NOTRE DAME 10, MICHIGAN STATE 10 : WHEN ARA TIED ONE FOR GIPPER : For a Day, They Were the Fightying Irish, and East Lansing Won’t Let Them Forget It
When Notre Dame plays Michigan State in Spartan Stadium at East Lansing, Mich., Saturday, the Irish will be waking the echoes, among them one that Notre Dame might prefer not to hear.
It has reverberated around Spartan Stadium for 20 years now, mocking Notre Dame’s 1966 national championship team.
Notre Dame, remember, is a school of proud traditions, one of which is that the Fighting Irish don’t just fight, they fight to win. No one ever questioned the pluck of the Irish.
Except in East Lansing.
The 10-10 tie between top-ranked Notre Dame and second-ranked Michigan State on Nov. 19, 1966, remains a game that the players, coaches, and fans of those two Midwest football powers are still contesting.
When the game finally ended, the question asked then is the very one that echoes today:
Why did you play for the tie, Ara?
Notre Dame, under Coach Ara Parseghian, chose to run out the clock in the final minute instead of going for the victory.
The day has since been known as the one when the Irish went out and tied one for the Gipper.
The echo at Michigan State says that Notre Dame wimped out on the field so the Irish could back into the national title.
Parseghian will be back in East Lansing as a broadcaster for Saturday’s nationally televised game on CBS, and it is likely that he will be answering as many questions about 1966 as 1986, answering the question in particular.
Interviews with the players and coaches involved, journalists who covered the game, and reviews of the game statistics, rosters, play-by-play, and circumstances surrounding its controversial conclusion indicate that the Irish have nothing to regret, that Notre Dame was probably the victim of its own lofty reputation.
It also seems that Parseghian not only made a prudent coaching move in an intricate chess game played out on the field at Spartan Stadium but also made an honorable move.
And which was really the better team?
Terry Hanratty, Notre Dame’s starting quarterback in that game and now a New York stockbroker, offered this:
“Tell (Michigan State’s) Bubba Smith that if he goes back to East Lansing for the game, I’ll go back, too, and we’ll meet each other at the 50-yard line and butt heads to see who’s better!”
Given all that happened involving this game, and the controversy that has followed it since, that solution may not be as outrageous as it seems.
WELCOME TO THE BIG ONE “They put my name in a newspaper in Portland last week as the person to complain to (about the game not being on national television),” said Beano Cook, ABC publicity director for college football, “and I received 350 letters, some telegrams and 10 long-distance phone calls--some collect--in three days, all pleading for a change.” --From a 1966 Associated Press account of ABC’s switching coverage of the Notre Dame-Michigan State from regional to national.
The Saturday before they met, Notre Dame trounced Duke at South Bend, 64-0, and Michigan State clinched the Big Ten championship with a 37-19 win at Indiana. The No. 2 Spartans thus went into their last game with a 9-0 record. The No. 1 Irish, had an 8-0 mark, with USC on the schedule a week after the Michigan State game.
The game marked the first meeting between the Associated Press poll’s Nos. 1 and 2 teams since that poll began in 1936, and public demand forced the game to be shown on national television. ABC had originally planned to show the Tennessee-Kentucky game nationally and the Notre Dame game regionally.
An inmate in a Texas jail even wrote to Roone Arledge, then an ABC vice president, saying: “If I weren’t here, I’d travel to see the game on television, but I won’t be out by Nov. 19.”
When ABC finally did announce that the game would be shown nationally, a Catholic church in Connecticut changed its confession schedule from 4 p.m. to 5 because the game was scheduled to end about 4.
The game was also the first event, sporting or otherwise, to be televised live via satellite from the mainland to Hawaii, in part because Michigan State fullback Bob Apisa and kicker Dick Kenney were from there.
The game drew an inordinate amount of newspaper coverage as well, with 754 journalists accredited for the game, then a record for a college football game.
Besides the usual sports journals, Time, Life, and Look magazines were represented, and CBS news followed Michigan State stars Bubba Smith and Jimmy Raye around campus that week. Notre Dame’s passing combination of Hanratty and Jim Seymour had been featured on the cover of the Oct. 28 issue of Time.
The hype continued even after the game.
Notre Dame students, unhappy with the following week’s Sports Illustrated cover story, built a bonfire in front of the Knute Rockne Memorial Gymnasium to burn copies of that magazine.
