1966 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State football game
The 1966 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State football game is one of the greatest and most controversial games in college football history. The game was played in Michigan State's Spartan Stadium on November 19, 1966. Michigan State entered the contest 9–0 and ranked #2, while Notre Dame entered 8–0 and ranked #1. Notre Dame elected not to try for a score on the final series; thus, the game ended in a 10–10 tie and with both schools later recording national titles for the season.
Notre Dame, which had last won a National Championship in 1953, ranked #1 both the AP and Coaches polls. Defending National Champion Michigan State, who had finished the season #1 in the UPI Coaches' poll, but was upset by UCLA in the Rose Bowl the previous year, entered the game ranked #2 in the polls. The Fighting Irish, whose bid for a National Championship two years earlier was snuffed out by USC, were hungry, while the Spartans had history and home-field advantage on their side. This was the first time in 20 years that a college football match-up was given the "Game of the Century" tag by the national media, and ABC had the nation's viewers in its grip, with equal parts Notre Dame fans and Michigan State fans.
A fortuitous quirk in scheduling brought these two teams together late in the season. They weren't even supposed to meet when the 1966 schedules were first drawn up. Michigan State had only nine games scheduled (even though they were allowed to have ten) while Notre Dame was originally scheduled to play Iowa that week, as had been the custom since 1945, then in 1960 the Hawkeyes suddenly dropped the Irish after 1964. Michigan State was available and agreed to return to Notre Dame's schedule in 1965–66.
The game was not shown live on national TV. Each team was allotted one national television appearance and two regional television appearances each season. Notre Dame had used their national TV slot in the season opening game against Purdue. ABC executives did not even want to show the game anywhere but the regional area, but pressure from the West Coast and the South (to the tune of 50,000 letters) made ABC air the game on tape delay. The official attendance was announced at 80,011 (111% capacity) and was the most attended game in Michigan State football history at the time (the current record is 80,401 on Sept. 22, 1990 vs. Notre Dame).
Much of the original ABC telecast footage survives. The second half exists in its entirety, as do both scoring drives starting in the second quarter (Michigan State's field goal and Notre Dame's touchdown).
Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty was knocked out after getting sacked in the first quarter by Spartan defensive lineman Bubba Smith. Starting Notre Dame running back Nick Eddy was out entirely after hurting his shoulder by slipping on ice while getting off the train in East Lansing. Center George Goeddeke wrenched his ankle on a punt play. Michigan State jumped out to a 7–0 lead behind a 5-yard touchdown run by Regis Cavender early in the second quarter. Later in the half, MSU added a field goal (by barefooted Hawaiian Dick Kenney). But the Irish came back, quickly scoring a touchdown on a 34-yard pass thrown by Coley O'Brien over the outstretched hand of MSU safety Jess Phillips to halfback Bob Gladieux. MSU took a 10–7 lead into the locker room.
Notre Dame then tied the game on the first play of the fourth quarter on Joe Azzaro's 28-yard field goal. Perhaps the best second-half scoring opportunity for MSU occurred during a pass thrown from Jimmy Raye to Gene Washington. The speedy wide receiver had outrun Raye's deep pass and Notre Dame's defensive backfield. Washington was forced to double back, and in so doing was caught by the defense. Tom Schoen's second interception of the game put Notre Dame in a position to take the lead, but Azzaro's 41-yard field goal attempt missed by inches to the right. Later in the game, Notre Dame had the ball on its own 30-yard line with 1:10 left. They needed about 40 yards for a game-winning field goal. But coach Ara Parseghian, not wanting to risk a turnover that could hand the game to the Spartans, chose to run the clock out, preserving the tie and Notre Dame's Number 1 ranking. After making a first down with ten seconds left, O'Brien dropped back to pass and was sacked by Bubba Smith. On the last play of the game, O'Brien gained five yards on a quarterback sneak. The game ended in a 10–10 tie.
For nearly 50 years, Parseghian has defended his end-of-the-game strategy, which left many fans feeling disappointed at the game not having some sort of resolution, Michigan State fans and other Notre Dame detractors calling him a coward, and college football expert Dan Jenkins leading off his article for Sports Illustrated by saying Parseghian chose to "Tie one for the Gipper." In that same article, Parseghian was quoted as saying, "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."
The tie resulted in 9–0–1 seasons for both Michigan State and Notre Dame. The final AP and Coaches' polls put the Irish and Spartans at #1 and #2, ranking both teams above the undefeated, and two time defending national champion 11–0–0 Alabama. Both schools shared the MacArthur Trophy, while Alabama was denied recognition for its accomplishment, a point of contention to this day.
Notre Dame beat USC 51–0 the next week, completing an undefeated (but tied) regular season and solidifying its Number 1 claim. The Irish did not accept bowl bids between 1926 and 1969 (see below), and Michigan State was the victim of two Big Ten rules that would be rescinded a few years later: The same school could not represent the league in the Rose Bowl in back-to-back seasons, and no Big Ten school could play in a bowl game other than the Rose Bowl. So despite being Big Ten Champions and undefeated in the regular season, the Spartans could not play in the Rose Bowl, or indeed any bowl game.
Players for both schools earned tremendous accolades for the season including All American honor. In the 1967 NFL draft, Michigan State had 4 players drafted within the first 8 picks of the first round
After (but not necessarily as a result of) Eddy's injury while debarking from the train in East Lansing, Notre Dame football never traveled to away games by train again. Both teams now make the 160-mile trip by bus.
On September 23, 2006 Michigan State and Notre Dame commemorated the 40th anniversary of the game. Michigan State wore "throwback" jerseys and helmets from the 1960s era. Notre Dame declined to wear throwback jerseys or helmets. 45 members from the original '66 squad returned. In addition, 1965 and 1966 All American Bubba Smith had his number 95 jersey retired at halftime, becoming only the third person in Michigan State history with such honor. Notre Dame won the game 40–37, after coming back from a 16-point deficit and scoring 19 straight points to win.
- Mike Celzic. The Biggest Game of Them All: Notre Dame, Michigan State and the Fall of 1966. ISBN 0-671-75817-9.
- Notre Dame's Championship Record
- Michigan State's Championship Record
- 2011 Michigan State University Football Media Guide.
- 1967 NFL draft
- Forever Frozen in Time. College football gameday. South Bend Tribune, September 23, 2006
- Bubba plans to see his MSU jersey retired