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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

Said Hank Bullough, the Buffalo Bills' coach who was then Michigan State's defensive coordinator: "Neither team really settled down throughout the entire game. What you had were two great defenses that virtually stopped the offenses cold."

With Notre Dame's big defensive line neutralizing the line of scrimmage, Irish linebackers Jim Lynch and John Horney were able, 16 times, to stuff Spartan running backs for no gain or minus yardage.

And Michigan State safety Jess Phillips alternated double coverage with cornerbacks Jimmy Summers and Sterling Armstrong in stopping Seymour, who did not catch a pass.

Armstrong also made what appeared to be the play of the game when he recovered a fumble by Conjar on Notre Dame's game-tying field goal drive, but a penalty on the Spartans allowed the Irish to maintain possession and kick that field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Duffy Daugherty, Michigan State's coach, said that he was so incensed at that and other controversial calls that he sent the game film to the Big Ten supervisor of officials for review but that nothing ever came of it.

The name of the Big Ten supervisor of officials in 1966? Irish Creager.

It was that kind of game for the Spartans, who took a 10-0 lead early, knocked starting quarterback Hanratty out of the game and appeared in command before substitute quarterback O'Brien rallied the Irish.

Michigan State scored first in the second quarter on Regis Cavender's four-yard touchdown run, which had been set up by a 42-yard pass from Raye to Washington. Dick Kenney kicked a 47-yard field goal later that quarter, and the Spartans had their points.

O'Brien, who only two weeks before had learned he was diabetic, rallied the Irish with a 34-yard touchdown pass to Gladieux just before the half, sending the Irish into the locker room down only 10-7.

"That was something of a turning point," Daugherty said after the game. "If we had gone off the field with a 10-0 lead, they probably would've had to change their game plan and gamble more."

Said Smith, who had knocked Hanratty out of the game with a hard tackle: "Man, if I'd have known the game was going to turn out like that, I might not have hit Terry so hard. We knew what to expect from Hanratty, but not the other guy. We didn't know his style, his cadence, his tendencies."

By the second half, though, Michigan State's defense had adjusted to O'Brien and was exerting heavy pressure on him, a fact that figured into Parseghian's thinking at the end of the game. O'Brien completed only 3 of 11 with 1 interception in the second half and 7 of 19 for the game.

After kicker Joe Azzaro had tied the game early in the fourth quarter, the teams traded punts until Irish defensive back Tom Schoen intercepted two of Raye's passes. He returned the second one to the Spartan 18-yard line, putting the Irish in scoring position with five minutes left.

Michigan State stopped Notre Dame, though, and Azzaro, who turned 21 the day of the game, was forced to try a 41-yard field goal. His kick was long enough but wide, and Michigan State took over with 4:39 to play. The Spartans ran seven plays, one a successful fourth-down run by Raye, before punting.

Notre Dame took over on its own 30-yard line with 1:15 to play, the score tied, 10-10, and the national championship on the line. The play-by-play from that point on, excluding three timeouts called by Michigan State to stop the clock:

1-10 ND 30--O'Brien downed by Thornhill after making 4. 2-6 34--Bleier downed by Webster on the draw after gaining 3. 3-3 37--Conjar downed by Thornhill, gain of 2. 4-1 39--O'Brien sneaked for the first down, gain of 2. 1-1 41--Smith sacked O'Brien going back to pass, loss of 7. 2-17 34--O'Brien quarterback sneaked for 5 as game ended. Indeed, there the game ended, 10-10. There, too, the controversy just began.

A KISS IS JUST A KISS Why did you play for the tie, Ara? Bubba Smith speaks: "Man, you know how they say that a tie is like kissing your sister? Well that's exactly what that game was like--no satisfaction at all ."

Smith is typical of the Spartans interviewed for this story, all of whom seem still to be kicking themselves for not putting the Irish away when they had them down, 10-0, early.

"As a player, it was frustrating because I wished they would've done something on the field to prove they were better," Smith continued. "But as a football man, I understand Ara's thinking.

"You know, as a strategy, the move was brilliant, just brilliant. After all, if you tie Notre Dame, you lose . Why? Because they're Notre Dame. "

Indeed, the headline in the Chicago Tribune's account of the game said, "Irish Rally to Tie Spartans, 10 to 10" and not something like, "Spartans Tie No. 1 Irish."

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