The Irish learned quickly that they would have to go up against not only Michigan State but also the entire state of Michigan.
Virtually every small southwestern Michigan town along the railroad that took the Irish from South Bend to East Lansing gathered crowds with posters and banners, chiding the visitors: “Stew the Irish,” “Bubba for Pope,” “Even the Pope Has No Hope For Notre Dame.” One that appeared at the stadium said, “Hail Mary, Mother of Grace, Notre Dame’s in Second Place!”
Notre Dame got a pregame jolt when running back Nick Eddy slipped getting off the train at East Lansing, aggravating a shoulder injury that would keep him out of the game.
Michigan State got a scare, too, when the only group who managed to stop Smith, the Spartans’ 6-foot 8-inch, 285-pound All-American defensive end turned out to be the East Lansing Police Department.
Smith, who had a reputation for cruising the campus in his Cadillac, known locally as the “BubbaMobile” or “BubbaCar,” was pulled over for a traffic violation, then arrested for several outstanding traffic warrants and put in jail the Friday before the game.
“It was a grandstand play by the police,” Smith said. “Those tickets had been around for a while, and they could’ve waited another day or two. When they pulled me over, I was saying to Jimmy (Raye, the Spartan quarterback who had been riding with him), ‘Man, there ain’t no way they’re going to arrest Bubba Smith.
“I was laughing right up until they put the handcuffs on.
“All I know is that I was in jail and I didn’t get out until (the late Michigan State athletic director) Biggie Munn came for me, and he was mad . He told the chief of police, ‘Do you like your job?’ And I yelled, ‘Yeah! Tell him, Biggie!’
“Even after I was in jail, it never occurred to me that there was any way that I’d miss the Notre Dame game. You’ve got to remember that East Lansing is a university town.”
And that university town, population 45,000, had never seen a week--one officially declared “Spartan Victory Week” by then-Michigan Governor George Romney--quite like this one. It hasn’t seen one like it since, either.
THOSE CRAZY COLLEGE KIDS The Notre Dame pilot evidently misjudged the wind velocity and sent hundreds of leaflets to the ground west of campus at the I-496 and Trowbridge Road intersection at 4 p.m. yesterday. --From a report headlined “Ara Force Counterattack” in the State News, Michigan State’s student newspaper, on the eve of the game. The Ara Force counterattack was prompted by an air raid on the Notre Dame campus by the Michigan State faithful earlier that week.
Michigan State students had printed propaganda leaflets, rented an airplane and bombed South Bend with dire warnings of what was to come in Saturday’s game.
In bold type, the Michigan State leaflets read:
“YOUR LEADERS HAVE LIED TO YOU. WHY DO YOU STRUGGLE AGAINST US?
“THEY HAVE LED YOU TO BELIEVE THAT YOU CAN WIN. THEY HAVE GIVEN YOU FALSE HOPE.
“WE WARN YOU--STAY IN YOUR OWN VILLAGES.
“TRY TO PERSUADE YOUR LEADERS NOT TO SEND THE FLOWER OF YOUR YOUTH TO BE CUT DOWN IN A HOPELESS BATTLE.
“THE INTERCONTINENTAL BALLISTIC BUBBA IS REAL.
“IT CAN DESTROY YOU.”
Notre Dame was unimpressed, but it did inspire the Irish to reply.
Besides the errant air raid, three Notre Dame students went to East Lansing and were arrested for spray painting a blue ND at the base of Sparty, the 10-foot statue of a Spartan at the heart of the school’s athletic plant. They were fined $10 apiece.
Notre Dame also held one of its celebrated pep rallies at a campus gym, but this time with an added vengeance. A dummy wearing a green jersey bearing No. 95--Bubba Smith’s number--was hung in effigy and, according to one report, was dropped into the howling mass, where it was torn to shreds.
News of that did not sit well in East Lansing.
Said Smith: “I was living on the first floor of Wonders Hall, our dorm back then, just trying to relax when I heard this noise. I went to the window, pulled up the shades, and there were a couple thousand students all camped outside.
“When they saw me, they all began to chant, ‘Kill, Bubba, kill!’ ‘Kill, Bubba, kill!’
