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Big 10 Countdown 66 - The Irish Tie One For The Gipper

Bubba Smith
Bubba Smith

"I was saying, "You're going for the tie, aren't you? You're going for the tie,' " said (monster back George) Webster. "And you know what? They wouldn't even look us in the eyes. They just turned their backs and went back to their huddle." Bubba had hollered, "Come on, you sissies," while other Spartans were yelling at Parseghian.

This is a quote from Dan Jenkins' famous Sports Illustrated article on a so-called Game of the Century that is still a benchmark example for products that fail to live up to the hype. And I have my suspicions that All-American Bubba Smith no more used the word "sissies" than Ben Hogan referred to Oakmont as the "monster" that he brought to his knees.

The #1 vs. #2 match-up that ended in a 10-10 tie was an ugly game that featured Bubba,  plenty of hitting, key injuries, sputtering offenses and turnovers galore, but it still might have been remembered for its hard-fought, visceral beauty if not for Irish Coach Ara Parseghian's cowardly decision to run out the clock after they got the ball back on their own 30 with a 1:10 left.


I can't remember exactly how old I was - 7, 8, 9 or something like that - but my dad and I were watching Notre Dame play USC one year in the early 70's. I asked who he was cheering for. Of course exact quotes escape me, but basically he explained that today it would be the Trojans. When I asked why, he gave me the short verison of that day in 1966. I'm pretty sure he called Ara Parseghian a few names generally not used around those under 10. The profanity was appreciated but unnecessary - even at that tender age, I understood what sort of behavior this was:




By early in the 2nd quarter, Michigan St. had jumped out to a 10-0 lead behind a Regis Cavender TD, set up by 42-yard bomb from Jimmy Raye to Gene Washington, and a Dick Kenney 47-yard FG. That was the end of the Spartan offensive highlights as they would advance no farther than the Irish 47 for the rest of the day.

It should be noted that Notre Dame did suffer injuries to three key players, and Irish fans will shrilly do that whenever this game is brought up. Bubba took care of starting QB Terry Hanratty by separating his left shoulder on a crushing hit as well as Center George Goeddeke courtesy of an ankle injury. Starting halfback Nick Eddy fell off the train when it arrived. Jokes about how much a damage a guy who found train steps challenging aside, it should be noted that backups QB Coley O'Brien and HB Bob Gladieiux played very well, including O'Brien hitting Gladieux with a 34-yard deep post for Notre Dame's only TD to cut it to 10-7 before the half.

(Note: This was the last time Notre Dame would travel to a game by train.)

A late 3rd quarter drive by the Irish advanced the ball to the Spartan 10 behind passes to and runs by Rocky Bleier and Larry Conjar, but stalled there and they settled for a 28-yard Joe Azzaro FG that would be the game's last points.

Notre Dame did catch a late break with a 31-yard interception return to the Spartan 18 yard line. With the entire college football world knowing that they would slam it into the line three times and kick a game-winning 30-something yard FG, Parseghian chose to pass on 2nd down and Phil Hoag, with Bubba storming through as well, sacked O'Brien for an 8-yard loss. After an incomplete pass, the 42 yard FG attempt was wide right by a couple of feet.

Perhaps it was the Hoag sack that caused Ara's to clench so tightly and lay down his sword at a time when history called for heroics by someone on either squad to determine who would win the day.


Notre Dame and Michigan State, neither of whom played in bowl games, finished with identical 9-0-1 records, and history will show that Parseghian's decision was the right one, if only in the sense that the Irish did finish #1 and Michigan State #2 in the final voting - no surprise given the national press' obsession with all things Gipper. Left in the #3 spot was an 11-0 and thoroughly incensed Alabama squad, a 34-7 victor over #6 Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl.

That's right, neither played in bowl games.

Notre Dame had yet to ditch their policy of refusing bowl bids (which didn't happen until 1969), and while they enjoyed having people think that they were above the money and hype of the bowls, it certainly didn't stop their self-promotion and politicking for national titles. So, in that sense, backing into national championships was just another of their many traditions. Ara simply brought it to the field for a change.

As for Michigan St., they were kneecapped by the Big 10 policy of not letting schools attend consecutive Rose Bowls, one of several instances over the years of the conference doing so to its own schools where goofy policies regarding the Rose Bowl were concerned.

Perhaps 'Bama Coach Bear Bryant put it best:

"Ara must have done the right thing playin' for that old tie. All I've got is the best football team in the country, but he's got Number One."



Naturally, Parseghian defended his decision to run out the clock:

"We'd fought hard to come back and tie it up. After all that, I didn't want to risk giving it to them cheap. They get reckless and it could cost them the game. I wasn't going to do a jackass thing like that at this point."


I'll admit to being completely biased on the subject, but a few people might recall that Nebraska ran into the same situation a little over 17 years later. The record will show that Coach Osborne's decision cost him his 1st national championship, but in its place he won something that Coach Parseghian lost truckloads of that day.