Memorable Football Games – II
November 21, 1953: South Bend IN – Fainting Irish
Iowa vs. Notre Dame 1953

7-0 Notre Dame, ranked #1 the national polls, hosted a 5-3 Iowa Hawkeye team riding the momentum of consecutive shutouts over Purdue and Minnesota. Frank Leahy was in his eighth season at the helm of the Irish while Forrest Evashevski was completing his second year in Iowa City.

This game is memorable for what happened in the last seconds of each half. With Iowa ahead 7-0 and the clock ticking off the last minute of the first half, ND QB Ralph Guglielmi moved his team deep into Hawkeye territory. With no timeouts left, Guglielmi was sacked on third down and it looked like the clock would run out. But suddenly ND OT Frank Varrichione fell to the ground while standing in the huddle. Officials stopped the clock with :02 left while Varrichione was "helped" off the field. This allowed ND to line up and snap the ball just before time expired. Guglielmi threw to Dan Shannon in the end zone. The PAT with no time left tied the game.

The second half developed the same way as the first. Iowa's single wing offense scored on a pass with 2 minutes left to take a 14-7 lead. However, Guglielmi again passed his troops to the 9y line. This time not one but two ND linemen fell to the ground to stop the clock with :25 left. After two incompletions in the end zone stopped the clock legitimately, Guglielmi completed a TD pass to Shannon with :06 left. The extra point salvaged a 14-14 tie.

Listen to the Iowa radio broadcast of the last moments of each half. The announcers pull no punches in describing what ND was doing. Also hear Coach Evashevski's poetic response after the game. (Same link.)

Notre Dame's win-at-all-cost tactics brought condemnatio from many quarters. Speaking to the New York Football Writers ssociation, the legendary Grantland Rice (who immortalized a good-but-not-great backfield as "The Four Horsemen of Notre Dame") said:

I considered it a complete violation of the spirit and ethics of the game and was sorry to see Notre Dame, of all teams, using this method. Why … was it allowed? If this violates neither the rules nor the coaching code, let's throw them both out the window. Some people are calling it smart playing. I think it was disgraceful playing.

The AP voters demoted ND to #2 and kept them behind 10-0 Maryland the rest of the season despite Irish routs of USC and SMU. (Iowa finished 10th.) Since no poll was taken after the bowl games, Maryland's loss to Oklahoma in the Orange Bowl did not change the final rankings. Notre Dame, of course, did not play in bowls in that era.

Leahy, who had collapsed at halftime of the Georgia Tech victory that snapped Tech's 31-game winning streak, retired at the end of the season. (Watch video highlights of that game.) His 107-13-9 record gave him a winning percentage second only to Knute Rockne.

ESPN's Ivan Maisel ranked the end of this game #29 in his list of 100 Moments That Have Defined College Football

Personal note: A 12-year-old boy in faraway New Orleans listened to this game on the Notre Dame radio network. ND's antics added more fuel to his burning hatred of the Fighting Irish.

September 26 , 1959: Dyche Stadium, Evanston IL

Ara Parseghian, Northwestern

Bud Wilkinson

Bets, Drugs, and Rock & Roll, a book by Steve Budin published in October 2007, attracted attention because it claims that the 1954 OklahomaOklahoma A&M game was fixed by mobsters, who allegedly used a horse laxative to poison some of the Sooners. OU defeated the Aggies by only 14-0, thereby not covering the spread of 20 points. The only problem with Budin's account is that not a single Oklahoma player from that team remembers anybody suffering from food poisoning nor did any contemporary accounts of the game mention any Sooners missing the game because of illness.

Such was not the case five years later when Bud Wilkinson's Sooners visited Chicago to play Northwestern, coached by Ara Parseghian. On the Thursday night before the game, 13 OU players were stricken with food poisoning while dining at the Chez Paree. When the team arrived at the restaurant, the waitress took them to meet an older gentlemen who was sitting with a good looking girl who asked the players their positions and whether they were starters. When the team was seated for the meal, waitresses served a fruit appetizer to particular individuals instead of straight down the line. Within 30 minutes, many players were in the bathroom vomiting.

Oklahoma (in white) vs Northwestern 1959

The game was played in a driving rain. The Wildcats blocked a quick kick by Joe Abbatiello, and another Sooner punt went only 9y against the wind. In between, two good punts with the wind by QB-P Dick Thornton helped Northwestern to a 13-0 lead.

