old notre dame will tie over everything. sing it, guys. That’s not quite what the gear says, of course, but that’s how the great game ends every time you replay it. and that’s how millions of cranky college football fans will remember him. During 59 minutes in absolutely overwrought East Lansing last week, the Brutes from Michigan State and Notre Dame made enough mistakes to fill Bubba Smith’s uniform, enough to settle a dozen games between minor teams, but the tie 10 -10 that fate seemed to be demanding had a strange and noble quality. and then I no longer had that. to people who saw it under the cold, dreary clouds or on national television, suddenly all it had was this huge void that the Irish will forever be blamed for.
Forget everything that came before, all that ferocious rumble down the line that was primarily responsible for five fumbles, four interceptions, another 25 incompletes, a total of 20 rushing plays that lost yards or didn’t gain any, and forget about the few good plays, the big passes. Put the No. 1 team, Notre Dame, on their own 30-yard line with time for at least four passes to break the tie. a no 1 team will try something, right, to continue like this?
Reading: 1966 game of the century
notre dame did not. she just lets the air out of the ball. for reasons that will be rationalized as more valid than perhaps they were under the immense circumstances, the Irish sold out (see cover). even when the michigan state defenders scoffed at them and called for the timeouts the irish should have been asking for. Notre Dame ran to the line, the place where the great game was hopelessly played all afternoon. no one really expected a verdict in that last desperate moment. but they wanted someone to try. when the Irish ran into the line, the Spartans considered it a minor surrender.
“We couldn’t believe it,” said george webster, the state’s wild rover. “When they came up for their first snap, we kept yelling back and forth, ‘watch the pass, watch the pass.’ but they ran. we knew the next one was a safe pass. but they ran again. we were really stunned. then we realized. they were settling for a draw.”
You could see the Spartans looking at the Irish down there. they had their hands on their hips, completely disdainful now. On the Michigan State sideline, Spartans jeered across the field and waved their arms as if to say, “Get off the field if you’ve given up.” and at the line of scrimmage the michigan state defenders were talking to the notre dame players.
“I was saying, “You’re going for the tie, right? you’re going for the draw,'” webster said. “and you know what? They didn’t even look us in the eye. they just turned their backs on them and went back to their group.” bubba had yelled, “come on, sissies,” while other spartans yelled at parseghian.
notre dame coach ara parseghian made the decision to end the so-called “game of the century” that way. the players just followed instructions, some of them perhaps reluctantly. “We had fought a lot to go back and tie him up,” Ara argued. “After all that, I didn’t want to risk giving it to them cheap. They get reckless and it could have cost them the game. I wasn’t going to do something stupid like that right now.”
Thus ended a game that had slowly built over five long weeks into the biggest college show in 20 years. The last game to create such a pre-kickoff frenzy was between Notre Dame and the Army in 1946 at Yankee Stadium. that battle of the century was as full of fortuitous things as this. it ended in an unsatisfying 0–0 draw, with both teams claiming no. 1, and left thousands baffled that folklore figures like johnny lujack, glenn davis, and doc blanchard hadn’t performed the one feat that would have decided it.
so, when the 1966 season is over, who will deserve to be the no? 1? duffy daugherty thought michigan state should be 1 and notre dame only i a. then he said that she would even accept a “co-championship”, thinking of the lower voting power of the Spartans in the polls. “Last year,” she told her, “we won on the field and lost at the polls.” The reference was to Alabama winning the AP Award after bowl games and tying with the Spartans in the football writers’ post-bowl voting. Ara Parseghian obviously believed that the Irish could out-poll Michigan and everyone else, or he wouldn’t have been so willing to settle for a tie. alabama’s best opportunities lie ahead. so do nebraska. Both teams could go undefeated and, if one beats the other in a bowl game, the winner would have an 11-0 record to shine against 9-0-1 Notre Dame and Michigan State, neither of whose schedules were that much more ferocious than Alabama or Nebraska. Finally, there is growing dissatisfaction with Notre Dame’s policy of avoiding bowling while also fighting for a national championship, and with the vexing Big Ten rule that prohibits a team from going to the Rose Bowl two years in a row. as long as notre dame and the big ten teams uphold these policies, they may deserve to be beaten by an alabama, as punishment.
