What goes around comes around. Everyone knows that, right?
Well, Notre Dame got what it deserved when Alabama totally beat down the undefeated Irish in the BCS National Championship Game on Monday night. The 42-14 slaughter of the only undefeated team left in college football settled an old score that had festered in the hearts and minds of many Alabama football fans since 1966.
Flashing back to ’66, when I was just 11 years old, Notre Dame and Michigan State played what was billed as the “Game of the Century.” It might have been the first Game of the Century (I think we have two of three a year now, according to ESPN). I know it was the first in my young life.
Both teams were undefeated and untied with 9-0 records. Notre Dame, coached by the legendary Ara Parseghian, was ranked No. 1, and Michigan State, coached by Duffy Daugherty, was ranked No. 2. Looming back in the shadows was Alabama, which had won the two previous National Championships, ranked at No. 3.
I was born and reared in Alabama, but I was an Auburn fan. My Daddy graduated from Auburn in 1948 on the GI Bill after helping free the world of the Nazis in the great WWII. After graduating, he and his buddies enjoyed going to all the Auburn football games, and after I turned about six years old, he let me tag along with them to the games. I developed a love for Auburn in the early ’60s and graduated from Auburn exactly 30 years after my Dad, in 1978. My younger brother Tom, the greatest of all the Haslam family athletes, also graduated from Auburn. We were an Auburn family back then and we still are today.
It was tough being an Auburn fan back then. We weren’t winning very much like we did in the mid-to-late ’50s and the University of Alabama (cross-state and arch rival, a sworn enemy for any Auburn man) was in one of its glory periods (kind of like the 2012 season). Coach Paul “Bear” Bryant was running the Crimson Tide back then (he was bigger than life and ranked only second to God almighty in the state of Alabama) and generally whipping any and every football team that got in the way. Auburn wasn’t very good in the mid ’60s, so my love for Auburn made it easy to root for two teams; Auburn and whoever was playing against Alabama. In 1966, Auburn had no chance to beat Alabama (they beat us 31-0), so I had to cheer for either Notre Dame or Michigan State to win that Game of the Century. A win by either team would keep Alabama from winning another National Championship.
I chose Michigan State because it had these two All-America monsters on defense; end Bubba Smith and roverback (which is a hybrid defensive back/linebacker) George Webster. I liked defense back then. I still do. I played linebacker myself until one day in the 10th grade, while lying under a heavy pile of players, I discovered I had a body better suited for basketball or baseball.
I didn’t really pull for Notre Dame much because they won too often, kind of like Alabama, so pulling for State was an easy choice. I always thought Notre Dame played a cupcake schedule anyway (wow, not much different from the 2012 season). Notre Dame to me was a lot like the New York Yankees, baseball’s greatest team. It always won. It is too easy to pull for the big winners. I always fancied myself siding with the underdog.
Well, as it turned out, the big game turned into the “Big Bust” when Notre Dame decided to run out the clock at the end of the game to settle for a 10-10 tie. I was always taught by my Daddy, and all my coaches, that you always tried to win. It was that way in games and that way in life. When Coach Parseghian decided to settle for the tie, I turned into a Notre Dame hater. I couldn’t figure out how any coach could play for a tie, especially with the National Championship on the line? Alabama was sitting at No. 3 in the polls and they were still undefeated. Now, I thought, Alabama would jump to the top spot and win its third straight title. I was an Alabama hater too (remember Auburn fan, graduate, sworn enemy and such). I didn’t think I could endure another year with Alabama winning the championship. They had just won two straight championships in 1964 and 1965. This would be three years in a row. That meant Alabama would be No. 1 for approximately 25% of my young life. I didn’t think I could suffer through this. It was bad enough seeing scores of the last three AUBURN-alabama games hand-painted on garage walls, garbage cans and car hoods all over the state.
Even Sports Illustrated’s legendary sports writer Dan Jenkins (and one of my sports writing heroes by the way) led off his article on the game saying Parseghian chose to “Tie one for the Gipper.”
Then, the miracle happened. It was almost as big as the Immaculate Conception (or was it the Immaculate Reception?): the polls still voted Notre Dame No. 1. That was my first introduction into the politics of sports. Back then, Notre dame didn’t participate in the post-season bowl games, so its season was finished at 9-0-1. Although Alabama went on to finish 11-0 with a victory over a one-loss team in the Orange Bowl, the Crimson Tide couldn’t jump the Irish in the poll. It was wonderful if you didn’t like Alabama, gut-wrenching if you were a ’Bama fan. It was so bad for Alabama that writer Keith Dunnavant (who used to work with me as a cub reporter at the Decatur (Alabama) Daily newspaper back in the early ’80s) wrote a book about it: The Missing Ring.
As I watched Alabama run through Notre Dame last Monday night, I couldn’t help but think about ole Ara Parseghian playing for a tie way back in 1966.
So Notre Dame fans, stop gnashing your teeth on rocks (it only messes up a good smile and the clicking sound is driving us crazy down here south of the Mason-Dixon line) and looking for someone to blame for the embarrassment in the title game. Don’t blame Fighting Irish Coach Brian Kelly, the players or a soft schedule. Don’t even blame Alabama’s Nick Saban (is he a Bear Bryant clone or something?), Eddie Lacy or A.J. McCarron (ever notice how those Alabama players have two first names, like Billy Bob, or Bobby Joe, or Joe Willie? What’s up with that?).
If you are looking to blame someone, look back to 1966 and blame ole Ara Parseghian. Remember, what goes around, always comes around.
Causes John Haslam Supports
I support the Constitution of the United States of America.
I support St. Jude's Hospital.
I believe in GOD.