You are currently viewing North Carolina returns to scene of handing Notre Dame the 1966 national title: Here is how season unfolded against Michigan State as Alabama cried reverse racism

North Carolina returns to scene of handing Notre Dame the 1966 national title: Here is how season unfolded against Michigan State as Alabama cried reverse racism

PHOTO: Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian and quarterback Terry Hanratty

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North Carolina travels to Notre Dame on Saturday, making this a good time to revisit college football’s controversial 1966 season. North Carolina also played to Notre Dame in 1966, and the result tipped the national title to the Irish.

In the final polls, Notre Dame (9-0-1), Michigan State (9-0-1) and Alabama (11-0-0) were voted 1-2-3 by the AP (writers), UPI (coaches, now USA Today) and Football Writers Association of America polls. The National Football Foundation named Notre Dame and Michigan State co-champions.

But entering the Saturday games of Oct. 15, 1966, the rankings were No. 1 Michigan State, 4-0; No. 2 Notre Dame, 3-0; and No. 3 Alabama, 3-0.

Notre Dame routed North Carolina 32-0, Michigan State needed a comeback to beat Ohio State 11-8 in a torrential rain storm at Ohio Stadium and Alabama escaped with an 11-10 win in rain storm at Tennessee.

The poll voters, going by scores rather than taking into consideration the weather and North Carolina’s inferior roster (the Tar Heels finished 2-8), flip-flopped Notre Dame to No. 1 over Michigan State at No. 2. Alabama was No. 3.

Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty, a defending national champion by the UPI, NFF and co-champion by FWAA with Alabama (AP and co-FWAA), said he thought the objective was to win.

The three unbeaten schools remained 1-2-3 the remainder of the season

Most college football fans think the Notre Dame and Michigan State playing to a 10-10 in the controversial Game of the Century on Nov. 19, 1966 at Spartan Stadium decided the national title when the Irish remained No. 1. But it all circles back to the Notre Dame routing North Carolina.

The sequence of events should (but won’t) educate Alabama fans who to this day make the ludicrous claim No. 3 Alabama was denied a national title over reverse racism. They claim sportswriters in the AP poll and coaches in the UPI poll (now USA Today) voted against Alabama winning a third straight national title as a resort segregation.

What happened between Michigan State and Notre Dame in the polls is a matter for debate. But what Alabama claims is revisionist history that needs to be called out.

Alabama coach Bear Bryant was so consumed by the reverse racism claim, he had an African-American stand next to him in a red jacket so TV would see a Black face when it went to shots of the coach. Bryant never apparently thought a better idea was to recruit a Black athlete.

Alabama’s all-white program played against the backdrop white terrorists resisting integration, bombing Black homes and churches. The KKK killed “Four Little Girls” at the 16th Baptist St. Church on Sept. 15, 1963 in Birmingham. That was after Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor on May 3 turned turned police attack dogs and firehoses on peaceful Civil Rights demonstrators.

Alabama fans conveniently forget the 1963 events didn’t deny Alabama split national titles in both 1964 and 1965.

In 1964, Alabama won the AP and UPI titles with a 10-1-0 record, while the Football Writers Association of American named Arkansas (11-0-0) and the National Football Foundation Notre Dame (9-0-1).

In 1965, Alabama (9-1-1) won the AP title and was co-national champion by the FWAA with Michigan State (10-1-0). The Spartans were UPI and NFF champions along with the co-FWAA.

Here were the sequence of 1966 weekly votes:

— The preseason AP rankings for 1966 were No. 1 Alabama with 15 first-place votes and No. 2 Michigan State with 12 first-place votes. They were followed by No. 3 Nebraska, No. 4 UCLA, No. 5 Arkansas and No. 6 Notre Dame.

— Michigan State opened the season Sept. 17 with a 28-10 win over N.C. State, while Alabama and Notre Dame were off until opening their season the following week. In the Sept. 19 poll, Michigan State moved to No. 1 and UCLA to No. 2 (the Bruins routed Pitt, 54-17). Idle Alabama dropped to No. 3 and idle Notre Dame to No. 8.

— In the Sept. 26 poll after the Sept. 24 games, Michigan State, UCLA and Alabma were 1-2-3 while Notre Dame beat No. 8 Purdue to jump from No. 8 to No. 4.

— In the Oct. 3 poll after the Oct. 1 games, Notre Dame moved from No. 4 to No. 3 with 35-7 win over Northwestern, while Alabama dropped from 3 to 4 following a 17-7 win over Mississippi.

The rankings were now, in order, Michigan State, UCLA, Notre Dame and Alabama.

— After the Oct. 10 poll after Oct. 8 games, all four teams won, but UCLA’s 27-24 escape over Rice dropped the Bruins behind No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Notre Dame and No. 3 Alabama.

— Then came the Oct. 15 results and the Oct. 17 poll of Notre Dame jumping Michigan State to No. 1, the Spartans No. 2 and Alabama remaining No. 3. They remained in the positions.