“George Webster was my roommate then, and I just said: ‘George, there’s some serious energy going down here. I’ve got to take a long walk to think about things.’ ”
It didn’t take long for the media to pick up on the Armageddon theme. Wrote Jack Griffin of the Chicago Sun-Times:
The Michigan State pep rally had a larger population, but it couldn’t overshadow the Notre Dame affair in intensity because an Irish pep rally is a thing to make strong men tremble. But those of East Lansing need not fear civil outbreak this Saturday. Only about 500 Notre Dame students are making the trip to East Lansing, and this hardly seems enough to sack the town. There is, of course, the normal invasion of assorted Notre Dame alumni, real or otherwise, but these are more conversational than they are physical, and represent no actual threat to the city. Although the Irish were allotted only 800 seats in the 80,000-seat stadium, the schools’ student governments were nonetheless so concerned about trouble breaking out that they held a hasty “peace conference” in East Lansing.
The solution was to hold a dance for students from both schools at the Michigan State Union building Friday night, but the turnout was so large that it spilled over to a nearby dormitory, where the affair was dubbed the “Spartan-Sham-Rock.”
The dances and pep rallies that night were considered so important by Michigan State that its female students living on campus--yes, they were officially known as co-eds then--had their curfew extended from midnight to 2 a.m.
As if all of that weren’t enough, the schools’ freshman teams played on Friday night at East Lansing High School, a few blocks north of campus, and 10,000 fans packed the old stadium. Notre Dame won on a last minute field goal, 30-27, in the kind of game that most people were expecting from the varsity squads.
Playing defensive back and kicking for Michigan State’s freshman team was Steve Garvey, who of course went on to fame as a baseball player with the Dodgers and San Diego Padres.
“I was the (scout team) quarterback for the varsity that week, meaning that I was playing the part of Terry Hanratty and Coley O’Brien for the defense to train against,” Garvey said. “That also meant getting hit by Bubba Smith and George Webster a lot.”
As it happened, this was Big Ten champion Michigan State’s final game of the season because of a conference rule that then prohibited its teams from making repeat visits to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans had lost to UCLA in the 1966 Rose Bowl, 14-12.
Consequently, Michigan State students held an ersatz Rose parade around campus on Saturday morning, complete with mock floats, to remind all of what might have been.
And on the afternoon of the game, Michigan State students climbed a power-plant smokestack that looms 200 feet over the south end of Spartan Stadium, put up the requisite “We’re No. 1" sign and hung in effigy a leprechaun that looked suspiciously like Parseghian.
A small contingent of Notre Dame students lucky enough to get tickets even ran the entire distance from South Bend, Ind., near the Indiana-Michigan border, to East Lansing, about 150 miles, arriving in 19 hours and just in time for the game.
Notre Dame fans in attendance wore buttons that read “Duffy’s Fate is Second Rate” and “Hate State.” A banner for the national television audience said: “Hi, Ma, We’re Married.”
Outside the Notre Dame locker room, a student wearing a blue and gold jacket handed out leaflets reading: “They warned Hiroshima, they warned Nagasaki, now the Ara Force warns you.”
While all of this was going on, somebody stole the Michigan State and Notre Dame pennants flying above the stadium.
By 1:30 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 19, 1966, there wasn’t much left to do except finally play the game.
THE GAME OF THE CENTURY (SUCH AS IT WAS) There are emotional elements like the revenge motive--Notre Dame lost last year--it’s Michigan State’s last game in an unbeaten season, the traditional rivalry between the two schools, the No. 1 spot and the national championship. A team can be too fired up for a game, you know. I’ve been through that. -- Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian, the day before the game. The game was called the Poll Bowl because of the teams’ top rankings, but in retrospect, it could be considered an NFL Bowl, given all the future National Football League stars involved.
From Notre Dame, there was the passing combination of Hanratty and Seymour, known as the Baby Boomers because they were only sophomores. There also were Coley O’Brien, Rocky Bleier, Bob Gladieux, Bob Kuechenberg, Larry Conjar, Alan Page, Kevin Hardy, Jim Lynch, Pete Duranko, and the injured Eddy.
From Michigan State, there were Bubba Smith, George Webster, Clinton Jones, Gene Washington, Raye, Bob Apisa, Jess Phillips and Charley (Mad Dog) Thornhill.
Said Joe Doyle, sports editor of the South Bend Tribune from 1951-81 and a Notre Dame historian: “There was no comparison between this game and the 0-0 tie between Notre Dame and Army at Yankee Stadium in 1946. That game, both schools seemed to play tentatively. I’d never seen a game as intense as this was. The hitting was savage.”
