A half-century after the final whistle, the Notre Dame and Michigan State players no longer feel compelled to debate the final moments of their 1966 Game of the Century. They like their place in history despite the controversial 10-10 tie.
There certainly was acrimony afterward, but the healing began just a month later. Nine players representing Michigan State and Notre Dame were teammates at the North-South Shrine All-Star Game played during Christmas week.
“We were singing Christmas carols together in the hotel – Bubba Smith, George Webster, Charlie Thornhill for them, and Larry Conjar, Pete Duranko and myself for us,” Notre Dame center George Goeddeke said. “We had a great respect for each other. We had a good time.”
Memories are stirred up again this week as Michigan State plays at Notre Dame on Sept. 17 for the 50th anniversary.
Context for the magnitude of the Nov. 19, 1966 game at Spartan Stadium is needed. It requires understanding the season-long march to their epic showdown. It was an era when the Associated Press writers and United Press International coaches voted for the national championship. There were no tiebreakers in that era.
“It was a ridiculously big game,” said Terry Hanratty, then Notre Dame’s sophomore quarterback “None of us at the time had any clue that 20, 30, 40 and now 50 years later we’d be meeting people that tell us exactly where they were for the Michigan State game.”
Notre Dame finished the year ranked No. 1 and Michigan State No. 2 to earn the AP and UPI titles. However, the National Football Foundation’s MacArthur Bowl named the Irish and Spartans co-national champions.
The combined rosters featured six College Football Hall of Famers, 25 All-Americans, 10 NFL first-round draft picks and 42 overall draft picks.
Notre Dame linebacker Jim Lynch, a College Football Hall of Famer, won the Maxwell Award as the nation’s top collegiate player. But he says Webster, Michigan State’s rover who is also a College Football Hall of Famer, should have won the Heisman Trophy.
In the Heisman voting won by Florida quarterback Steve Spurrier, Notre Dame fullback Nick Eddy was third, Michigan State halfback Clinton Jones sixth and Hanratty eighth.
“I still say they are the two best teams to ever play each other,” Hanratty said. “Especially when you look at the amount of talent that was on both sides of the field.”
Both sides understand the tie is why people still remember the epic quasi-national championship that drew a then-record television audience with a 22 share in the pre-Super Bowl era.
“Name a No. 2 team that is remembered better than Michigan State,” said Jones, a College Football Hall of Famer.
The 93-year-old Parseghian, who lives in South Bend and will see his old players for the 50th anniversary, deserves credit for the Irish and Spartans accepting their place in history. His players called him a master psychologist.
“He told us at our 30th anniversary, ‘They wouldn’t be talking about us today if it were not for the 10-10 tie,” said Goeddeke.
At Michigan State’s 30th anniversary, a letter Parseghian wrote to the Spartans got across a similar point.
Time heals all wounds, especially since the 30th anniversary in 1996 at Spartan Stadium.
In view of the importance of your event I broke out the 1966 game day program. I was tempted to go back to the film room to check out to see how you really performed in that game, but time didn’t allow me to do so. Thus, it’s my memory you must trust.
In all honesty, the game brought together two of the finest college teams in history. Documentation of that is to review the number of players from both teams that distinguished themselves in pro ball. There was great talent on both sides and in spite of the fact the game ended in a tie it is still recognized as a classic.
You had a great coach in Duffy and an outstanding staff and I always felt that we had a terrific staff too. Much criticism was heaped on me because of the tie. I have said many times the game ended in a tie and if Duffy or I could have done anything about it we would have. Certainly, I won’t debate with you the logic that was used in our last possession. Much has been written, including a book, addressing the entire season, as well as, the game itself. After 30 years I have no intention of attempting to influence anyone, particularly the opposition. The best I can say is I made your team immortal. The game will live on forever and for that you can thank me.
I hope the past years have treated you well. I am sure at this stage of your life you have come to appreciate the value of being involved with a team. Even now as you meet, many friendships will be renewed and stories told. I am sure those runs, passes and tackles are all so much longer and devastating than they actually were, but that’s what reunions are all about.
I hope you have a wonderful time and the 1966 Spartans team will always have the greatest respect from the author of this letter. You were one hell of a team – I can’t resist – almost as good as Notre Dame.