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Ara Parseghian and the Tie of the Century

August 18th, 2017 · No Comments · College football

In 24 seasons leading four college football programs, Ara Parseghian‘s teams won 170 games, lost 58 and tied six.

Improbably, he is best-remembered for one of the six ties.

In what was widely described as The Game of the Century, Parseghian’s top-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish made a point of running out the final 90 seconds of a 10-10 game with second-ranked Michigan State in 1966.

Parseghian died earlier this month at the age of 95 — 43 years after he coached his final game, 51 years after the game for which he is most remembered. The game he was content to tie.

Yes, I am old enough to have seen that game, which was so big that the NCAA gave a dispensation to TV to air the game nationally.

That college football fans are still talking about the Notre Dame game at Michigan State in 1966 is a function of how big the game was, but also for how Parseghian saw to it that the game ended with a whimper, not a bang.

Notre Dame got the ball, via a Michigan State punt, at its own 30 with 70 seconds to play.

Rather than try to maneuver into field-goal position to take a shot at winning the game, Notre Dame ran the ball as the clock wound down, and did not call a timeout.

Notre Dame even got a first down, before quarterback Coley O’Brien was sacked, and the game ended on a 5-yard quarterback sneak.

Parseghian caught a lot of grief for that one. A lot. Sports Illustrated mocked Notre Dame history when a writer said the Irish had decided to “tie one for the Gipper“. Others called them the “Tying Irish”.

Michigan State ended the season 9-0-1. Notre Dame had a game the following week and won 51-0 at the L.A. Coliseum over USC to also finish 9-0-1.

Notre Dame then finished atop the two most important polls, and Michigan State was second.

The Irish are generally considered 1966 national champions, but the 10-10 tie was almost like an indelible asterisk on their record.

Parseghian said he did not want to risk a turnover that could erase his team’s comeback from a 10-0 disadvantage. Also, his starting quarterback, Terry Hanratty, had been knocked out of the game with a concussion and his star running back Nick Eddy did not play at all.

SI quoted Parseghian as saying: “We’d fought hard to come back and tie it up. After all that, I didn’t want to risk giving it to them cheap. They get reckless and it could cost them the game. I wasn’t going to do a jackass thing like that at this point.

“The game ended in a tie. We didn’t play for a tie.”

But, for many, the tie rankled, even though ties were not unusual in an era pre-dating the tiebreaker, and even though Michigan State’s final possession ended on a punt on a fourth-and-4 situation.

More recently, it has been noted that a tie was effectively as good as a win for Notre Dame, considering the school’s football reputation at the time. Parseghian may well have figured that “not losing” and beating USC the following week would be enough.

And it was.

After retiring from coaching in 1974, Parseghian worked as a largely colorless TV analyst for 14 seasons.

He remains the second-most-prominent coach in Notre Dame history, behind only Knute Rockne.

And, eventually, the fact Parseghian played for a tie in 1966 will be forgotten. Or maybe not.



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