OU QB Bobby Boyd, one of the suffering players, lateraled to HB Dick Carpenter, who threw a 7y TD pass to HB Brewster Hobby to make it 13-7 in the second quarter. That was the high water mark for the nauseated visitors. Wildcat HB Ron Burton ran for TDs of 62 and 7y. E Paul Yanke caught 2 TD passes, and DE Elbert Kimbrough intercepted a Boyd lateral and ran 47y. The final score was 45-13, OU's worst defeat during Wilkinson's tenure, which began in 1947 and included a 47-game winning streak, still the longest in football history.

Reference: Fifty Years of College Football: Bob Boyles and Paul Guido

November 19, 1966: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing MI – Tie One for the Gipper
Notre Dame has faced Michigan State every season since 1948 except for '53 and '58. This article recalls the most famous meeting between the two teams: The "Game of the Century" (1966 version).

Ara Parseghian's 8-0 Irish were ranked #1 in the AP poll and had beaten op­ponents by an average of 34 per game. #2 MSU under Duffy Daugherty was 9-0 and had won by a mere 22 per game. A crowd of 80,011 – still the largest in Spartan history – overflowed Spartan Stadium on a cold gray day.

At first, the "Luck of the Irish" didn't seem to be working.

  • HB Nick Eddy slipped on the icy steps getting off the train, reinjuring his bruised shoulder. He didn't play a down. (Perhaps coincidentally, this game was the last one that ND ever traveled to by train.)
  • The starting C separated his shoulder and left the game during the first series.
  • Then QB Terry Hanratty also separated his shoulder after being tackled running a draw play (which a confused messenger lineman had told Ter­ry to run) by Bubba Smith and George Webster in the first quarter. Another sophomore, Coley O'Brien, replaced Hanratty at QB.

The home team scored first. QB Jimmy Raye got his offense out from the sha­dow of its own goal post with a 42-yard pass to Gene Washington. Then nine straight running plays culminated in a 4-yard TD by FB Regis Cavender early in the second quarter. On the next Spartan series, Raye ran 30 yards to set up a 47-yard FG by barefooted Dick Kenney. Irish luck had failed again as LB Jim Lynch intercepted a pass but fumbled it back during the return.

Dick Kenney Kicks FG for MSU
Dick Kenney kicks for Michigan State

Then the Irish offense finally came to life. O'Brien completed three straight passes, the last to HB Bob Gladieux for a 34-yard TD with 4:30 left in the half.

Late in the third quarter, ND finally caught a break. An offside call against Smith nullified a fumble recovery at the Spartan 25. On the first play of the fourth quarter, Joe Azzaro kicked a 28-yard FG to tie the game. Then the visitors created their own opportunity. DB Tom Schoen returned an inter­ception to the MSU 18. However, an eight-yard loss caused ND to try a go­ahead FG. This time Azzaro's 41-yard try sailed wide right with 4:39 left.

1966 Notre Dame-Michigan State FG 
Joe Azzaro kicks for Notre Dame

MSU stayed conservative from its own 20, punting to ball to the ND 30 with 1:24 left. O'Brien had missed on his last six passes, causing Parseghian concern about his diabetic condition. So he called nothing but runs as MSU used its timeouts. The Spartan defenders called their foes "sissies" and "cowards." ND did gain a first down on a risky fourth down run, but the clock expired on an unsatisfying 10-10 tie.

Parseghian was widely criticized for settling for a tie. Dan Jenkins coined the phrase "Tie one for the Gipper" to lead his Sports Illustrated article. However, Ara knew what he was doing, as the AP and UPI voters kept his Irish at the top and MSU #2. Their justification was that ND had tied the #2 team on the road without their starting QB and HB.

The next week Notre Dame flew to the West Coast and handed USC a 51-0 drubbing, the worst loss in Trojan history. O'Brien hit 21 of 31 for 255 yards and 3 TDs. Afterwards, Parseghian said, "I would say we went out to prove we are no. 1. And we did, didn't we?"

Neither ND nor MSU went to a bowl game – the Irish because of school policy and the Big Ten champions because of the conference's "No Repeat" rule for the Rose Bowl, which was the only bowl game a Big Ten school could play in. Neither the AP nor the UPI conducted another poll after the bowl games any­way.

In the meantime, Alabama finished 11-0 after trouncing Nebraska 34-7 in the Sugar Bowl. Nevertheless, the Tide finished #3 despite the fact that they were the defending champions from 1965. The Alabama QB was a hillbilly named Ken Stabler, whom the national media considered no match for Hanratty.

The 40th anniversary of this game was commemorated in 2006 when the schools played in East Lansing. MSU wore throwback jersies and helmets from the 1960s. However, ND refused to do the same. 45 members of the MSU squad attended, and Bubba Smith's number 95 jersey was retired at halftime, making him only the third player in Spartan history to be so honored. ND won 40-37, coming back from a 19-point deficit in the second half.

