In Die Hard, What Christmas Eve Bowl Game has Notre Dame vs USC?


die hard christmas movie

(Editor’s note: re-publishing this holiday season article from a previous year because it’s Christmas time)

This weekend begins the bowl season, and with it the crappy bowl games that very few of us care about. Saturday brings us a cadre of bowl games that are just as awful as whatever bowl game hosted Notre Dame and USC in the classic Christmas film “Die Hard.”

The total number of bowl games has multiplied at an absurd rate these past few decades, but one truth still remains- real bowl games don’t start until after Christmas, and for the most part well after Christmas.

die hard christmas movie

Genuinely desirable bowl games still adhere to tradition, and take place on New Year’s. Thus, one wonders how the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and USC Trojans, two of the bluest blue bloods in college football, actually ended up clashing on Christmas Eve, in this 1988 action hero film.

Remember, Die Hard took place in an era where you had less than 20 bowl games, not close to 40 like you have today. It was a time when teams that went 7-4 or even sometimes 8-3, missed out on the postseason.

Of course, Notre Dame and USC would almost certainly not both be relegated to a Christmas Eve bowl game, in any era…unless they both went 6-5 that season…again kind of far-fetched. The Die Hard bowl game question is of course one of utmost seriousness and extreme concern.

notre dame usc trojans

There is just oh so much at stake here in deeply analyzing a fictional exhibition game briefly mentioned in an explosion filled shoot ’em up movie three decades after the fact.

It’s trivial and silly yes, but given all the serious issues that we all consistently have to think about in this country every single day, it’s a very welcome guilty pleasure debate.

The Die Hard bowl game piece is one I’ve been wanting to write for many years, but never got around to. Upon under taking this project, I found that it’s been done at least twice already. Well, history and anthropology are disciplines built on standing on the shoulders of the giants ahead of you, so let’s dissect this extremely important historical event.

Sean Keeley, of SB Nation’s Syracuse site, asked this question in 2011.

notre dame usc trojans

Keeley writes that the LAPD character, played by the dad from Family Matters:

“heads inside and kibbitzes with Buffed Up Huey Lewis, who is pretending to be a security guard. Huey sits back down at the desk and starts watching the football game again. The play-by-play guy tells us that it’s the end of the first quarter and Notre Dame leads USC 7-0.”

Which game is this exactly? Keeley continues:

In 1987, there were 18 bowl games. The early-season bowls were the California (12/12), Independence (12/19), All-American (12/22), Aloha (12/25) and Sun (12/25). Everything else was played post-Christmas.

In 1988, there were 17 bowl games. This time the California, Independence, Sun and Aloha were the only ones pre-Christmas or on Christmas.

So that means Notre Dame and USC would have had to be playing one another in one of those games.

In 1987, Notre Dame went 8-4 and played in the Cotton Bowl. In 1988, they went 12-0 and won the Fiesta Bowl and National Title.

In 1987, USC went 8-4, won a share of the Pac-10 and went to the Rose Bowl. In 1988, they went 10-2 and went back to the Rose Bowl.

In other words, the bowls that would be played around that time and the reality of Notre Dame & USC football do not jive.

The SB Nation piece espouses the famous Die Hard Thanksgiving Theorem, as does The Comebacks edition in 2015, which we find it written by….the same guy!

Now about that Thanksgiving theorem:

A personal theory (that remains 100 percent unproven) is that somewhere along the way, one of the early drafts of Die Hard had it take place during Thanksgiving. If that’s the case, then having the guard watch a Notre Dame vs. USC game makes perfect sense. In fact, the Irish and the Trojans actually played one another on Nov. 26, 1988. You could easily just make a mental note that the game was scheduled for the night before Thanksgiving (or the day-of) and everything fits perfectly.

The Jeweled Shillelegh rivalry is customarily played on the Saturday following Thanksgiving Day when the game is played in Los Angeles. It’s on the third Saturday of October when the game is played in South Bend. ND and USC did actually clash in 1988 on November 26, so this does make a lot of sense.

Also, Nakotomi Plaza is in Los Angeles, so a faux security guard would probably be interested in a local team, especially a team that’s playing one of their main rivalry games.

By the way, Nakotomi Tower is played in the film by Fox Plaza, a 35 story skyscraper in Century City, Los Angeles, California. Former US President Ronald Reagan had his offices on the 34th floor of the building for several years after leaving public office. 

notre dame

The 34th floor is now occupied by Goldman Sachs.

Keeley does though eventually crack the code, explaining how it must be the Aloha Bowl in Hawaii that landed ND and USC in Die Hard.

It’s the only thing that could possibly make sense…and after all, everything in Die Hard makes perfectly sense, as there are absolutely no plot holes and every single aspect of the film is 100% realistic to everyday life. Nothing in the movie is far-fetched at all. Period. No sir.

There is also a competing theory, albeit a much more boring one, which says the filmmakers just pulled audio from the 1987 meeting.

In that game, USC went up 7-0 early on Notre Dame before eventually getting totally blown out.

usc-cheerleader cheering for wrong team

This would make perfect sense given the Die Hard production timeline. Also, given the locale, setting and the fact that USC has a very prestigious film school, you likely had a Southern Cal alum with some level of input on the script, and they just decided to include the Trojans.

Given the storied rivalry, Notre Dame was the perfect choice as an opponent. So now we can move on to the Die Hard debate that has inspired dozens of articles, and will inspire a dozen more- is it a Christmas movie? YES!

It doesn’t matter that it was released in the summer, is designated primarily as an action film first, and has way more violence and cursing than a typical Christmas movie. Die Hard is still an example of yuletide cinema.

The entire film takes place on Christmas Eve, it’s plot centers around the worst office Christmas party imaginable, a Christmas carol (Vaughn Monroe’s edition of “Let it Snow”) plays over the closing credits and if you go to your on demand right now…go…do it….you’ll find Die Hard in the Christmas category of on demand movies.

This whole endeavor of analyzing this was absolutely low brow and probably pointless…and it was exactly what I needed in my life right now. It’s what we all need given the headlines these days.


Merry Christmas and happy bowl season everybody!

Paul M. Banks is the owner/manager of The Bank (TheSportsBank.Net) and author of “Transatlantic Passage: How the English Premier League Redefined Soccer in America,” as well as “No, I Can’t Get You Free Tickets: Lessons Learned From a Life in the Sports Media Industry.”

He has regularly appeared in WGNSports Illustrated and the Chicago Tribune, and co-hosts the After Extra Time podcastFollow him on Twitter and Instagram



  1. Only problem with that theory is that in the movie Vern Lundquist states that Notre Dame is the one up 7-0 in the 1st which relates to the local Huey being ticked that he put money on the game.


  1. […] Additionally, for additional studying, I’ve done 1,300 plus words on what bowl game Notre Dame and USC are playing in on Christmas Ev… […]

Speak Your Mind