Although Michigan State won the 1965 titles by UPI, NFF and co-FWAA titles to Alabama’s AP and co-FWAA, Alabama was the preseason No. 1. However, the Crimson Tide were penalized for a soft schedule.

Alabama routed Louisiana Tech in the opener, 34-0. Although schools referred to these days as Power 5 routinely play FCS members, it was rare in the 1960s. Michigan State’s 1966 non-conference games were N.C. State, Penn State and Notre Dame. All 10 of Notre Dame’s 1966 games were against major schools.

The combined record of Alabama’s 10 opponents in 1966 was 51-61-1, a .460 percentage.

Notre Dame’s 10 opponents in University Division (now called the Football Bowl Subdivision) were a combined 54-46-2 (.530). Michigan State’s 10 University foes were 48-49-2 (.490).

Notre Dame and Michigan State were unbeaten in the Game of the Century, although they had flip-flopped their 1-2 rankings when they met. Michigan State was penalized for an 11-8 win in a torrential rainstorm at Ohio State the same weekend Notre Dame routed North Carolina, 32-0.

The Spartans and Irish played to a 10-10 tie as their seasons ended with 9-0-1 records. Notre Dame’s declined bowls by custom until 1969. Michigan State had played in the Rose Bowl the previous year and was thus ineligible. The Big Ten had a no-repeat rule and exclusive Rose Bowl contract.

In the final polls, Notre Dame and Michigan State remained 1-2 in three of the four polls sanctioned by the NCAA: Associated Press (AP), United Press International (UPI) and Football Writers Association of American (FWAA). The fourth, the National Football Foundation (NFF), named the Irish and Spartans co-champions.

The No. 3 ranking for Alabama prompted Bryant and his fans to cry reverse racism — then and to this day. Dunnavant has been trotted out with a megaphone in HBO’s film;” Showtime in 2013, “Against the Tide;” and ESPN in a 2019 film, “Integration,” that was produced for ESPN by the Herzog Co. in Los Angeles for the 150th anniversary of the college football.

In the Showtime film, Dunnavant says, “In 1966, Alabama was the only undefeated, untied team in the country and yet they finished a controversial third. It’s the only time in college football history the two-time defending national champion has gone perfect and not been awarded the national title.”

Dunnavant’s claim making the film’s final cut was an example of cavalier editing. The “two-time” claim has been overstated. Alabama split its 1964 and 1965 titles. Here were the champions named by of the four NCAA-sanctioned organizations in the era of poll voting over the three-year stretch, 1964, 1965 and 1966 titles:

— 1964: Alabama (10-1-0) won the AP and UPI titles. Arkansas (11-0-0), another all-white team, claimed the FWAA title and Notre Dame (9-1-0) the NFF crown.

— 1965: Michigan State (10-1-0) claimed the UPI and NFF championships outright and shared the FWAA with Alabama. The Crimson Tide’s lone outright title was AP.

— 1966: Notre Dame (9-0-1) won the AP, UPI, FWAA and shared an NFF co-title with Michigan State (9-0-1).

A simple formula can be used to rank the title teams: one point for each organization title equaling a total of 12. Notre Dame finished with 4.5 points, Alabama 3.5, Michigan State 3.0 and Arkansas 1.0.

When the combined records represented by each school’s two championship seasons in the three-year span were added together, the win-loss totals and percentages:

— Michigan State: 10-1-0 plus 9-0-1 = 19-1-1, 90.4 percent.

— Notre Dame: 9-1-0 plus 9-0-1 = 18-1-1, 90.0 percent.

— Alabama: 10-1-0 plus 9-1-1 = 19-2-1, 86.3 percent.

Alabama wasn’t the clear-cut “two-time” champions that Bryant’s apologists have successfully promulgated. And don’t try and tell Oklahoma’s Barry Switzer, a College Football Hall of Fame coach who was an Arkansas assistant in 1964, the Razorbacks weren’t the best team in the nation.

But the misleading “two-time champion” narrative spread through an age-old media flaw. Bryant’s apologists captured the narrative. Media members too often follow each other without doing their own homework. CBS football analyst Charles Davis fell victim when he echoed Dunnavant in a 2019 ESPN film.

“Even with the tie, Notre Dame and Michigan State both finished ahead of undefeated Alabama in the final rankings,” Davis said. “Alabama had been No. 1 the last two years, in 1964 and 1965.”

Did Davis know those Alabama’s titles were both split?

Did he understand voters penalized Alabama for its soft schedule?

Did he know Alabama’s All-American offensive tackle was 6-foot-1, 202-pound Cecil Dowdy? Who was going to block two Michigan State All-American defensive players, Bubba Smith (6-7, 285) and George Webster (6-5, 230), or Notre Dame’s All-American defenders, Alan Page (6-4, 245) and Jim Lynch (6-1, 235)?

