On November 19, 1966, in college football, first-ranked Notre Dame and second-ranked Michigan State play to a 10-10 tie at Spartan Stadium. The Irish, per coach Ara Parseghian’s instructions, ran out the clock at the end of the game instead of passing to score and risking an interception. After the game, Parseghian defended his decision. “We’d fought hard to come back and tie it up,” he told reporters in the locker room. “After all that, I didn’t want to risk giving it to them cheap.”
Notre Dame was playing without several of its star players that day. Back Nick Eddy had slipped on the ice at the East Lansing train station. The Spartans’ 290-lb defensive end Bubba Smith had flattened quarterback Terry Hanratty at the beginning of the game, dislocating his shoulder and sending him to the bench and Hanratty’s backup, Coley O’Brien, was diabetic and plainly not feeling like himself. As a result, the Spartans took an early 10-0 lead. The Irish managed to tie the score in the second half, and with a little more than a minute left to go in the game, they got the ball back in plenty of time to score—but Parseghian was reluctant to chance a run at the end zone. After all, MSU’s defense was practically impenetrable, and a turnover would have given the Spartans a chance at victory. So he opted to run out the clock instead, preserving his tie and, for the moment, his team’s ranking.
Neither the Irish nor the Spartans would play in a bowl game that year, Notre Dame because the university thought postseason play would interfere with the football team’s studies and Michigan State because they’d gone to the Rose Bowl the year before, and going twice in a row was against the Big Ten’s rules. Since the national championship hadn’t been settled on the field, it went to a vote: the end-of-year AP and UPI polls. Complicating matters was Bear Bryant’s undefeated—and, crucially, unintegrated—University of Alabama team, a stark contrast especially to an MSU squad that had welcomed many black players from the South. In the end, in a vote that many people viewed as a rebuke to the segregated, obstructionist Alabamians, Notre Dame kept its No. 1 ranking. MSU came in second, and Alabama came in third. (It’s worth noting that all-white teams from the South had won six of the previous nine championships, and a stubbornly unintegrated Texas team captured the first-place ranking in 1969. Still, many voters were certainly aware of, and dismayed by, Alabama’s racist stance. Meanwhile, Bubba Smith had another explanation for Notre Dame’s triumph: “All the sportswriters,” he said, “are Catholic.”)
The Notre Dame-MSU tie was the first college football game to be broadcast to U.S. troops in Vietnam. At first, ABC wasn’t going to show the game at all, but 50,000 fans wrote letters and signed petitions in protest and the network changed its mind. And the reversal paid off: The game got higher ratings than the next year’s first-ever Super Bowl did.