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The mystique of the Game of the Century

The mystique of the Game of the Century

October 8, 2029

Weekly Report Posted: December 12, 2012 06:28

The 1966 Michigan State vs. Notre Dame football game ("the game of the century") remains 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 the contest 8–0 but ranked #1. Notre Dame elected not to try for the endzone on the final series; thus, the game ended in a 10–10 tie with both schools recording national championships.
Notre Dame, which had last won a National Championship in 1953, was ranked #1 in one poll and #2 in the other. Defending National Champion Michigan State, who had finished the season #1 in the UPI poll, but was upset by UCLA in the Rose Bowl the previous year, entered the game ranked Number 2 in one poll and #1 in the other. 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 alloted 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).[4]
Much of the original ABC telecast footage survives. The second half exists in its entirety, as do both scoring drives originating 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 to go. 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.
Notre Dame beat USC 51–0 the next week, completing an undefeated (but not untied) regular season and solidifying its Number 1 claim. The Irish did not accept bowl bids until 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 make the 160-mile trip by bus.

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