“I was a 218-pounder, and I didn’t want to block Bubba,” said Jerry West, Michigan State’s All-American offensive tackle. “Alabama’s 202-pounders wouldn’t have wanted to block him, either. Bubba, you had to go low to block; you couldn’t keep up with him strength-wise. George was impossible to block. You just hoped you could hit him.”

Alabama’s three-man defensive line was smaller than Michigan State’s offensive backfield. The Crimson Tide’s linemen: Johnny Sullivan (6-0, 191), Louis Thompson (6-2, 213) and Richard Cole (6-2, 204). The Spartans’ backs: Clinton Jones (6-0, 206), Bob Apisa (6-0, 214) and Dwight Lee (6-2, 202).

Those measurements likely gained Bryant’s attention if he was asked to schedule Michigan State.

Additionally, Davis almost certainly doesn’t understand Daugherty’s legacy leading college football integration. In a 2019 ESPN film Davis makes this egregiously unfounded statement:

“For Duffy Daugherty, it wasn’t just about being progressive and being Abraham Lincoln. Duffy was about winning football games.”

And here’s another way Alabama apologists fail to understand the truth has been shaded by the campaign to protect Bryant from his record of dragging his feet.

In the 1964 season, Alabama finished the regular season ranked No. 1 by the AP and UPI polls, but the Crimson Tide lost to No. 5 Texas in the Orange Bowl. However, bowl games were traditionally treated as rewards and national champions were crowned by votes at the end of the regular season.

If there had been a post-season vote in 1964, Alabama (10-1-0) likely would have been knocked from its No. 1 perch in AP and UPI and replaced by either No. 2 Arkansas (11-0-0), which defeated Nebraska in the Cotton Bowl, or Notre Dame (9-1-0).

In 1965, the AP experimented one year with post-bowl vote that delivered Alabama a split title. Otherwise, it finished No. 4 in the regular season.

The regular season ended with No. 1 Michigan State, No. 2 Arkansas, No. 3 Nebraska and No. 4 Alabama. But in the bowl games, Michigan State lost to No. 5 UCLA in the Rose Bowl; Arkansas lost to unranked LSU in the Sugar Bowl; and Nebraska lost to Alabama in the Orange Bowl. With Michigan State, Arkansas and Nebraska losing, Alabama jumped to No. 1.

Michigan State sweeps the AP, UPI, FWAA and NFF titles without the post-season bowl vote.

It’s hypocritical of Bryant’s apologists to claim the 1964 national title without mentioning its bowl game loss and then turn around and own the 1965 crown as a result of Michigan State’s bowl loss.

Dunnvant’s claim Alabama was the team of the decade also has holes in it. He based it on Alabama winning three national titles, but Alabama’s 1961 crown was split with Ohio State. The only schools winning undisputed 1960s national title were USC and Texas. And they both did it twice — the Trojans (1962, 1967) and Longhorns (1963, 1969.

History shows Notre Dame won its national title with a 32-0 win over North Carolina, although Alabama media and historians have used revisionist history to make flawed claims the Crimson Tide were victims of reverse racism.

Many fan bases have come up with crazy conspiracy theories, but it’s hard to top Alabama’s 1966 cries of reverse racism.


I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055





NOTE: Why is a story examining Bear Bryant’s poor integration record important all these years later?

Put simply, celebrating Bear Bryant mythology became a cottage industry at the expense of the true 1960s pioneers. They have been reduced to footnotes, disposed of their place in history. Books and films profit off the 1970 USC-Alabama game myth, spreading fictional roles Bryant played to embellish the significance.

The true 1960s pioneers were 1) Michigan State coach Duffy Daugherty and his players that were college football’s first fully integrated rosters; 2) the network of southern Black high school coaches that sent Daugherty players during segregation because they trusted him; and 3) the first Black players at southern schools such as College Football Hall of Famer Jerry LeVias at SMU (1966-68). Michigan State was envied as a welcoming environment, but LeVias and trailblazing southerners endured abuse in the late 1960s while clearing a road to make the 1970 USC-Alabama game possible.

It has been my experience, through freelance pitches, major media platforms fear challenging the established legend of Bear Bryant. Editors are content – even one that told me Bear Bryant gets too much credit — with revisionist history that has gilded Bryant’s image and aggrandized USC’s role, no matter the gaping holes in the tale. Acknowledging the Bryant mythology has holes in it also requires they’ve been duped for 30-plus years.


My video with Ken Burns on Michigan State football history

My video correcting ESPN on Duffy Daugherty’s legacy

My guest spot on “The Drive with Jack Ebling” disputing 1970 USC-Alabama myths


I’ve have researched college football integration since 2012 when I began to work on this book published in 2014:

“Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans and the integration of college football” Foreword by Tony Dungy.

I will put my research on Michigan State’s leading role and the 1970 USC-Alabama game’s myths and fiction up against anybody, anytime, anywhere.


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