Said Hank Bullough, the Buffalo Bills’ coach who was then Michigan State’s defensive coordinator: “Neither team really settled down throughout the entire game. What you had were two great defenses that virtually stopped the offenses cold.”
With Notre Dame’s big defensive line neutralizing the line of scrimmage, Irish linebackers Jim Lynch and John Horney were able, 16 times, to stuff Spartan running backs for no gain or minus yardage.
And Michigan State safety Jess Phillips alternated double coverage with cornerbacks Jimmy Summers and Sterling Armstrong in stopping Seymour, who did not catch a pass.
Armstrong also made what appeared to be the play of the game when he recovered a fumble by Conjar on Notre Dame’s game-tying field goal drive, but a penalty on the Spartans allowed the Irish to maintain possession and kick that field goal early in the fourth quarter.
Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State’s coach, said that he was so incensed at that and other controversial calls that he sent the game film to the Big Ten supervisor of officials for review but that nothing ever came of it.
The name of the Big Ten supervisor of officials in 1966? Irish Creager.
It was that kind of game for the Spartans, who took a 10-0 lead early, knocked starting quarterback Hanratty out of the game and appeared in command before substitute quarterback O’Brien rallied the Irish.
Michigan State scored first in the second quarter on Regis Cavender’s four-yard touchdown run, which had been set up by a 42-yard pass from Raye to Washington. Dick Kenney kicked a 47-yard field goal later that quarter, and the Spartans had their points.
O’Brien, who only two weeks before had learned he was diabetic, rallied the Irish with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Gladieux just before the half, sending the Irish into the locker room down only 10-7.
“That was something of a turning point,” Daugherty said after the game. “If we had gone off the field with a 10-0 lead, they probably would’ve had to change their game plan and gamble more.”
Said Smith, who had knocked Hanratty out of the game with a hard tackle: “Man, if I’d have known the game was going to turn out like that, I might not have hit Terry so hard. We knew what to expect from Hanratty, but not the other guy. We didn’t know his style, his cadence, his tendencies.”
By the second half, though, Michigan State’s defense had adjusted to O’Brien and was exerting heavy pressure on him, a fact that figured into Parseghian’s thinking at the end of the game. O’Brien completed only 3 of 11 with 1 interception in the second half and 7 of 19 for the game.
After kicker Joe Azzaro had tied the game early in the fourth quarter, the teams traded punts until Irish defensive back Tom Schoen intercepted two of Raye’s passes. He returned the second one to the Spartan 18-yard line, putting the Irish in scoring position with five minutes left.
Michigan State stopped Notre Dame, though, and Azzaro, who turned 21 the day of the game, was forced to try a 41-yard field goal. His kick was long enough but wide, and Michigan State took over with 4:39 to play. The Spartans ran seven plays, one a successful fourth-down run by Raye, before punting.
Notre Dame took over on its own 30-yard line with 1:15 to play, the score tied, 10-10, and the national championship on the line. The play-by-play from that point on, excluding three timeouts called by Michigan State to stop the clock:
1-10 ND 30--O’Brien downed by Thornhill after making 4. 2-6 34--Bleier downed by Webster on the draw after gaining 3. 3-3 37--Conjar downed by Thornhill, gain of 2. 4-1 39--O’Brien sneaked for the first down, gain of 2. 1-1 41--Smith sacked O’Brien going back to pass, loss of 7. 2-17 34--O’Brien quarterback sneaked for 5 as game ended. Indeed, there the game ended, 10-10. There, too, the controversy just began.
A KISS IS JUST A KISS Why did you play for the tie, Ara? Bubba Smith speaks: “Man, you know how they say that a tie is like kissing your sister? Well that’s exactly what that game was like--no satisfaction at all .”
Smith is typical of the Spartans interviewed for this story, all of whom seem still to be kicking themselves for not putting the Irish away when they had them down, 10-0, early.
“As a player, it was frustrating because I wished they would’ve done something on the field to prove they were better,” Smith continued. “But as a football man, I understand Ara’s thinking.
“You know, as a strategy, the move was brilliant, just brilliant. After all, if you tie Notre Dame, you lose . Why? Because they’re Notre Dame. “
Indeed, the headline in the Chicago Tribune’s account of the game said, “Irish Rally to Tie Spartans, 10 to 10" and not something like, “Spartans Tie No. 1 Irish.”
