1966 College Football Season

Frustrated — and objective, for the most part — college football fans from Happy Valley to St. Louis to Los Angeles could not much blame Michigan State, whose coaches and players truly swung with noble intent to either WIN or LOSE their late-season contest with Notre Dame.  However, these fans of college football’s virtuous gamesmanship were disgusted with the Fighting Irish and its spineless leader, Ara Parseghian, for the coach’s dastardly decision to “play for the tie” vs. the Spartans.

Parseghian’s orders: with the contest deadlocked, 10-10, in the face of a potential game-winning drive, run out the fourth quarter’s final minutes to preserve the tie.

Sports Illustrated‘s Dan Jenkins captured the outrage that, even in the immediate aftermath, was not limited to Tuscaloosa and East Lansing, when he wrote, “No one really expected a verdict in that last desparate moment. But they wanted someone to try.”

All These Years Later, Still Makes Readers Uncomfortable

Notre Dame Michigan State 1966 Tie Sports Illustrated CoverOver four decades after the Fighting Irish so embarrassingly quit Fighting, a description of how it actually unfolded upon the Spartan Stadium field that day can make any guy cringe with overwhelming thoughts of how pathetically yellow the strategy was and still is.  Imagine being a Notre Dame fan at that time and learning some of the things the State players were thinking and screaming while your team chose to quit/cheat the system during what had been hyped as “The Game of the Century.”

More of Jenkins’s SI article on the game with emphasis added for the ultra-cringe-inducing parts:

Old Notre Dame will tie over all.  Sing it out, guys. That is not exactly what the march says, of course, but that is how the big game ends every time you replay it. And that is how millions of cranky college football fans will remember it. For 59 minutes… Michigan State and Notre Dame pounded each other… but the 10-10 tie that destiny seemed to be demanding had a strange, noble quality to it. And then it did not have that anymore. For the people who saw it under the cold, dreary clouds or on national television, suddenly all it had was this enormous emptiness for which the Irish will be forever blamed.

Forget everything that came before…  forget the few good plays… Put the No. 1 team, Notre Dame, on its own 30-yard line with time for at least four passing plays to break the tie. A No. 1 team will try something, won’t it, to stay that way?

Notre Dame did not. It just let the air out of the ball… the Irish rode out the clock… Even as the Michigan State defenders taunted them and called the time-outs that the Irish should have been calling. Notre Dame ran into the line, the place where the big game was hopelessly played all afternoon…

… When the Irish ran into the line, the Spartans considered it a minor surrender.

“We couldn’t believe it,” said George Webster, State’s savage rover back. “When they came up for their first play we kept hollering back and forth, ‘Watch the pass, watch the pass.’ But they ran. We knew the next one was a pass for sure. But they ran again. We were really stunned. Then it dawned on us. They were settling for the tie.”

You could see the Spartans staring at the Irish down there. They had their hands on their hips, thoroughly disdainful by now. On the Michigan State sideline, the Spartans were jeering across the field and waving 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, aren’t you? You’re going for the tie,’ ” said 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 [Smith] had hollered, “Come on, you sissies,” while other Spartans were yelling at Parseghian.