Memorable Football Games – III

January 15, 1967: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum– Unlikely Hero

Max McGee died in an accident October 20, 2007. News coverage focused on his role in the first Super Bowl, when he won a Corvette as MVP even though he had caught only four passes all season.

Actually, the game was not called the "Super Bowl." It was the "AFL-NFL Championship Game" during the period between the agreement to join the two leagues and the actual merger. Only 61,946 fans attended in the 100,000-seat Coliseum. Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, champions of the NFL, were heavy favorites over Hank Stram's AFL-champion Kansas City Chiefs. Since CBS televised the NFL and NBC did AFL games, both telecast the game in competition with each other. The estimated audience was 60,000,000. A one-minute commercial sold for $75,000.

McGee didn't expect to play in the game. In fact, as he later admitted, he had stayed out all night partying on the Sunset Strip. "I waddled in about 7:30 in the morning and I could barely stand up for the kickoff. On the bench Paul (Hornung) kept needling me, 'What would you do if you had to play?' And I said, 'No way, there's no way I could make it.'"

However, WR Boyd Dowler's separated shoulder in the first quarter, forced Max into action. Shortly thereafter, he caught a 37-yard scoring strike from QB Bart Starr, giving him the distinction of scoring the first TD in Super Bowl history. McGee went on to catch seven passes for 138 yards and two TDs as the Packers romped, 35-10. After leading only 14-10 at the half, GB held KC scoreless in the second half to win the trophy that eventually was named for their coach.

Each member of the winning team received a $15,000 bonus, while each Chief earned $7,500.

Watch highlights of the game

Max McGee
November 23, 1968: Harvard Stadium – "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29"

1968 Harvard-Yale Program

Yale RB Calvin Hill vs Harvard
Calvin Hill (30) in action against Harvard

Yale QB Brian Dowling
Yale QB Brian Dowling

Harvard QB Frank Champi
Harvard QB Frank Champi against Yale

Harvard Fans After Game
Harvard Crimson newspaper 1968

Yale entered its annual season-ending game with an 8-0 record and a 16-game winning streak.

  • Standing between the Eli and their second straight Ivy League Championship was archrival Harvard, owners of an identical 8-0 record. The Crimson had the nation's best scoring defense (7.6 ppg) as they sought their first-ever outright Ivy title.
  • No game in the 85 years of this storied rivalry had attracted so much attention. Harvard officials estimated they could have sold 100,000 tickets. Instead 40,000 jammed venerable Harvard Stadium. One Yale senior sold two tickets for $175 which, adjusted for inflation, would exceed $1,000 today.

Led by future NFL players RB Calvin Hill and QB Brian Dowling, Yale stormed to a 22-0 lead in the second quarter.

  • So desperate was Harvard coach John Yovicsin for an offensive spark that he turned to junior Frank Champi midway through the 2nd quarter.
  • A javelin thrower who had started the season as the fourth string QB, Champi had only five completions all year. "He looked scared to death," said offensive lineman and future Academy Award-winning actor Tommy Lee Jones. (Jones' roommate Al Gore sat in the stands. A Yale student, George W. Bush, watched from the sidelines.)
  • Nervous or not, Champi immediately took Harvard 64y in 12 plays, throwing a 15-yard TD pass with 44 seconds left in the half. A missed extra point sent the teams to the locker room with Yale ahead 22-6.

Inexplicably, Yovicsin sent starter George Lalich back under center to start the second half.

  • After three-and-out, Harvard punted but recovered a fumble on the Yale 25.
  • Champi returned to the huddle for good and led a drive to the goal line. A one-yard run by FB Gus Crim cut the deficit to 22-13.
  • However, Dowling reseized the momentum by scoring his fourth TD of the game on a five-yard run with 10:44 left in the game. Since coach Carmen Cozza saw no need to go for two, Yale led 29-13 after a conventional PAT. Harvard would need two TDs and two two-point conversions just to tie.

Cozza's confidence seemed justified after Yale's D forced a punt.

