Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 53 of 55

54 SEPT. 19, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED T he passage of 50 years can understandably skew memo‑ ries of the past. There is a ten‑ dency to remember "the good ol' days," or how "the older I get, the better I was." In recent years, that hasn't al‑ ways been the case with Notre Dame's 1966 national champi‑ onship football team, which is returning to the campus for this weekend's Golden Anniversary reunion. It fittingly comes during Michi‑ gan State weekend. The Spartans finished No. 2 to Notre Dame in the two wire service polls that year (Associated Press and United Press International), but they jointly shared the MacArthur Bowl, also emblematic of a na‑ tional title and recognized by the NCAA. It was shared because of their 10‑10 tie on Nov. 19, 1966, the first "modern" epic No. 1 versus No. 2 matchup that had the nation abuzz because of its demand to be on national television (although on tape delay) and because back then the national title was decided at the end of the regular season (which changed in 1968 with the AP poll). Unfortunately, that 1966 run to the na‑ tional championship has led to much revi‑ sionist history as time has passed. Forty years later in 2006, author/jour‑ nalist and proud Alabama supporter Keith Dunnavant published The Missing Ring, with the emphasis that Notre Dame's 1966 national title was "the greatest in‑ justice in the history of the national cham‑ pionship selection process." On paper, that might appear true considering Alabama — which won the two previous cham‑ pionships — finished 11‑0 compared to Notre Dame's 9‑0‑1. That followed with the 2008 book The Maisel Report by ESPN's Ivan Maisel, who ranked the 1966 Irish as "the most overrated team to win a national title." Maisel is as fine a historian on college football you will find. That's their side of the story. Now let's present ours. First, a final record is not necessarily indicative of superiority, and Alabama faithful especially should know that. In the 2012 title clash between 12‑0 and No. 1 Notre Dame and 12‑1 and No. 2 Alabama, it was the Crimson Tide who were huge 9.5‑point favorites. Those with objective knowledge knew who had the better roster, despite Alabama having a lesser record. Likewise, there was no comparison between the talent level at Notre Dame/ Michigan State and at Alabama during that era. Among the 22 Fighting Irish starters on offense and defense in 1966, 11 of them were among the top 60 picks in the NFL Draft or AFL Draft (seven in the first round and four in the second). Conversely, Alabama had three players on the 1966 roster who were eventual first‑ or second‑round picks. As good as Alabama's defense was, it did not have future Pro Bowl luminaries such as Alan Page and Jim Lynch, among others, on a unit that allowed 24 points in 10 games (not including a fumble return and blocked punt return for touchdowns). That's not even including Notre Dame's peerless depth. When future eight‑time Pro Bowl offensive lineman George Kunz suffered a season‑ending injury in game two, he was replaced by future six‑time Pro Bowl selection Bob Kuechen‑ berg. The third option in the back‑ field was Rocky Bleier, a starter on four Super Bowl champions at Pittsburgh. At Michigan State — which featured four of the top eight NFL picks in the 1967 NFL Draft, led by Bubba Smith — Notre Dame had to play without its top quarter‑ back (Terry Hanratty), top running back (Nick Eddy) and top cen‑ ter (George Goeddeke), yet still rallied on the road from a 10‑0 deficit to tie the nation's second best team. Second, there is the matter of scheduling. Notre Dame played four teams during the 10‑game regular season ranked in the top 10: Rose Bowl champ Purdue, at Oklahoma, at Michigan State and at Pac‑8 champ USC. Michigan State played two, and Alabama none. Notre Dame won at USC (51‑0) and at Oklahoma (38‑0) by a combined 89‑0 count, and played half of its regular season on the road. Alabama left its state twice in 10 regu‑ lar‑season games and won those outings by a combined 28‑17 score. Notre Dame's opponents combined to win more than 50 percent of their games. Alabama's were 42‑59‑1. Ah yes, there is Alabama's 34‑7 win over Nebraska in the Sugar Bowl to make it 11‑0. Bowl games were irrelevant back then, which is why Notre Dame didn't go. Ala‑ bama lost the 1965 Orange Bowl to Texas — but had already been declared the na‑ tional champion. No bickering about that, I see. Besides, that Nebraska team had al‑ ready lost to Oklahoma — the same Sooners team the Irish demolished 38‑0 in Norman. With the passage of time, the 1966 Notre Dame national champs should con‑ tinue to look only better. ✦ There's No Tarnish On The Golden Anniversary Of A Golden Year THE FIFTH QUARTER LOU SOMOGYI Senior Editor Lou Somogyi has been at Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 1985. He can be reached at Head coach Ara Parseghian and quarterback Terry Hanratty were among numerous luminaries on the 1966 national champs. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME MEDIA RELATIONS

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