believes the players in college football's most celebrated nonconference rivalry no longer approach it with the same passion.

"The kids themselves, if you talk to them, this is just another game in a series of 12," Haden said. "I think all of us -- you, me, the old-timers -- feel differently than the players do."

Haden was the Trojans' quarterback in three USC-Notre Dame games between 1972 and 1974, going 2-1. The winner of that game played for a national championship in all three seasons.

Neither team is ranked entering Saturday night's game at Notre Dame, only the 10th time that has happened. It's the first night game in the rivalry, which stretches to 1926.

Haden will return to the Notre Dame press box for the first time since resigning as an NBC color analyst last summer to become the Trojans' athletic director.

He said he will light a candle at the grotto for his mother, as he did before each game at Notre Dame Stadium.

"It's a very special place. I think we all realize that, all of us who cover college football," Haden said.

Mark Saxon covers USC for ESPNLosAngeles.com.