  • Eli fans waved white handkerchiefs and yelled "We're No. 1", then, when they tired of that, "You're No. 2."
  • Yale drove to the Harvard 14 but lost a fumble with 3:34 remaining.
  • Champi led his team to the Yale 38. On third-and-18, he fumbled as he was sacked. However, tackle Fritz Reed collected the loose pigskin and rambled to the 15.
  • Given new life, Champi immediately completed a TD pass to Bruce Freeman with 42 seconds left.
  • A pass for the two-point conversion was incomplete but pass interference gave the Crimson another chance.
  • FB Gus Crim crashed over to make it 29-21 Yale.

Everyone knew Harvard had to try an onside kick.

  • If Yale recovered, the game was over. But, amazingly, the Eli had never practiced defending on onsides kick.
  • So they flubbed the recovery and Harvard fell on the ball at the Yale 49.
  • On the sidelines, Dowling and Hill begged Cozza to let them play defense but he refused.
  • Instead, they watched helplessly as Champi scampered for 14y. A face-mask penalty advanced the ball to the 20.
  • With 0:32 left, Champi threw incomplete at the goal line. Then another incompletion inside the 5. 0:20 remaining.
  • A draw play to Crim caught the Eli D by surprise and moved Harvard to the 6.

Time out with 0:14 left.

  • Champi went back to pass, scrambled, and was sacked at the 8. So Harvard used its last timeout with three seconds left.
  • Time for one last play. The Yale faithful, who earlier had taunted Harvard, desperately yelled "Hold that line!"
  • Champi dropped back to the 15, pump faked twice, ran up to the 10, faked a throw to the left and then the right, shook off a tackle, retreated to the 16, looked right, then just before being leveled threw a pass to the left side of the EZ where RB Vic Gatto grabbed it as he fell backwards.
  • After a long delay to clear the Crimson fans who stormed the field, Harvard lined up for another two-point conversion. Champi rolled right, planted his feet, and threw to TE Pete Varney across the middle for a 29-29 tie. Crimson revelers flooded the field again. The Yale players stood on the sidelines stunned.
2-point Conversion to Tie Game
Pete Varney exults after catching tying pass.

The headline in the next edition of the Harvard Crimson read: "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29." Cozza said, "We feel like we lost it, even though we didn't. Something like that won't happen again in 1,000 years." 16 points in 42 seconds.

November 22, 1969: Ann Arbor MI – Believe In Bo

Ohio State and Michigan have played in as many memorable games as any rivalry in America. Most of the time, the Big Ten title is on the line along with the Rose Bowl berth that goes with it. In recent years, a spot in the BCS championship game has also been decided.

In the first of what will undoubtedly not be the last OSU-UM "Memorable Game" in this series, let's start with the 1969 game. The 8-0 Buckeyes, the AP national champions of 1968, rolled into Ann Arbor still #1 with a 22-game winning streak. The hosts were led by first-year coach Bo Schembechler in the first of what became the "Ten Year War" with Woody Hayes. The Wolverines were 7-2 but had only one league loss at Michigan State. So an upset would propel UM to Pasadena. (The Big Ten did not allow any of its teams to go to any other bowls other than the Rose.)

OSU had pummeled UM 50-14 in 1968 on their way to the national championship, a game that sealed the fate of "Bump" Elliott, Bo's predecessor. Late in the game, Hayes ordered a two-point conversion, which enraged everyone outside the state of Ohio. Schembechler had his players practice with a small "50" on their jerseys to remind them of the previous year's score.

The visitors scored first on a one-yard run by FB Jim Otis but missed the PAT. When UM retaliated with a TD by FB Garvie Craw and kicked the extra point, the Buckeyes trailed for the first time all season. However, they weren't behind long as QB Rex Kern passed 22 yards to TE Jan White early in the second for a 12-7 lead. The rest of the quarter and the rest of the game belonged to the home team.

