The 1950’s and 1960’s was a time where the Michigan State football program shined like never before. Despite Michigan State’s personal successes, Notre Dame was always thought of as the pinnacle of what a program should look like. They were the prime example of excellence for many years. That is but one reason why November 19th, 1966 is such an important date, not only in college football history but especially Spartan history.
The Spartans entered the game with a record of 9-0 and was ranked #2. While the Fighting Irish entered the game 8-0 and were ranked #1. Coming into this game Michigan State was the defending National Champion, they had finished #1 in the UPI coaches poll. The Spartans were not ranked number one because they had been upset in the Rose Bowl the previous year.
The National Media had done something it had not done in 20 years. They gave this game the “Game of the Century” title and people went crazy for it. ABC in particular had people entranced by the game thanks to the title. Unlike today’s world you could not just pick up your television remote and turn it on any ole game you wanted. In 1966 both of these teams were so popular all their national television time had already been used up for the year so ABC could not show the game live. It was a tragedy indeed. That is of course until ABC received about 50,000 letters worth of complaints and were forced to show the tape on what was called game delay. This game also had the highest attendance rating in school history coming in at 111% full. You read that correctly, the stadium was so full that it was actually over flowing with fans, the exact number came in at 80,011 people.
With the game ending in a 10-10 tie there was obviously not very much scoring. It was a physical and mental grind for these players to keep going in this one. The scoring opened up with our Spartans very own Regis Cavender running it in from 5 yards out and picking up 6 points early into the second quarter. The Spartans also tacked on another three points by their kicker Dick Kenney. All was looking well for the Spartans when Notre Dame came charging back with a well placed 34 yard touchdown pass that was thrown by Coley O’Brian, the ball landed in the arms of the Irish’s reliable running back Bob Gladieux. With both teams heading into the locker rooms Michigan State held a small 10-7 lead over the Irish. No scoring occured in the third quarter of play. To open up the fourth and final quarter Notre Dame kicked in three points to tie the game up 10-10.
Ara Parseghian’s Decision
There was 1:10 left in the fourth quarter of this phenomenal game. 40 yards. That was the number they needed to give themselves a chance at a game winning field goal. A game winning field goal that was never attempted, closure that was never found by so many fans, analysts and critics alike. This was due to Head Coach Ara Parseghian. Ara did not do what most fans anticipated, he took a different approach. Turnovers are a big “no no” in all head coaches minds, in this case the ends would not have justified the means to Parseghian and he elected to run the clock out instead of going for the win. Happenstance that Notre Dame turn the ball over and give the Spartans another opportunity to win the game was not in his best interest. Therefore, he did what he thought needed to be done. His decision preserved the Irish’s number one ranking and ended in two national champions.
50 Years Later
Parseghian continues to be called out and even attacked for his decision to run the clock out in the games final minute. He has defended his strategy countless times. Knowing that it was a hard fought game he had no interest in possibly losing the title to a bonehead play. This coming Saturday the Spartans head to South Bend to face the No. 18 ranked Irish. Once again the Irish need a huge win, but they need to get through the Spartans to achieve that. On the other side the Spartans need a statement win on their resume early on to stay in contention for the playoffs. South Bend is just the place to do it. 50 years later these teams clash for another huge match-up, only this time ties wont be posing a threat to either side.