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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

September 19, 1986|GERALD SCOTT | Times Staff Writer

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.

The answer?

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.

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