A 67-yard drive ended with another TD by Craw for a 14-12 lead. The most spectacular play occurred when Barry Pierson returned a punt 60 yards to the OSU 4-yard line to set up a TD plunge by QB Don Moorhead to boost the lead to 21-12. A short time later, Pierson ran back one of his three interceptions to set up a FG for a 24-12 halftime lead.

A scoreless second half saw the Buckeyes fail to mount a threat. Kern was yanked after his fourth interception. After the game, Woody called his second half offense "miserable."

The Wolverines lost to USC in the Rose Bowl, 10-3. Bo missed his first game in Pasadena when a mild heart attack sent him to the hospital. Bo eventually compiled a 2-8 record in the Granddaddy of All Bowls.

A Columbus carpetmaker, a Wolverine fan in enemy territory, sent Hayes a rug with the 24-12 score on it. Woody didn't burn it. Instead, he put it at the door leading to the practice field so that his players would walk on it every day of the 1970 season.

Watch highlights of the game

References: Fifty Years of College Football: Bob Boyles and Paul Guido
Football Feuds: The Greatest College Football Rivalries: Ken Rappoport and Barry Wilner

November 9 , 1974: Spartan Stadium, East Lansing MI - Who Won the Damn Game?
Both teams ran off the field after the last play thinking they had won. The linesman had raised his arms signaling a touchdown. However, the field judge and back judge were waving their arms. The officials told the teams to go to their locker rooms and then left the stadium in a limousine for a nearby hotel. The conference commissioner spoke with the referee by telephone, then returned to the press box to announce the winner. Finally, after 46 agonizing minutes, the crowd finally heard the result over the P.A. system.
4-3-1 Michigan State hosted #1 Ohio State, 8-0. Denny Stolz was in his second year at the helm in East Lansing. OSU's 24-year coach, Woody Hayes, had just won his 200th victory, 49-7 over Illinois. The Buckeye offense had scored on 24 of their last 26 possessions. As a result, the Spartans were 25-point underdogs.
The MSU defense coralled the OSU offense as no one had all year. The visitors led only 6-3 early in the fourth quarter when Spartan QB Charlie Baggett broke into the clear but lost control of the ball at the MSU 44. OSU's Steve Luke recovered. The visitors capitalized on the break. FB "Champ" Henson scored from the one to build the lead to 13-3 with nine minutes to go.
Baggett made amends on the next possession by hitting SE Mike Jones for a 44-yard TD. Stolz went for two but failed to leave the score 13-9.
When the inspired Spartan defense forced a three-and-out, MSU took over at its own 12 with 3:30 to play. "44 veer," a quick opener to the fullback, sprang sophomore Levi Jackson up the middle and he outraced the Buckeye safeties down the sideline for a stunning 88-yard TD (pictured). After fans were cleared from the end zone, the PAT made it 16-13.
The Buckeye offense needed to respond to preserve their #1 ranking. But doom struck on the very first play when LB Terry McClowry made a diving interception. Or so said linesman Ed Scheck. However, umpire Frank Strocchia ruled the ball hit the ground. CONTROVERSIAL CALL #1 gave the Buckeyes new life. TB Archie Griffin, in the first of two consecutive Heisman Trophy seasons, sped 31 yards. Seven more plays advanced OSU to the six. OSU called its final timeout with 40 seconds left.
Henson drove five yards to the one. The officials called timeout for a measurement and gave the Buckeyes the first down. 26 seconds remained. Disdaining a tying FG, Hayes called on Henson again but he didn't make it. (Why didn't he use Griffin?) 14 seconds and ticking as officials unpiled the players. OSU hustled to run another play. OSU QB Greene recalled: "There's a pileup on the goal line, and we don't have any more timeouts. I'm looking up at the clock, and I'm calling out and audible and going, 'Get up! Get up! Get up!' And I'm trying to get the officials to call a timeout, because I thought we were being held down on purpose. None of that worked. All of a sudden, we were able to line up. The ball was snapped, and it hit my hands and it bounced right to (WB) Brian Baschnagel, and he ran right in and scored. And that's when it all started." When the clock showed 0:00, some Spartan defenders ran off the field in jubilation, and fans poured onto the field. WB Brian Baschnagel collected the loose ball and burst into the end zone. Linesman Scheck raised his hands to indicate a TD. The OSU players began jumping for joy, and the Ohio State band played the fight song. But field judge Robert Daganhardt and back judge William Kingzett waved their arms. Did the Buckeyes snap the ball before time expired? Did the TD count? CONTROVERSIAL CALL #2 or, rather, no-call since the officials left the field without clarifying what happened.

