When you go down the list of Michigan State’s biggest rivals, the list obviously begins with Michigan, but who’s number two? Is it Ohio State or Wisconsin? Is it Penn State? No, it’s undoubtedly the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.
While Michigan State doesn’t have the greatest lineage as far as college football history, there were a few era’s where they were one of the best in the nation, and one of the first eras was under Hugh “Duffy” Daugherty in the 60’s. In 1966 Duffy is coming off a 10-1 season, with one of the greatest defenses college football has ever seen, led by Charles “Bubba” Smith and George Webster.
We throw it back to November 19, 1966 – a day that will forever live in Michigan State infamy, a game that was eventually dubbed the “Game of the Century.”
The Spartans are looking for another national championship and everything’s going smoothly. They are 9-0 on the season, ranked No. 2 in the nation and their final game is coming up against No. 1 Notre Dame, who are 8-0. In fact, this game was the first meeting between the Associated Press poll’s 1 and 2 teams since the poll began in 1936.
Things seemed to be in Michigan State’s favor before it even began as Notre Dame’s starting halfback, Nick Eddy, slipped stepping off the train and fell on his already injured shoulder. With Eddy out of the game, Irish coach Ara Parseghian was forced to rely on starting quarterback Terry Hanratty. But Smith fell on Hanratty in the first quarter, separating his shoulder and forcing him out of the game.
“That didn’t help us any,” Bubba said later. “It just let them put in that O’Brien who’s slippery and faster and gave us more trouble. The other guy just sits there and waits, and that’s what we wanted.”
The Fighting Irish were running out of fighters as starting center George Goeddeke was also taken out in the first quarter, thanks to an ankle injury caused by who else… Bubba Smith.
Let’s fast forward to 1:30 left in a 10-10 game and Notre Dame has the ball at their own 30. Remember this is before college football had overtime, so a tie was not out of the question, in fact with these two defenses and what the people had witnessed over the first 38 1/2 minutes, a tie was expected. But so was an effort by Notre Dame to avoid the tie. And what happened next is the reason this game has lived in infamy like it has.
Notre Dame didn’t even TRY for the win. They sat on the ball, calling run play after run play, while Michigan State called timeout after timeout, taunting the Irish during the final 90 seconds.
“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.”
In a game that saw five fumbles, four interceptions, and 20 rushes that were for either no gain or went backwards for negative yardage. And while you’d expect it from the teams, you wouldn’t expect it from the coach. But Parseghian didn’t think much of his offense and didn’t want to give MSU a chance to steal a win out of a tie. In the end, Michigan State and Notre Dame split the national title in 1966. But 51 years later, that tie still leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of MSU faithful.