Personal follow-up to this game: After the 1966 season, Duffy Daugherty was quoted in Sports Illustrated as favoring a college football playoff. I wrote him with an idea for an eight-team playoff that would utilize the existing bowls. He wrote back praising my plan. I saved that letter for nearly 40 years, but it did not survive Katrina.

Michigan State-Notre Dame program cover

Notre Dame Coach Ara Parseghian
Ara Parseghian>

Coach Duffy Daugherty and QB Jimmy Raye
Jimmy Raye and Duffy Daugherty

Bubba Smith chases Terry Hanratty
Bubba Smith chases Terry Hanratty

Coley O'Brian hands off to Larry Conjar
Coley O'Brian handing off to Larry Conjar against MSU

Notre Dame LB Jim Lynch
Jim Lynch
Sports Illustrated Cover for MSU-ND

November 25, 1971: Owen Field, Norman OK– "Game of the Century"

Beano Cooke (among others) has called it "The Greatest Game Ever Played." Thanksgiving. Two undefeated teams.

  • #1 Nebraska, the defending national champion, was coached by Bob Devaney and boasted the famous Blackshirt defense of coordinator Monte Kiffin. The Cornhuskers' closest game was 31-7 win over Colorado.
  • #2 Oklahoma, its wishbone offense ranked #1 nationally, was coached by Chuck Fairbanks.
Sports Illustrated said "Irresistible Oklahoma Meets Immovable Nebraska." The game lived up to its hype and then some.

The game's most famous play actually occurred early. Less than four minutes had expired when Johnny Rodgers broke loose on a 72y punt return to give the Cornhuskers a 7-0 lead. (Watch a video of Rodgers' run. 45. Also ESPN ranked it #4 in its 100 Moments That Have Defined College Football.)

The game seesawed for four quarters. The OU offense, led by QB Jack Mildren and RB Greg Pruitt, moved the ball on the Blackshirts like no one had all season. (OU ended with an astounding 467 yards, NU with 362.) The Sooners led at halftime 17-14, the first time NU had trailed all season. By the end of the third quarter, the visitors had a 28-24 advantage.

Johnny Rodgers vs. Oklahoma
Jeff Kinney vs. Oklahoma
After recovering a fumble by QB Jerry Tagge, OU drove 68y to take the lead again, 31-28, on a Mildren pass to Jon Harrison with 7:10 left. Nebraska then embarked on "the drive." 12 plays, 74 yards. Three third down conversions, including a diving catch by Rodgers. Jeff Kinney plunged 2y with 1:38 left for the winning TD.

Fortunately, the game was telecast nationally. "Fortunately" because the vast majority of the ABC schedule (including this game) was set before the season began. Beano says: "Of the 15 highest-rated regular season games on television at one point during the 1970's, 14 involved Notre Dame. The 15th was the '71 OU-NU classic. In fact, at that point, the Sooners and Cornhuskers was the highest-rated regular-season game."

Nebraska clobbered #2 Alabama in the Orange Bowl 38-6 to clinch its second straight national championship. Some rank the 1971 Nebraska team as one of the best ever, if not the best. If you can stomach it, watch a 6-minute video on Nebraska football, which includes Rodgers' run.
Houston @ Buffalo AFC Playoff January 3, 1993

The Houston Oilers defeated the Buffalo Bills in the final game of the 1992 sea­son, 27-3, then started the playoffs at Buffalo.

  • At halftime of the playoff game, Houston had outscored the Bills 55-6 in the last six quarters.
  • Oilers QB Warren Moon put on an incredible display, sparking a 28-3 first half by completing 19 of 22 passes for 218y and four TDs against a proud but injury-riddled Buffalo D.
  • After the game, Bills LB Darryl Talley said, "Warren was like a surgeon. He could have done plastic surgery and given 9,000 face lifts."
  • Walt Corey, Buffalo's usually soft-spoken D coordinator, lit into his unit at halftime.

I gave them my Lincoln Gettysburg Address. It's not me, but we had to get something straight. I didn't spare anybody. Hit 'em right between the eyes. I was hollering the same things the fans were hollering at me when we left the field. I can't repeat the words, but the more I talked, the louder I got. The thing that bothered me was their approach. To me, they looked timid. They looked like they were going to get in the right spots, but they weren't going to make anything happen afterward. This is an attitude game. Sometimes you start playing and you're afraid to make things hap­pen or afraid to make a mistake.

