In Praise of Kissing Your Sister
Why I love tie games.
The Spartans took a 10-7 halftime lead on a touchdown by fullback Regis Cavender and a field goal by barefoot kicker Dick Kenney. Notre Dame tied the game with a fourth-quarter field goal. With 1:10 left, the Fighting Irish had the ball on its own 30-yard line. A team with less to lose would have mounted a touchdown drive. Instead, coach Ara Parseghian decided to run out the clock, unwilling to risk a turnover that would give Michigan State a chance to win.
After 60 minutes—the natural life of a football game—the two best teams in the country had achieved perfect equilibrium. It was the most significant tie in sports history. Not only did it fail to resolve the game, it failed to resolve the national championship. Both the Spartans and the Fighting Irish were awarded that year's MacArthur Trophy. (Notre Dame preserved its top ranking in the UPI poll.) Sports Illustrated put the game on the cover with the tag line "Furor Over No. 1." Inside, Dan Jenkins wrote that Parseghian had disgraced the legacy of Knute Rockne by changing the school's fight song to "Notre Dame will tie over all."
Parseghian didn't see it that way. At least that's what he told his players. "We didn't win, but, by God, we did not lose," he said in the locker room afterward, according to Notre Dame's Rocky Bleier. "They're crying about a tie, trying to detract from your efforts. They're trying to make it come out a win. Well, don't you believe it. Their season is over. They can't go anywhere. It's all over and we're still Number One."
Outside the military, there is no more black-and-white world than football. It's the game that gave us "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing." If that's true, then a tie means no one gets nothing, but no one gets anything, either. Was the tie eliminated to spare players and coaches from pondering this Zen koan?
Like the Harvard-Yale game, the Tie of the Century never ended, either. It inspired a book, andRocky Bleier and Michigan State's Bubba Smith got together for a TV special on The Tie. Forty years later, Parseghian was still defending his strategy, and the two schools played their annual game in throwback jerseys, commemorating 1966 in a way that would have been impossible had either school won.
Obviously, not all ties are memorable. No one deserved to win that Eagles-Bengals thing. (Which is why it's so nice that no one did.) But it's a shame that the Harvard-Yale and the Michigan State-Notre Dame ties couldn't happen today. Tommy Lee Jones' Harvard roommate Al Gore, you might recall, was once involved in a close competition that required a winner. "You know you win some, you lose some," he said about the outcome. "And then there's that little-known third category." Just more proof that wins and losses are forgotten, but a tie is argued about forever.