last week’s game was decided a dozen times, apparently the two national powerhouses racked up boner heroics, and vice versa, as michigan state led 10-0 and notre dame struggled to get back to a tie undecided that he was won but not applauded.
the game was marked by all the brutality you somehow knew it would be when gladiators like the 6-foot-7, 285-pound michigan state bubba smith, “the intercontinental ballistic bubba,” a creature whose game of defensive end had long ago encouraged Spartan female students to wear buttons that said kill, bubba, kill.
bubba killed, okay. He killed Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty early in the first quarter. When Hanratty, a sophomore sensation for eight games, slid from a right tackle onto a goaltender, Bubba Smith hit him in the left shoulder, separating him. he caught it just as they fell. it looked as if hanratty had been hit by a giant revolving green door.
“That didn’t help us at all,” Bubba said later. “We just let them put in that o’brien who’s slippery and faster and caused us more trouble. The other guy just sits there and waits, and that’s what we wanted.”
that’s what ara parseghian wanted too. Hanratty can sit back and wait, but he also throws deep better than O’Brien, although Coley O’Brien threw well enough to tie it. Ara would have liked not only Hanratty, but also running back Nick Eddy and center George Goeddeke. Like Hanratty, Goeddeke was valuable, one of Notre Dame’s most accomplished blockers. he came out with an ankle injury in the first quarter, also courtesy of bubba. But Eddy, the best Irish ball carrier, didn’t even get into the game. the big trunk swirled.
the big trunk is not another name for bubba smith. It’s the train that traveled Notre Dame from South Bend to East Lansing on Friday. When the train arrived, Eddy fell from the steps directly onto an already injured shoulder, and sophomore Bob Gladieux was quietly told that he would start the biggest game of the 1966 season in the left half.
as notre dame lives by the tie in the coming weeks and months, it will never forget these injuries and the alibis they strongly suggest. But the Irish aren’t exactly a replacement for Sweet Briar girls, and Coley O’Brien and Bob Gladieux—the new Baby Bombers, someone said—did wonderfully well. “All things considered, I thought they played super,” Parseghian said. O’Brien, who must take two insulin injections a day for diabetes, hit Gladieux with a deep 34-yard pass into the goalpost. The ball barely cleared a defender’s fingertips, but it prompted Notre Dame’s touchdown in the second quarter. the score reduced the Irish deficit to 10-7 at the break.
The combination of Eddy’s injury and the pressure of the game made Notre Dame an extraordinarily somber bunch coming to East Lansing. Usually loose and smiling, the Irishman checked into the Jack Tar Hotel under a marquee that said Welcome to the Big One, with frozen, dedicated expressions that for some indescribable reason did not convey confidence. end jim seymour, the amazing pass receiver and outgoing personality of previous Saturdays, was stiff and deeply focused. In the game itself, Seymour was so well covered all day that he was barely noticeable. he had a decent chance at a pass, but dropped it.
the irish should have been happy to leave south bend, even on the grand trunk, after the week of attention they received. on Monday there were dozens of reporters and photographers available, the number increasing every day. it was the same for the Spartans, of course. Both Parseghian and Daugherty had to hold daily press conferences and play the game over and over again ahead of time. they certainly thought the game was an honor and a privilege. Parseghian said he looked like a product of Hollywood since Notre Dame was 8-0 and he wasn’t. 1 and Michigan State went 9-0 and no. 2. Daugherty said it was a shame such games only appeared every few years in college football; that there could be one every year if the ncaa only held one football playoff. they said they would simply remind their players that Saturday would be one of the best days of their lives.
Both teams were so talented and physically imposing, and had beaten their opponents so easily, that it was impossible to predict what the game would be like. it was anticipated that neither would be able to run much but that both could hit in the air if their quarterbacks had a spare second to swat the ball away. no one wanted a weird play to decide it; everyone wanted a clear winner. the last thing anyone, especially the coaches, thought of was a draw. no, that was the penultimate. the last were all the errors that occurred.
It seemed like the two teams would never settle down and start to look like the numbers. 1 and 2 instead of nos. 42 and 43. Of the four passes Terry Hanratty threw before meeting Bubba Smith, three were viciously deflected, one a simple screen that went to the turf. The running backs went nowhere, mostly because of Webster, linebacker Charlie Thornhill, guard Jeff Richardson and Bubba. and Notre Dame was unable to make a fourth-down punt because of a poor recovery. Michigan State countered with a fumble, a delay penalty, a clip and a penalty for interfering with a punt catch. It looked like the great intramural game in Columbia.