Champ Henson ruled short on final play.
Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke happened to be in the press box. Only after speaking to referee Gene Calhoun by phone did he announce that OSU's last play did not count since the clock expired. Finally, the stadium announcer told the fans: "Ladies and gentlemen. Michigan State has been declared the winner by the score of 16-13." Already angry that the officials took away the Spartan interception, the fans would have rioted if the TD had been allowed.
Replays showed that some Buckeyes were not set before the snap anyway. Duke said, "Had time not expired, Ohio State would have been charged with a penalty for not being set on the line of scrimmage for one full second before the start of the play."
True to his nature, Hayes was furious. "It's ridiculous. They can't take this game away from us. I'll appeal." Duke would have none of it. "That's the end of it. I don't want to discuss the subject further." (You can't blame him for being testy about the predicament his irresponsible officials put him in.)
Woody vented his rage on a reporter in the locker room. "Unless you quit bothering me, I'm going to put my fist down your [expletive] throat!" A calmer Hayes added: "There were 25 seconds left when he ran the play with Henson. The referee should have called time out when they laid on the ball and would not let us run the play."
The game was OSU's only defeat of the regular season. A 12-10 victory over Michigan sent the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl, where they lost to USC 18-17. Michigan State finished 7-3-1, earning Stoltz the Big Ten Coach of the Year award.

Watch the last minutes of the game ...

Reference: Heart Stoppers and Hail Marys: The Greatest College Football Finishes (since 1970), Ted Mandell

Denny Stolz

Woody Hayes

Levi Jackson runs for a touchdown to put the Spartans on top.

MSU fans tear down the goal posts.

January 1, 1979: Sugar Bowl, New Orleans LA: "You Shoulda Passed"

Fourth-and-goal Penn State at the Alabama 6-inch line. Fourth quarter. Nittany Lions trailing 14-7. Lion QB Chuck Fusina walked to the line of scrimmage to check the spot of the ball. Fusina asked Tide tackle Marty Lyons, "Well, what do you think?" Marty said, "I think you better throw the ball."

The crucial and certainly the most talked-about play in the de facto national championship game between #1 Penn State and #2 Alabama was about to take place. How had the teams reached this point?

Joe Paterno's Lions had finished the regular season 11-0, ranked #1. As an independent, they played a diverse schedule that included a 19-0 victory at Ohio State, a 19-10 win at home over North Carolina State, and victories against their perennial Eastern foes Syracuse, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pittsburgh.

Bear Bryant's #C51230 Tide had lost their third game of the season against USC, 24-14. Two weeks later they squeezed out a 20-17 win at Washington before rolling up six relatively easy victories for a 10-1 record and the runner-up spot in the pre-bowl AP poll.

Anchored by "salt-and-pepper" DTs Matt Millen and Bruce Clark, Penn State sported the country's #1 defense, allowing only 54.5 yards rushing per game. While not up to Bear's usual standards, his 1978 defense had improved steadily. Each team saw itself in a mirror when it looked at the other. "We related to Penn State more than any other team," said Tide DB Allen Crumbley. So a physical, defensive struggle was expected, and that's what the nation got. Afterwards, Bama RB Major Ogilvie said, "It was the hardest-hitting football game I ever participated in. There's not even a close second."

The game was scoreless until eight seconds remained in the first half. After Paterno had called two timeouts to try to get the ball back, Jeff Rutledge tossed a 30-yard TD pass to RB Tony Nathan for a 7-0 #C51230 lead. This provided the first of several second-guess situations Joe Pa would have to explain after the game. (Watch a highlights video that includes the TD pass.)

