College FB Focus
Undated (AP) _ Tie games are usually frustrating and forgettable affairs that leave everyone disappointed. Occasionally, though, they are classics.
The recent rash of ties in college football, including last Saturday’s 26-26 draw between Auburn and Tennessee, has brought back memories of two of the most famous ties in history - Notre Dame-Michigan State in 1966 and Harvard-Yale in 1968.
The 10-10 deadlock between top-ranked Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State may be the most memorable tie of all time.
Both teams entered the game in East Lansing with perfect records - Notre Dame was 8-0 and Michigan State 9-0 - and their battle was supposed to decide the national championship. It did, but not the way most people expected.
Trailing 10-0, the Irish rallied to even the score on a 34-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Coley O’Brien to Bob Gladieux and Joe Azzaro’s 28-yard field goal on the opening play of the fourth quarter.
The game was still tied when Notre Dame got the ball on its own 30 with less than two minutes left. But instead of going for the win, Irish coach Ara Parseghian played it safe and ran out the clock.
Notre Dame ran the ball five times during the drive and tried to pass only once, with O’Brien getting sacked for a 7-yard loss by Bubba Smith on the next-to-last play.
Parseghian was criticized for playing for a tie, but he still defends his decision.
″There was a huge wind against us and Michigan State had a great placekicker,″ he said. ″If we had made a mistake and given Michigan State the ball, they could have won the game.″
Parseghian, who now owns an insurance agency in South Bend, also pointed out that Notre Dame was playing without three of its starters - quarterback Terry Hanratty, halfback Nick Eddy and center George Goeddeke. Hanratty and Goeddeke were hurt in the first quarter, and Eddy didn’t play because of a shoulder injury that he aggravated when he slipped and fell getting off the train in East Lansing.
Furthermore, O’Brien was struggling with his passing.
″Coley had missed his last seven passes, including a screen where he overthrew the receiver by about 10 yards,″ Parseghian said. ″If Hanratty had been in there, we might have done it differently. But we didn’t want to take any chances the way Coley was throwing.″
Only weeks before the game, O’Brien had been diagnosed as a diabetic. He ate chocolate bars on the sideline for an energy boost, but was getting tired by the end of the game.
″It wasn’t because of diabetes, though. It was because it was such a tough football game,″ said O’Brien, an executive with the U.S. League of Savings Institutions in Washington. ″Everyone else was exhausted, too.″
Despite the tie, Notre Dame went on to win the national championship. The Irish clobbered Southern Cal 51-0 the following the week and edged Michigan State in the final AP poll, which in those days came out before the bowls.
″When someone questions Ara’s decision, I just point to my championship ring,″ O’Brien said. ″That proves he was right.″
The 1968 Harvard-Yale game didn’t determine the national champion, but it also was a battle between unbeaten (8-0) teams.
Yale was the heavy favorite because of its star players, quarterback Brian Dowling and halfback Calvin Hill. Dowling, who inspired a Yale student named Garry Trudeau to create the B.D. character in ″Doonesbury,″ hadn’t lost a football game since seventh grade and Hill went on to become a star in the NFL.
So few fans in the capacity crowd of 40,280 at Harvard Stadium were shocked to find the Crimson trailing 29-13 late in the fourth quarter. They were stunned, however, when Harvard scored 16 points in the final 42 seconds to tie Yale in the annual meeting both sides simply refer to as ″The Game.″
″It was an incredible game,″ said Dowling, a salesman for a financial printing company in New York. ″So many crazy things happened in such a short period of time.″
Harvard started the miracle comeback when it recovered a fumble on its own 14 with 3:31 left. Quarterback Frank Champi, who had replaced starter George Lalich late in the first half after Yale took a 22-0 lead, then led the Crimson on a long scoring drive that featured a freak 23-yard run by offensive tackle Fritz Reed.
″I think he was the leading groundgainer for Harvard that day,″ Dowling said.
Reed grabbed a fumble by Champi and ran it to the Yale 15. On the next play, Champi scrambled and threw a touchdown pass to Bruce Freeman. Champi threw incomplete on a two-point try, but Yale was penalized for pass interference and fullback Gus Crim then plunged over to make it 29-21.
After Harvard recovered an onside kick on the Yale 49, Champi scrambled for 14 yards and a face-mask penalty brought the ball down to the Yale 20 with 32 seconds remaining.
Following two incomplete passes, Crim ran 14 yards on a draw play to the Yale 6. But Champi was then dropped for a 2-yard loss, leaving the Crimson on the 8 with three seconds left.
On the final play of regulation, according to the New York Times, Champi ″ran around in circles for what seemed like 10 seconds before spotting (Vic) Gatto alone in the end zone.″
That touchdown made it 29-27 as time ran out. Harvard went for the two, and Champi hit Pete Varney in the end zone to tie it.
″Even though it was a tie, it felt like a victory,″ said Varney, now the baseball coach at Brandeis University. ″It was almost like David vs. Goliath. Nobody thought we could stay with Yale that day.″
Dowling wanted to win so badly that he asked his coach, Carmen Cozza, to let him play defensive back on Harvard’s final drive.
″He said no,″ Dowling recalled. ″He said it wouldn’t be fair to the guy we had in there.″
The feeling on the Harvard campus was summed up by the headline in the student newspaper: ″Harvard Beats Yale 29-29.″