  • Nose T Jeff Wright recalled:

With every word that came out of Walt's mouth, he reached a new temp­erature level until he finally exploded. He had every right to say the things that he said. You'd damn well better have reason to feel good about yourselves, regardless of how this game turns out.

  • Head coach Marv Levy didn't have much to say to his Bills.

There was no great pep talk like you'd see in the movies. Halftime is only twelve minutes long. I really had only three minutes to make adjustments. The only thing I recall saying to our players was, "You are two-time defending AFC champ­ions. When you walk off the field thirty minutes from now, don't let anybody say that you quit or gave up."

Fans' hope that their boys would come out strong to start the second half were quickly dashed.

  • On the Bills' first possession, DB Bubba McDowell intercepted a pass that bounced off the hands of TE Keith McKellar and returned it 58y to pay dirt to make the score 35-3.
  • Many fans left the stadium, and countless TV viewers changed the channel.
  • Even Levy almost lost hope, as he admitted after the game.

I said to myself, "This is a humiliating day." Did I think we still had a chance? Well, there was a lot of time left and a glimmer of hope. But it was about the same chance as winning the New York Lottery.

  • The Buffalo radio announcers commented during the first half as their team fell be­hind that they had worried whether the Bills would be able to get up for the game after reaching the Super Bowl two straight seasons. Also, they played without QB Jim Kelly and LB Cornelius Bennett. Hobbled RB Thur­man Thomas gave it a go in the first half but never left the sidelines the second 30 minutes.
  • After McDowell's INT, one of the Bills' broadcasters, tacitly conceding defeat, talked about Houston playing Pittsburgh in the next round and how the Steelers had been the Oilers' nemesis for many years.
  • A member of the Houston radio team made a statement he would later re­gret.

The lights are on here at Rich Stadium. They've been on since this morn­ing. You could pretty much turn them out on the Bills right now.

Then a miracle happened. In the next 11:19, the Bills scored four unanswered TDs.

  • The comeback was led by backup QB Frank Reich, who just happened to be the signal-caller for the largest comeback in college football history at that time - Mary­land's 42-40 victory over Miami after trailing 31-0 at the half.
  • The Bills got their first break on the kickoff following McDowell's TD. The wind blew the ball slightly on the tee just as Al Del Greco kicked it. The re­sult was an uninten­tional squib kick that hit one of the Bills' front five and bounced back toward the Oilers. Somehow, the Bills recovered in the scram­ble at midfield.
  • Reich led a 10-play drive that included a completion to Pete Metzelaars that went right through the hands of LB Eddie Robinson (a graduate of Brother Martin High School, New Orleans). Facing fourth and 2, the Bills eschewed the FG, and RB Ken­neth Davis gained 5. He scored from the 1 two plays later to cut the lead to 35-10.
  • Levy decided to go for the onside kick, which K Steve Christie recovered himself. It took only four plays this time thanks to Reich's 38y TD pass to WR Don Beebe. The Bills got a break on the play because replays showed that Beebe's foot went out of bounds before he made the catch, but none of the officials caught it. So with 7:46 left in Q3, the score was 35-17.

The Buffalo D responded to their halftime tongue-lashing.

  • They forced Houston to punt for the first time all day. Greg Montgomery's 25y boot into the strong wind gave the Bills excellent field position again at their own 41.
  • Now in a groove, Reich connected with WR James Lofton for 18. Then Davis gained 20 on a screen pass before Reich fired a 26y TD strike to WR Andre Reed to cut the lead to 35-24.
  • In a span of ten minutes, the Bills had run 18 plays, gained 176y, and scored 21 points while holding the visitors to three plays for 3y.

Events continued to spiral downward for Houston.

  • Moon's pass bounced off the hands of WR Webster Slaughter into the clutches of S Henry Jones who returned it 15y to the Oiler 23.
  • Three plays gained only 5y. So Levy called time-out and asked Reich and O-coordi­nator Jim Shofner to pick a play likely to gain the first down. When other coaches disagreed with their choice, Levy supported his QB and Shof­ner. "If that's the play you want, that's the play we're using."
  • The play was successful beyond their intent. Reich threw to Reed for a TD.
  • Levy recalled years later:

I told the other coaches, "If we hit a fourth down, we're going for it if it's any­where near reasonable distance for the first down." I didn't know that we'd get a TD on the play, but the reasoning was that, if we made a FG, we were still down by eight. The quarter was nearly over, and we'd be going into the wind, and you'd have to get very close to try a FG in the fourth quarter.

  • The Bills had now trimmed the deficit from 32 to 4. Some of the spectators who had departed tried to come back. When stadium attendants wouldn't let them in the gates, they climbed the fences.

