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The NFF MacArthur Bowl’s proudest moment

PHOTO: Michigan State’s Duffy Daugherty (L) and Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian share the MacArthur Bowl as co-national champions.

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By TOM SHANAHAN

Georgia won its second straight football national title a week ago today, beating TCU. A day later the Bulldogs were officially awarded the MacArthur Bowl, the National Football Foundation trophy annually presented to the national title team.

You might be thinking, of course. Who else gets the trophy?

Well, most college football fans take for granted the MacArthur Bowl naming its national champion. But anyone from Michigan State should appreciate its proud history.

In the era while polls deciding national titles by votes, the NFF sometimes departed from the other three organizations – Associated Press (writers), United Press International (coaches) and Football Writers Association – sanctioned ed by the NCAA to award a national title.

The NFF’s independence was never more significant than 1966, the year of the Game of the Century matching No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State. They finished with identical 9-0-1 record and played to a 10-10 tie on the field in a quasi-national championship game on November 19, 1966. Neither team played in a bowl game since Notre Dame didn’t accept bids until 1969 and Michigan State, the 1965 Big Ten champion in the Rose Bowl, was kept home by the Big Ten’s no-repeat rule.

The AP, UPI and the FWAA voted Notre Dame national champion, but the NFF, recognizing the dual deadlocks head-to-head and the season records, named the Irish and Spartans co-national champions. The NFF also named Michigan State its national champion in 1965 along with UPI and the FWAA naming the Spartans and Alabama cl-champions.

Vincent DePaul Draddy, the NFF’s chairman of the MacArthur Bowl, explained the NFFl’s co-title decision with a quote in the New York Times: “The reasons are very obvious why we divided the award. It seemed like the only fair thing to do with two excellent teams like Notre Dame and Michigan State.”

The MacArthur Bowl was started in 1959. It was the brainstorm of a college football troika: famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and and Army West Point College Football Hall of Fame coach Red Blaik.

General Douglas MacArthur speaking at the 1959 National Football Foundation dinner. He was presented with the NFF’s Gold Medal the same year of the inaugural MacArthur Bowl presentation to Syracuse. Ernie Davis was a sophomore in 1959 on his way to becoming the first Black winner of the Heisman Trophy as a senior in 1961.

Rice was the heart of college football as a New York sportswriter with a national column in hundreds of newspapers. He wrote the hallowed lines that immortally nicknamed Notre Dame’s backfield, “The Four Horsemen.” He dubbed Hawaii’s Tommy Kalakukukui “The Grass Shack” after he returned a kickoff 103 yards for a touchdown against UCLA in 1935 at the Los Angeles Coliseum. That attention from Rice was enough for Kaulukukui to earn honorable mention All-American honors. It was the first such distinction for a Hawaii football player 24 years before the U.S. Territory was granted statehood as our 50th state.

The 5-star general, a West Point graduate and West Point superintendent between World Wars I and II, loved college football. When Army won the 1944 Army-Navy Game, 23-7, MacArthur sent a telegram to Blaik from the World War II Pacific theater: “The greatest of all Army teams. We have stopped the war to celebrate your magnificent success.”

Blaik coached Army’s 1944 and 1945 national title teams with Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside winning back-to-back Heisman Trophy winners, Doc Blanchard (1945) and Glenn Davis (1946). When MacArthur returned from Korean War and lived at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, Blaik had a young assistant coach, Vince Lombardi, drive the game film into New York to have it developed. But before he returned home, he was to stop at the Waldorf-Astoria and review the film with MacArther.

Although Rice died before the inaugural 1959 award and MacArthur in 1964, the spirt of Rice and MacArthur lived on through the 1966 split title. Blaik died in 1989 at age 92.

The NFF co-title explains why Michigan State lists 1966 among its national championship seasons at Spartan Stadium on the face of the upper deck. It was a sight that took by surprise Notre Dame legend Terry Hanratty, the Irish’s quarterback in 1966, when his son Conor played for Notre Dame, and he attended a 2012 Notre Dame-Michigan State game at Spartan Stadium.

I explained to Terry he forgot about the NFF co-championship, although he understandably focuses on the AP, UPI and FWAA outright titles.

Nevertheless, Hanratty says of the two rosters, “I still say to this day those are two best teams to ever play each other. You look at the amount of talent that was on both sides of the field.”

There were seven first-round draft pick, with four from Michigan State among the first eight — No. 1 Bubba Smith, No. 2 Clinton Jones, No. 5 George Webster and No. 8 Gene Washington — and three from Notre Dame, No.12, Paul Seiler; No. 15, Alan Page; and No. 23, Tom Regner.

Three players finished in the Top 10 of Heisman voting: third, Notre Dame’s Nick Eddy; sixth, Jones; and eighth, Hanratty.

Among the three classes on the field (freshmen were eligible until 1972), the talent including the juniors taken in the 1968 draft and the sophomores selected in the 1969 draft totaled 10 first-round picks, 42 overall draft picks, 33 pro players and 25 All-Americans.

There were only two other years the NFF stood alone, naming its national champion: Ohio State, in 1970, and Notre Dame, in 1964.

— In 1970, Ohio State (9-1) as NFF’s co-champion with Texas. Ohio State was 9-1 with its only loss in the Rose Bowl to No. 12 Stanford. Texas (10-1) was unbeaten with its only loss in the Cotton Bowl to No. 6 Notre Dame. Texas claimed the FWAA title outright and Nebraska (11-0-1) the outright UPI and FWAA crowns. Nebraska was tied by USC in the second week of the season, but the Cornhuskers won the Orange Bowl against LSU.

— In 1964, Notre Dame (9-1) was the NFF outright champion, while Alabama (10-1) won the AP and UPI polls and Arkansas (11-0) the FWAA title.

One year the NFF got it wrong, though, was 1978. USC (11-1) beat Alabama (11-1) head-to-head when the teams played the second week of the season at Legion Field in Birmingham. USC’s loss was when the Trojans were victims of a Arizona State and a crowd rabid over the school’s first year in the Pac-10 on a Saturday night at Sun Devil Stadium. The AP, FWAA and NFF voted Alabama the champion, while UPI got the head-to-head right with USC its national champ.

Throughout the poll era history, there is a pattern of folk-hero favoritism accorded Alabama coach Bear Bryant, especially among the southern voters.

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