Penn State tied the score in the third quarter after a Pete Harris interception. Fusina hit Mike Guman for 25 yards, then found Scott Fitzkee in the end zone.

Late in the quarter, back-up returner Lou Ikner, who had returned one punt all season but was replacing shaken-up Ogilvie, ran a Lion punt back 62 yards. Ogilvie returned to take a pitch eight yards for a 14-7 lead with 0:21 left in the third. (Watch a video of the TD.) Alabama's charge was now simple: keep PSU out of the end zone the last 15 minutes and you're national champs. Penn State, on the other hand, could reasonably expect to stay #1 by just tieing.

Unfortunately for the Bear at the time but fortunately for football history, Bama's offense didn't do its part. Rutledge made a errant pitch when hit by Millen, and Joe Lally recovered at the Tide 19. FB Matt Suhey burst up the middle to the 8. After a short gain on first down, there followed three plays that will forever be hallowed in Alabama folklore.

  1. Second and goal from the 6: Fusina connects with Fitzkee on a square-out, but DB Don McNeal knocks him out inside the 1-yard line.
  2. Third and goal: Suhey dives over the top but is stopped six inches short by David Hannah and Rich Wingo.
  3. Fourth and goal after Fusina's interchange with Lyons: Alabama defenders are told to fall back on their film study of PSU's tendencies and expect up-the-gut again. Guman this time dove over the top but LB Barry Krauss met him at the top. The force of the collision knocked the rivets from Krauss's helmet and left him dazed on the ground. Players at the bottom of the pile heard the crowd screaming but didn't know what had happened. When they got up, they saw the referee signaling first down Alabama. Watch a video of the play.

What happened next is often forgotten but was another error by the Lions. They forced a hurried punt from the end zone that wobbled to the 20. However, PSU had twelve men on the field. The 15-yard penalty gave Bama a first down, allowing them to kill more clock and work the ball out of danger.

ESPN selected this as its favorite bowl game. It also ranked the fourth-down play #6 in its 100 Moments That Have Defined College Football.

November 1, 1980: Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans: Revenge Is Sweet

The story of this memorable game actually starts with the end of another game eight years before. In 1972 Tulane played Miami at the Orange Bowl. Trailing 21-17 late in the fourth quarter, Miami had first and ten at the TU 18. The following sequence of plays then occurred.

  1. Chuck Foreman gains two yards.
  2. Second-and-eight at the 16: Ed Carney's pass to Foreman is incomplete.
  3. Third-and-eight at the 16: Carney complete to Foreman but Miami penalized for illegal procedure.
  4. Third-and-13 at the 21: Carney sacked for an 11-yard loss.
  5. Fourth-and-24 at the 32: Carney incomplete pass to Phil Corrigan.
  6. Fifth-and-24 at the 32: Carney throws TD pass to Witt Beckman with 1:05 to play.

Miami thus won the game 24-21 because the officials lost track of the downs. Tulane president Dr. Herbert Longnecker stated: "Had Tulane won a game under these conditions, the alleged victory would have been rescinded by our own actions and the game's outcome would have been reversed ..." However, the Miami coach, Fran Curci, kept the win.

Fast forward eight years. Curci brought his 2-5 Kentucky Wildcats to the Superdome to face Tulane, which was winless in five tries against him. However, the 5-3 Green Wave jumped to a 21-6 halftime lead behind QB Nickie Hall and WR Marcus Anderson.

However, the second half belonged to the visitors who finally took the lead, 22-21, with 4:05 left. Tulane couldn't move and had to punt. Kentucky worked the clock but punted to the Tulane eight with only 0:12 left. The Greenies needed nothing short of a miracle. Then the following sequence of plays transpired.