The Bills' D continued its solid second half while the Oilers' special teams misfired again.

  • Talley sacked Moon, forcing a fumble. Houston recovered but had to punt.
  • Montgomery got off only a 24-yarder, putting Buffalo in business again at their own 48. However, the Bills went nowhere and had to punt.

For the first time in the second half, Moon's O showed some life.

  • A roughing the passer penalty on DT Bruce Smith negated LB Carlton Bai­ley's INT and continued a drive into Q4.
  • Despite two sacks by Wright, Houston reached the Buffalo 14 before bog­ging down.
  • Then the Bills got another break. Montgomery, who was having a decidedly bad day, fumbled the snap on Del Greco's FG attempt. Talley grabbed the ball and ran 74y to the EZ, but officials ruled Darryl down by contact at the point of the recov­ery. Botching the easy three-point try would hurt Houston dearly.
  • With the Oilers expecting a pass on third-and-4, Reich gave the ball to Da­vis who roared to a 35y gain. A diving tackle by DB Steve Jackson prevented a TD.
  • On third and 2, Reich hit Reed to move the chains. The same duo struck again for a 17y TD to put Buffalo in front 38-35 with 3:08 left in the game.
 Reed Scores Go-Ahead TD
Andre Reed scores go-ahead TD.

Although the Bills appeared to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, Moon didn't give up.

  • He led a 63y march to the 16. The key play was an 18y completion to Slaughter on fourth-and-4 from the Bills' 34.
  • Del Greco booted the FG with just 0:12 left to send the game into OT.
  • In 2004, Levy recalled:

One of the least-remembered plays of the game was made by DE Phil Hansen. They threw a screen pass that looked like it would go for a TD. Hansen had rushed the passer, was chop-blocked, and hit the ground. But Hansen got back onto his feet in the blink of an eye, somehow got downfield, and dove to make a game-saving, shoestring tackle at the 7y line. That forced the Oilers to settle for a score-tying FG ...

Houston won the toss and started on its 20.

  • After completing two short passes for 7y, Warren threw his 50th and last pass of the game.
  • Covered closely by Talley, the intended receiver, Ernest Givens, couldn't catch the ball, which sailed over his head to DB Nate Odomes, who returned it to the 35. A face mask penalty moved the ball to the 20. Many Oilers claim to this day that Tal­ley should have been called for holding on the play.
  • After two runs, Christie booted a 32y FG to culminate the greatest comeback in NFL history. As a commemoration, Steve's kicking shoe was sent to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton OH.

Afterwards, reporters and the players debated the question: "Did Buffalo stage the greatest comeback or was Houston guilty of the greatest choke job the league has ever seen?"

  • Oilers CB Chris Dishman, when asked how it felt to be part of the greatest "col­lapse," didn't flinch: The greatest "choke"' in history. "Collapse" is just being nice.
  • WR Haywood Jeffires agreed.

Everybody choked at 35-3. It's gone. We lost. Tomorrow's not going to make it better. Sure, we're embarrassed. But what do you want us to do, put a gun up to our heads and shoot ourselves?

  • Hometown hero Reich views the game differently.

I guess there have been a couple of times when my wife and I would look at each other and say, "Did that really happen?" We had to shut them down on every count. I don't look at it like a choke. I look at it as a miracle from God.

Houston wasted no time cleaning house, firing D coordinator Jim Eddy and DB coach Pat Thomas the very next day. The club hired Buddy Ryan to replace Eddy. Head coach Jack Pardee survived.

The Bills won two more playoff games to gain their third straight Super Bowl berth, losing to the Cowboys 52-17.

References: "Run It! And Let's Get the Hell Out of Here!":
The 100 Best Plays in Pro Football History
, Jonathan Rand (2007)
The Football Game I'll Never Forget: 100 NFL Stars' Stories,
selected by Chris McDonell (2004)

Oilers QB Warren Moon
Warren Moon

Bills LB Darryl Talley
Darryl Talley

Buffalo D-Coordinator Walt Corey
Walt Corey

Buffalo Coach Marv Levy
Marv Levy

Oilers K Al Del Greco
Al Del Greco

Bills QB Frank Reich
Frank Reich

Bills RB Kenneth Davis
Kenneth Davis

Bills WR Don Beebe
Don Beebe

Oilers WR Webster Slaughter
Webster Slaughter

Bills Winning FG
Christie after winning FG

Oilers WR Hayward Jeffires
Hayward Jeffires




1953: Iowa @ Notre Dame

1959: Oklahoma @ Northwestern

1966: Notre Dame @ Michigan State

1971: Nebraska @ Oklahoma

1993: Houston @ Buffalo


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