Weis has a chance to become a Notre Dame legend

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Charlie Weis, welcome to your kingmaking moment.

You know all about what makes Notre Dame the stuff of myth and lore -- hell, you lived a glory-days chunk of it as a student here. You've embraced the tradition of the place so often since becoming head coach, some people swear you're half leprechaun.

And Saturday -- outlined against a blue-gray October sky, perhaps? -- you have a chance to own a shiny piece of Golden Dome glory for yourself.

That's how big this is for Coach Crew Cut.

The grand scope of Saturday's game against almighty USC is exactly the thing that brings out the Notre Dame (cue the angels singing on high) in Notre Dame. And this is exactly the kind of game that can transform a Notre Dame coach into a hero.

A seemingly unbeatable opponent riding a mile-long winning streak. A rising Fighting Irish team. An unmistakable feel of fall in the northern Indiana air. Notre Dame Stadium. Touchdown Jesus. The whole Domer shebang.

Cue the marching band. Feel your skin prickle. Set the echoes' alarm clock for 3:30 p.m. ET.

"It's about winning games, period, here," receiver Jeff Samardzija said. "There's a lot of people who love Notre Dame, but there's a whole lot more people who love Notre Dame when you win."

And love the coach when he wins games like this.

The kingmaking moment happened in this stadium for Lou Holtz, twice. Seventeen years ago this Saturday, Holtz accelerated the resurgence of the Irish program by upsetting No. 1 Miami 31-30 -- the catalyst for Notre Dame's last national championship. In 1993, Holtz did it again, beating No. 1 Florida State in South Bend 31-24. This is the biggest Notre Dame game since that day.

The kingmaking moment happened in this stadium a few times for Ara Parseghian -- but once with a particularly crisp parallel to this game. Parseghian's 1973 team, ranked No. 8, beat No. 6 USC 23-14. The Trojans rode a 23-game unbeaten streak (with two ties) into that game, and hadn't lost to Notre Dame since 1966. That Irish team went on to win a national title.

"There are a lot of similarities between the circumstances," said Parseghian, who still lives in South Bend. "I was talking to Charlie recently and told him there were a lot of similarities between '73 and this game. We were on a pretty good roll, similar to now, and they were on a good-sized winning streak.

"It was a big, pivotal football game for us. You kind of pointed for them, because of the circumstances."

But the one kingmaking moment that should resonate most for Weis was when it happened in this stadium for Dan Devine, in 1977. Weis was sitting in the stands for the zenith of Devine's Notre Dame career.

Still struggling in his third year to replace Parseghian adequately, saturnine Devine stepped out of character when fifth-ranked USC came to town, pulling off one of the great motivational ploys in college football history. After having his team warm up in their normal blue jerseys, the players returned to the locker room and found new green shirts in their lockers. Then a group of students pulled a huge Trojan horse into the stadium.

"It was a pretty wild experience," Weis said this week. "Watching the team come out there and warm up in blue and I didn't think too much of it, to tell you the truth. And they came out, and I remember the big Trojan horse and remember the team coming out there in those green jerseys and knowing this was going to be something special."

Fully stoked, Notre Dame routed USC 49-19 and rolled to six straight victories and the national title.

For the record, Weis rolled his eyes at the notion that he might pull a green-jersey stunt of his own Saturday. He's a Domer, but his coaching lineage hews directly to Parcells-Belichick. And gimmickry ain't their thing.

Weis, in the midst of a startlingly brilliant rookie year as a head coach, has outfitted his first Notre Dame team in something far more substantial and substantive than kelly-green shirts: fresh self-esteem, in immense quantities.

"Coach Weis has brought a confidence to this team that's just kind of bled through the team," said Samardzija, whose career has taken off under Weis. "It's kind of something we're trying to feed off of. ... He's brought a lot of things, but I think the mentality he's brought has just been probably the key part."

Said tight end Anthony Fasano: "Coming in with confidence and swagger is the biggest thing we've got now."

Fasano had proved it just a minute earlier, in his answer to a question about what the atmosphere might be if the Irish somehow end USC's 27-game winning streak, and its three-year streak of 31-point blowouts of Notre Dame.

"I couldn't imagine what this place will be like when we win," Fasano said. "It'll be fun."

A reporter pointed out that Fasano said "when," not "if." The senior from New Jersey laughed.

"That's a good sign," he said. "That's not just hollow talk."

Nothing seems hollow about the new Notre Dame, least of all the assuredness of the players. Credit that to Weis' trickle-down belief in his system.

"It seems that when we get in the huddle and we look at each other in the eyes, Brady [Quinn] calls a play, we know that the play's going to work," running back Darius Walker said.

Weis approaches life with a cocksure Jersey aura that was evident from the day he was introduced as the new coach of the Irish in December. Everything he said broadcast the old Al Haig line (only more believably): I'm in charge here.

From that flowed a conviction that Weis knew what he was talking about. The players have been soaking in that conviction for 10 months now. They're fully immersed.

How devotedly are the Irish following Weis' orders? All the way to the dinner table.

Fasano traveled home to Verona, N.J., last weekend during Notre Dame's open date, and went to see his high school team play in Boonton, the town where Weis started his coaching career.

Weis gave Fasano a restaurant tip: Go to the Reservoir Tavern in nearby Parsippany and get a meatball sub.

"And I actually did," Fasano said, sounding a bit stunned at himself.

"With a name like Fasano, how could I not send him for a meatball sub?" Weis asked, delighted to hear that his tight end took his suggestion as an order.

You get the feeling Weis could have sent him to Nome for a glass of cod liver oil and he would have done it. All the players would have.

Getting them to wholeheartedly believe they'll beat USC is every bit as tough a sell. Here's how he said he did it:

"The first thing you have to do is you have to start off embarrassing them. We all know the magic number 31. So I basically told them you are already down 31, let's see where we can go from there. Let's see if we can close the gap a little bit. You start off embarrassing them.

"Then the rest of the time all you do is try to build up their confidence. You play to their psyche and get them to believe. I will tell you that, the last week, the No. 1 job I felt I had to do was get them believing that they had a chance to win the game. ... Just getting them to believe they had a chance to win the game is easier said than done."

Understandable, since this Notre Dame bunch had steadily had the starch beaten out of it under Ty Willingham. And no opponent did more to humble this program than the glamorous Trojans, who currently possess all the buzz that once belonged in South Bend.

USC's Hollywood-tinged charisma makes the Trojans "like a movie-star team," running back Walker said. "... Like they'd be on a milk commercial or something."

Nevertheless, the Irish insist they are far from starstruck.

"Our goal is to reverse that 31," Walker said. "Have us win by 31."

Seeing reporters' eyebrows shoot to the tops of their foreheads, Walker quickly added, "That's not a prediction."

Confidence has its limits, and for Notre Dame, it stops well short of outrageousness. A one-point victory would be enough to make this a kingmaking moment for Charlie Weis.

Pat Forde is a senior writer at ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.