  1. Hall dropped into the end zone and threw a long "Hail Mary" toward Anderson. The ball fell incomplete. However, DB Chris Jacobs was called for pass interference, which was still a spot infraction at the time.
  2. First-and-ten on the UK 46. After using his final timeout, Hall launched another prayer. Another incompletion but another flag. Interference on DB Venus Meaux.
  3. First-and-goal on the UK 4 with 0:00 on the clock. Since a game cannot end on a defensive penalty, Green Wave kicker Vince Manalla booted a 19-yard FG to win, 24-22.

Kentucky felt cheated. "It's all that fifth down stuff," said one player. "Gentlemen, I ain't got no comment" was all Curci said before slamming the locker room door behind him.

Tulane called it the "Miracle of All-Saints Day." Coach Vince Gibson said, "I'm going to find time to go to church Sunday." His team finished the season 7-4 before losing to Arkansas in the Hall of Fame Bowl.

September 14, 1985: Jacksonville IL – Greatest Finish No One Knows About

Principia College in Elsah IL is a Christian Science school of 550 students. It is the smallest NCAA school that plays football. In 1985, the Indians (as they were known then; they're the politically correct Panthers today) played a Division III game against the Illinois College Blueboys in Jacksonville IL that produced an ending like that of suspense movies – just when you think the movie's over, the director throws in another surprise and then another.

Illinois College led 15-6 going into Q4. However, Principia scored with 6:11 left on a three-yard run by QB Jon Hinds to cut the lead to 15-12. That score remained into the final minute – 60 seconds filled with enough excitement for at least three thrillers.

  • Aided by a pass interference penalty against the Blueboys, Principia had second-and-7 on the IC 12. Hinds hit WR Rob Guthrie on a post pattern to take the lead 20-15 with 0:28 left. The jubilant Indians thought they had won the game. Not so fast, my friend.
  • Dan Schone ran the kickoff back to the IC 49. Aided by a face mask penalty, the Blueboys moved to the Principia 36 with 10 seconds left. QB Joe Killday then tossed a Hail Mary into a cluster of players at the 3. Four Indians knocked the ball backwards right into the hands of trailing HB Tim Fritzche who romped into the end zone with 0:02 left. The jubilant Blueboys thought they had won the game, 22-20. Not so fast, my friend.
  • IC coach Joe Brooks went by the book and ordered an onside kick. As WR Dan Sellers took his spot on the front line, he hoped to grab the kick, break through the onrushing Blueboys, and run for the winning TD. Lo and behold, the kick came right to him. But his largest teammate, Will Hagenlocher, pushed him down on the ball at the IC 48. That killed the clock with 0:01 left. Sellers thought he had lost his chance to be the hero. Not so fast, my friend.
  • Now it was Principia's turn to try a Hail Mary (even though a Christian Science School wouldn't call it that). One problem: they had never practiced any type of desperation pass. So QB Hinds told his coach, "We're going to do exactly what they just did." He made up a play in the huddle, lining up three receivers on the same side. Sellers, one of the trio, decided his best chance would be to trail the other two and hope to catch a deflection.
  • IC D coordinator Tom Rowland told S Randy Mitchell that Principia would try a Hail Mary and be sure to knock the ball down. Mitchell did exactly what his coach told him.
  • As Hinds took the snap, the final horn sounded. He threw a floater to the 10. Mitchell outjumped two Indians and knocked the ball away – right to Sellers. "It was the easiest catch I made in my whole four years of playing," he said after waltzing into the end zone. Behind him, Mitchell fell to his knees in disbelief. 26-22 Principia with no more surprise endings because time had expired.
  • Two Hail Mary passes in less than 10 seconds. Three TDs in 28 seconds in a game played before a crowd smaller than most high school games.




1967: Unlikely Hero

1968: "Harvard Beats Yale 29-29"

1969: Believe in Bo

1974: "Who Won the Damn Game?"

1979: "You Shoulda Passed"

1980: Revenge Is Sweet

1985: Greatest Finish No One Knows About

Memorable Games IV


Memorable Football Games Index

Football Magazine

Golden Rankings Home