Ara Parseghian is 88 years old, and I am not aware of how well he might be aging, but I have to think that if he’s able, he will be watching CBS with the rest of us on Saturday night. They’re calling it the Game of the Century, largely because college football’s marketing terminology is still mired in the Sterling-Cooper-Price era, and so this is what we’ve evoked anytime the top-ranked and second-ranked college football teams in America have met on a football field for at least five decades. Nobody knows that better than Ara. Forty-five years ago this month, when Parseghian was at Notre Dame, he coached the Irish through a contest that is regarded as the true Game of the Century despite — or more likely because — it featured the most frustrating ending in the history of the sport.
You may know the details, but in case you don’t: On November 19, 1966, Michigan State, ranked No. 2 with a largely black starting lineup, hosted Notre Dame, ranked No. 1 with a largely white starting lineup. The Spartans took a 10-0 lead, and the Irish lost starting quarterback Terry Hanratty after he was Hightowered on a quarterback draw by the late Bubba Smith. Even so, Notre Dame managed to tie the game at 10-10 behind backup Coley O’Brien, and the Irish had possession on their own 30-yard-line with 1:10 to go. And that’s when Ara made perhaps the most controversial decision in college football history: He chose to sit on the ball, run out the clock, and preserve the tie. He was villified for his perceived cowardice. Sports Illustrated’s Dan Jenkins wrote that Ara had chosen to “Tie one for the Gipper,” and Parseghian spent the following four decades defending his decision, his argument buoyed largely by the fact that Notre Dame finished No. 1 in the polls at the end of the season.