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'66 Irish-Spartan Clash: A Lifetime of Memories

Sept. 23, 2017

Neither of these two magnificent teams shall ever bear the stigma of defeat
While other champions fade away, the memory of their efforts gently won’t retreat
When their successors meet each year for decades to come
They’ll resurrect all the players of the game that both teams can claim they won

–from The Never Ending Game” by Pat Gallinagh

by John Heisler

The debate continues, 51 years later, even if the tone is mostly friendly these days for two groups of players who once were respected but bitter rivals.

Members of the Notre Dame and Michigan State football teams, who met in that generation’s “game of the century” as late-season unbeatens in 1966, never really decided anything on that November afternoon at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing.

That’s why former Spartan defensive lineman Pat Gallinagh memorialized the event with a poem he wrote and titled “The Never Ending Game.”

The 2016 season marked the 50th anniversary of that 10-10 tie, but since the game was played in East Lansing the Spartans decided to play host to a reunion this season since the two teams were slated to meet Saturday night at that same Spartan Stadium.

And, in a classy touch, the Michigan State group asked members of the Notre Dame squad to join in the festivities-and Irish center George Goeddeke, quarterback Terry Hanratty, tight end Dewey Poskon and defensive end Tom Rhoads accepted the invitation to create the first joint reunion for the two 1966 squads.

Among the 20 or so Michigan State players in attendance were quarterback Jimmy Raye, running back Regis Cavender (he and Notre Dame’s Bob Gladieux scored the only touchdowns in the game), all-Big Ten defensive lineman Jerry West, defensive back Sterling Armstrong, defensive end Phil Hoag and defensive lineman Charles Bailey. Raye read remarks from kicker Bob Apiza as well as greetings from Clint Jones and Gene Washington.

The group shared stories and beverages Friday night-with each team singing its own version of its fight song.

Then players and family members gathered for a buffet lunch Saturday at the Spartan Hall of Fame Café in East Lansing. Each player received a personalized plaque that featured his photo.

Michigan State graduate Bob Cantrell from the Downtown Coaches Club began the program with a series of historical references to the series and relationship between the institutions.

“You (Notre Dame) bring the best out in us, you always have and you always will,” he said.

Cantrell noted that the first eight games of the series all were played at Notre Dame between 1897 and 1909-with the home team winning all eight and seven by the shutout variety. The Spartans finally broke through with a 17-0 win in 1910 in the first game played in East Lansing.

Among other connections noted were Notre Dame’s Jim Crowley (of the Four Horsemen variety) and Irish head coach Frank Leahy, both of whom served as assistant coaches at Michigan State (Leahy in 1932, Crowley in 1928-32).

Noted Goeddeke, “Being a Michigander, I was looking forward to that (1966) game with a lot of gusto. I had butterflies on Monday night before the game which was amazing. We came in sky high knowing what was at stake.

“On the train coming up we had a few signs at stops in Indiana with favorable comments, like ‘God bless Notre Dame.’ Then we get into Michigan and the sign says, ‘Hail Mary, full of grace, Notre Dame’s in second place.’ That ride up might have pumped us up a little more.

“I remember pulling up to the stadium and seeing Bubba Smith’s white Buick Riviera. Now I had a ’52 Ford back on campus. I guess that’s the variance between defensive linemen and offensive linemen. Bubba got to park front and center.

“I never played in a game even in the pros that was more physical or hard-hitting. It was amazing the hitting that went on.”

Goeddeke paid tribute to the camaraderie between the two squads based on multiple players from each team participating in the North-South Shrine Game in Miami.

“That Christmas Eve we got together in one of the hotel rooms and all of us, both the Notre Dame and Michigan State players, spent Christmas Eve singing Christmas carols-and that was just a little more than a month after that game. We fight to the death on the field, but just good respect off the field. That was pretty special.”

Goeddeke finished with one final commentary:

“There was a minute and 32 seconds left in the game. Duffy Daugherty chose to punt the football to Notre Dame, knowing he would never see it again. Amen.”

Gallinagh added, “This is a remembrance of one of the greatest college football games in the history of the game. There has never been a game of this magnitude played any place any time. There were 33 future pros, 25 All-Americans, 10 number-one draft choices, six members of the College Football Hall of Fame plus both coaches, five Academic All-Americans and one in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. I defy anybody to show me two football teams on the field that had something like that.

“After Notre Dame beat Oklahoma in Norman and we beat a Bob Griese-led Purdue team, unless there was the upset of the century, it became obvious we were going to meet undefeated. The countdown, the tension, the anticipation grew. It was almost a feeding frenzy by game day. The television people saw what they could do if they could focus the whole country’s attention on one game. It was a bigger television audience than the first two Super Bowls.”

George Blaha, a Notre Dame graduate who is in his 40th year as radio play-by-play voice of Spartan football, noted that the game was big enough to land both head coaches on the cover of TIME magazine in different issues, with Notre Dame stars Hanratty and Jim Seymour also meriting that same treatment in 1966:

“There will never be a football game like this ever again. You made every Irish and Spartan fan around the world proud.”

Hanratty talked about seriously considering Michigan State before deciding to play in South Bend:

“I almost committed to Michigan State. I thought Duffy (Daugherty, the Spartan head coach) was the greatest guy in the world, I really did. But I met (Irish head coach) Ara Parseghian in Pittsburgh, we had lunch together and it just hit me that this was someone I wanted to spend the next four years with.

“I went home and told my mother I was going to Notre Dame. And she said, ‘What about Michigan State. What about Coach Daugherty?’ Remember, now, I am 17 years old. I thought, ‘I gotta call Duffy and tell him I’m not coming.’ I was shaking.

“But I got him on the phone and told him what I was doing and for the next 15 minutes he told me what a great school Notre Dame was, what a great guy Ara Parseghian was and what a great choice I had made. Now he said, ‘We’re going to try to beat the hell out of you, but you made a great decision.’ He made that conversation so easy for a 17-year-old kid.

“So if Notre Dame is playing, I’m rooting for Notre Dame.

“Any other day I’m rooting for the Spartans.” Each passing generation will argue which team put up the better fight
The Blue & Gold of Notre Dame or Michigan State’s Green & White?
The answer to this question will always be the same
It depends on which school the faithful favor in this never ending game

–from “The Never Ending Game”