However, something interesting had happened. In an aborted sprintout pass by Spartan quarterback Jimmy Raye, a flighty young man with a mustache, the state had seen something. Split End Gene Washington, one of the safest and fastest receivers in the country, had beaten Notre Dame’s deep defenders by 10 yards. washington, the champion of the ten great obstacles, can overcome most people.
“I can look a man in the eye and know if I can beat him,” Washington said afterward. “I knew he could beat those guys all day.”
near the end of the first quarter, on first down at his own 27-yard line, raye called the play again. he ran to the right, stopped and fired a bomb. Washington got it for a 42-yard gain. Nine batting field plays later, with a ruthless double-team block on Notre Dame’s excellent tackle Kevin Hardy, State scored. regis cavender, who was standing in for bob apisa, crashed and the score was 7-0.
On their next possession in the second quarter, the Spartans scored again. Raye scrambled 30 yards off the right end. And he hit back at Washington for 17 yards to get to Notre Dame’s 26. However, they missed a couple more passes and the Spartans had to settle for barefoot kicker Dick Kenney’s 47-yard field goal.
michigan state, though it continually looked like he might do it, never got past notre dame’s 47-yard line the rest of the day. Notre Dame assistant John Ray felt he knew why. “We didn’t go out of our way in the first half,” he said. “Maybe we were tight. We told our kids to start hitting people.”
notre dame’s defense, led by hardy and linebackers jim lynch and jim horney, finished the day with a record for having beaten the talented spartan running backs for no or few yards in no fewer than 16 rushing plays. Clinton Jones, of all people, was limited to 13 yards on 10 carries, and this is the equivalent of stopping Cassius Clay mid-stroke. Jones and Jim Lynch teamed up in what may have been the loudest collision of the game. Lynch intercepted a ray pass and advanced onto the field, only to run into Jones. The runner hit him in the knees as Lynch tried to hit him simultaneously. In the next instant, Lynch turned into a perfect spin. he landed on his helmet, threw the ball, and jones recovered. The fast-paced play, one of many, allowed Michigan State to maintain possession and later earn their field goal.
then, late in the third quarter, coley o’brien ripped off a notre dame play that looked like it would surely give the irish a 14-10 lead. Luring Jim Seymour, he passed Rocky Bleier for nine yards and fullback Larry Conjar, whose block was in evidence all day, for 18 yards just over center. he passed out on the deep floor with running back dave haley. Short runs from Haley, Bleier and Conjar moved the ball to Michigan State’s 10th. On third-and-three, one of those calls that makes Ara chew gum like a rabbit, O’Brien tried to pass but did well to get to the skirmish line. Joe Azzaro then came in to kick the game-tying 28-yard field goal.
By now, with slow subtlety, the look of things had changed. Michigan State, certainly the better team in the first half, no longer seemed so sure. Notre Dame was back. a break or something weird would decide it now and the wrong team would win. whoever it was would be wrong. you knew it.
Instantly, the move that should have settled the game happened. notre dame safety tom schoen intercepted a wild pass from jimmy raye, unlike the irish, the spartans bet, and slid back with him 31 yards to the spartan 18. field goal from about the 10 or 15 yard line it was in a locked room somewhere.
conjar ran on first try. he dug two yards. but now what is this? Here’s Haley going wide left on second down, and here’s Phil Hoag, completely calm, running through Bubba Smith to break him for eight yards. the ball is no longer in 16; he’s back at 24. now o’brien misses with a frantic pass and it’s fourth down. Joe Azzaro’s field goal attempt has to be from 42 yards. it’s a couple of feet to the right, and the fading of the relief in the spartan stadium causes the structure to lean a bit.
“that haley play,” parseghian said, a total locker room mess after the game. “That was just a leak. We leaked a guy, we messed up an assignment.” she looked down at the ground. “Damn,” she said.
and again outside the gates of notre dame, a beautiful michigan state student walking through the tunnel stared blankly at her boyfriend. “damn it,” she said. “damn it, damn it.”
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