Duffy Daugherty said: “The better team? Well, those same two teams played (in 1965) when all of those great players were juniors, and we not only beat them, 12-3, but held them to minus-12 yards rushing. And Nick Eddy played in that game, so that can’t use that as an excuse, either.”
According to Smith, Michigan State was especially primed for that 1965 game because the Irish had paraded four horses past the Spartans’ hotel in South Bend, a none-too-subtle reference to the Four Horsemen and all of that.
The ’66 game was for the national title, though, and the Michigan State camp argues that the Spartans out-rushed the Irish, 142-91; out-passed them, 142-128, and had more first downs, 13-10.
In the UPI poll after the game, Michigan State regained the No. 1 ranking, probably as a knee-jerk reaction to Parseghian’s strategy, although the Irish held their No. 1 spot in the AP poll. Coaches vote in the UPI poll, newspaper reporters and radio broadcasters in the AP poll. Fortunately for the Irish, they beat USC the following Saturday, redeeming themselves in the UPI poll.
Parseghian acknowledges that the Notre Dame coach’s every move is ripe for criticism. This is one he won’t take back.
He said in 1966: “I simply wasn’t going to give away cheaply the tie our crippled team fought so hard to obtain. If we had been in the middle of the field, it might have been different. But with the ball on our 35, I wasn’t going to risk a pass interception because of the great kicking ability of Michigan State’s Dick Kenney.
“After all, the Spartans almost lost the game that way a few plays earlier when we intercepted and were in field goal position.”
After reading those comments 20 years later, Parseghian said:"And I wouldn’t do a thing different!
“What was I supposed to do there, throw a bomb?
“People don’t realize that not only did we have five starters out of the game (Eddy, Hanratty, running back Gladieux, center George Goeddeke, and end Brian Stenger), but we were on the road, playing in front of a hostile crowd, and going into the wind as well.
“Everything was stacked against us at that point.”
It seems that the game ended not so much in a tie as it did a stalemate.
In chess, a stalemate occurs when the king is not in check but when every move he might try would put him into check. In this case, throwing a bomb would have needlessly put Notre Dame’s national championship hopes into check.
Why throw away an even battle and perhaps sacrifice the national title?
Writes chess expert Fred Reinfeld: “A stalemate position is a draw even if one of the players is enormously ahead in material. Consequently, playing for stalemate is the last practical hope of a player who has a considerable material disadvantage.” Parseghian hasn’t lost a single night’s sleep over the game, for two practical reasons.
First, no matter how you cut it, Notre Dame won the national championship that season.
Second, and perhaps equally important to any Notre Dame coach, he was granted absolution by the man who counts the most at Notre Dame.
Said Father Theodore Hesburgh, Notre Dame’s president since 1952: “There has been a lot of misunderstanding about that game and the way it ended, you know.
“We had complete confidence in Ara’s ability to do what was right for the team in 1966 and that hasn’t changed in the 20 years since then.”
THE GREAT DEBATE Resolved: Our football team is the No. 1 team in the nation. --Actual topic of the Great Debate. On the Wednesday after the game, the debate teams from Notre Dame and Michigan State met on a neutral site, the University of Detroit’s library theater.
There the topic was debated, complete with a timekeeper, referee, three judges, and reporters in attendance.
There was no tie here. Notre Dame won the debate, 2-1.
Three days later, the Irish football team beat USC at the Coliseum, 51-0, finishing the season 9-0-1, the same as Michigan State.
The following week, Notre Dame was No. 1 spot in both polls, and the 1966 national championship belonged to the Irish.
Michigan State finished No. 2.
GAME-BY-GAME COMPARISON IN 1966
NOTRE DAME MICHIGAN STATE Record: 9-0-1 Record: 9-0-1 (7-0-0 in Big Ten) 26 Purdue 14 28 North Carolina State 10 35 Northwestern 7 42 Penn State 8 35 Army 0 26 Illinois 10 32 North Carolina 0 20 Michigan 7 38 Oklahoma 0 11 Ohio State 8 31 Navy 7 41 Purdue 20 40 Pittsburgh 0 22 Northwestern 0 64 Duke 0 56 Iowa 7 10 Michigan State 10 37 Indiana 19 51 USC 0 10 Notre Dame 10 362 Totals 38 293 Totals 99