The game was marked by all of the brutality that you somehow knew it would be when such gladiators were to be present as Michigan State's 6-foot-7, 285-pound Bubba Smith, "the intercontinental ballistic Bubba," a creature whose defensive-end play had long ago encouraged Spartan coeds to wear buttons that said KILL, BUBBA, KILL.
Bubba killed, all right. He killed Notre Dame Quarterback Terry Hanratty early in the first quarter. When Hanratty, a sensational sophomore for eight games, slid off right tackle on a keeper, Bubba Smith whomped him in the left shoulder and separated it. He caught him just right, as they were falling. It looked as if Hanratty had been smacked by a giant swinging green door.
"That didn't help us any," Bubba said later. "It just let them put in that O'Brien who's slippery and faster and gave us more trouble. The other guy just sits there and waits, and that's what we wanted."
That is what Ara Parseghian wanted, too. Hanratty may sit and wait, but he also throws deep better than O'Brien, though Coley O'Brien threw well enough to get the tie. Ara not only would have liked to have had Hanratty but Halfback Nick Eddy and Center George Goeddeke as well. Like Hanratty, Goeddeke was valuable, one of Notre Dame's more accomplished blockers. He went out with a first-quarter ankle injury, also courtesy of Bubba. But Eddy, the best Irish ballcarrier, never even got into the game. The Grand Trunk got Eddy.
The Grand Trunk is not another name for Bubba Smith. It is the railroad train that Notre Dame rode from South Bend to East Lansing on Friday. When the train arrived, Eddy fell off the steps right onto an already injured shoulder, and sophomore Bob Gladieux was quietly told that he would start the biggest game of the 1966 season at left half.
As Notre Dame lives with the tie in the weeks and months ahead, it will never forget these injuries and the alibis they strongly suggest. But the Irish do not exactly substitute with girls from Sweet Briar, and Coley O'Brien and Bob Gladieux—the new Baby Bombers, somebody said—did marvelously well. "Considering everything, I thought they played super," said Parseghian. O'Brien, who must receive two insulin shots a day for diabetes, hit Gladieux with a 34-yard pass on a deep pattern straight to the goalpost. The ball barely cleared a defender's fingertips but brought Notre Dame's touchdown in the second quarter. The score narrowed the Irish deficit to 10-7 at half time.
The combination of Eddy's injury and the pressure of the game made Notre Dame an extraordinarily grim-looking group upon arrival in East Lansing. Usually loose and smiling, the Irish checked into the Jack Tar Hotel beneath a marquee that said WELCOME TO THE BIG ONE, with frozen, dedicated expressions that for some indescribable reason did not spell confidence. End Jim Seymour, the startling pass catcher and outgoing personality of earlier Saturdays, was rigid, deeply concentrating. In the game itself Seymour was double covered so well all day that he was scarcely noticeable. He had one decent chance at a pass but dropped it.
The Irish should have been happy to leave South Bend, even on the Grand Trunk, after the week of attention they got. On Monday there were dozens of reporters and photographers on hand, the number swelling each day. It was the same for the Spartans, of course. Both Parseghian and Daugherty had to hold daily press conferences and play the game over and over ahead of time. They certainly thought the game was an honor and a privilege. Parseghian said it looked like a product of Hollywood since Notre Dame was 8-0 and No. 1 and Michigan State was 9-0 and No. 2. Daugherty said it was a shame that such games come along only every few years in college football; that there could be one every year if the NCAA would only hold a football playoff. They said they were simply going to remind their players that Saturday was going to be one of the greatest days in their lives.
The two teams were so talented and physically imposing, and had beaten their opponents so easily, that it was impossible to foretell how the game would go. It was anticipated that neither could run much but that both could strike in the air if their quarterbacks had a spare second to get the ball away. No one wanted a freak play to decide it; everyone wanted a clear winner. The last thing anyone thought about, especially the coaches, was a tie. No, that was the next to last thing. The last thing was all of the mistakes that occurred.
It seemed the two teams would never settle down and begin to look like Nos. 1 and 2 instead of Nos. 42 and 43. Of the four passes Terry Hanratty threw before he met Bubba Smith, three were atrociously off target, one a simple screen that went into the turf. The runners went nowhere, primarily because of Webster, Linebacker Charlie Thornhill, Guard Jeff Richardson and Bubba. And Notre Dame failed to get off a fourth-down punt because of a poor snapback. Michigan State countered with a fumble, a delay penalty, a clip and a penalty for interfering on a punt catch. It looked like the big intramural game at Columbia.