In 1966, #2 Michigan State and #1 Notre Dame met to determine who was the best college football team in the nation. Fifty years later, we still don’t know.
Maybe it would have been different if Nick Eddy hadn’t fallen off the train. Okay, he didn’t exactly fall off the train. The Notre Dame running back slipped on the snow and slammed his shoulder into a handrail when he disembarked in East Lansing. Still, he was injured enough to sit out that famous game with Michigan State in 1966, which might have factored into his coach’s decision that Saturday.
Irish quarterback Terry Hanratty, who would go on to back up Terry Bradshaw in Pittsburgh and play in Super Bowl X, was knocked out of the game in the first quarter by Michigan State’s Bubba Smith. Hanratty later recalled, “When I got to the sideline, (his coach) said, ‘Why in the hell did you run the quarterback draw?’ I told him, ‘Because you called it!’ He said he’d called a running back draw.” Two plays later center George Goeddeke, who would be drafted by the Denver Broncos in the 1967 NFL Draft, sprained his ankle. Both Hanratty and Goeddeke sat on the bench with Eddy for the rest of the game. Perhaps missing three of his most important offensive players was just too much for the coach to take the risk.
Notre Dame’s Tom Schoen muffed a punt with about a minute and a half left in the fourth quarter. While the Irish did recover the ball, maybe that muff unnerved Notre Dame’s coach enough to do what he did, and what fifty years of admirers and detractors have speculated about.
Dan Jenkins, writer for Sports Illustrated at the time, said this past June that “He never got enough credit for the fact that he lost his quarterback early in the game and Nick Eddy fell off the train, didn’t even play.” That didn’t stop Jenkins from making fun of Ara Parseghian in his article. He wrote that Parseghian had “tied one for the Gipper.”
Parseghian, now 93, told the Chicago Tribune recently: “We didn’t go for a tie, the game ended in a tie. Christ, somebody ought to wake up to that.”
Notre Dame never traveled to another game by train.