Commentary

Ties sparked controversy, debate

Originally Published: June 28, 2010
By Ivan Maisel | ESPN.com

Warning: The statement that follows may be considered the work of an infidel. It may drive the American sports fan to declare a fatwa. It's so old-school it should be delivered by Western Union.

The World Cup, the most passionate sporting event on the globe, has reminded us all of the value of ties. More than one in four of the first-round games finished in a draw. Yet the World Cup thrives. Two of the three U.S. games in the group stage ended in a tie, and both of them already have been pressed into the scrapbooks of American soccer fans.

No, I'm not advocating the repeal of overtime, even if the format used by college football is too clever by half. If, as coaches are wont to preach, special teams are fully one-third of the game, as important as offense and defense, then why are they relegated to the bench in the 61st minute?

[+] EnlargeBo Schembechler and Woody Hayes
AP PhotoThe 10-10 Michigan-Ohio State tie in 1973 sparked controversy and a change in Big Ten bowl policy.

College football euthanized the tie in the 1995 postseason, the inaugural year of the Bowl Alliance. The championship game resembled the panda exhibit at the National Zoo: When No. 1 and No. 2 got together, no one wanted to face the possibility that they might not produce the champion offspring that prompted the date in the first place.

Once the NCAA committee in charge of bowls made that decision, the NCAA Football Rules Committee followed suit for the 1996 regular season. The tie disappeared as if autumn Saturdays had turned into Casual Fridays.

The tie is gone, and no one is advocating for its return. But it shouldn't be dismissed as college football's version of polio, a pox eradicated by crusading officials who saved the game. Ties brought a different kind of strategy to the field. Ties brought controversy. They may have ended games, but they started debates that endure to this day.

You want to get an argument restarted? Wander over to a tailgate outside Notre Dame Stadium and criticize Ara Parseghian for the 10-10 tie with Michigan State that secured the Irish the 1966 national championship. Or ask a Syracuse fan how he feels about Auburn coach Pat Dye's decision to kick the field goal that tied the Orange 16-16 with :04 to play in the 1988 Sugar Bowl.

Those debates may be vibrant, but they also are old. That well has dried up. Before the details of those ties are lost, their significance relegated to history, here's a look at the 10 biggest ties in the history of the game.

1. No. 1 Notre Dame 10, No. 2 Michigan State 10, 1966: With the national championship on the line, the Irish accepted the outcome, choosing to run out the clock instead of attempting to score in the final two minutes. Notre Dame won the national championship, all right, but certain precincts around East Lansing and Tuscaloosa consider it tainted.

2. No. 2 Notre Dame 0, No. 1 Army 0, 1946: Historians of the postwar era consider it the greatest game ever played. They may be right. The tie snapped a 25-game winning streak by Army, which ultimately swapped places in the AP poll with the Irish and lost the national championship. Notre Dame didn't suffer another blemish on the football field until the last game of the 1948 season.

3. No. 1 Ohio State 10, No. 4 Michigan 10, 1973: Four days before his death in 2006, former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler still fumed about the aftermath of this game. Despite the "upset," the Big Ten voted to send the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl. Schembechler raised such a stink that the league voted to allow more than one team to play in a bowl game, the first step down the road to the 35 bowls we have today.

[+] EnlargePat Dye
AP Photo/Bill HaberPat Dye's 1988 Sugar Bowl decision netted the Auburn coach some new neckwear.

4. No. 3 Army 21, Navy 21, 1948: Given that the Black Knights were 8-0 and the Midshipmen 0-8, this may be the greatest upset in the history of the sport. Army had been slowed by food poisoning that felled 42 players at the Thanksgiving meal two days before the game. Navy historians don't care for that fact at all.

5. No. 4 Syracuse 16, No. 6 Auburn 16, 1988 Sugar Bowl: The Orange went into the game 11-0 with little chance of winning the national championship. Dye's decision to kick the field goal led enraged Syracuse fans to send thousands of old neckties to the Auburn athletic department. The university auctioned the ties to Auburn fans, who were only too willing to defend their team's honor.

6. No. 1 USC 21, Stanford 21, 1979: The Trojans featured Heisman winner Charles White, future Heisman winner Marcus Allen, future College Football Hall of Famers Brad Budde and Ronnie Lott, and six other All-Pac-10 players. The Cardinal had lost to Tulane and Army and would finish 5-5-1. USC led 21-0 at the half and checked out mentally. Stanford came back with three touchdowns. With :03 to play, current Tennessee Titans head coach Jeff Fisher, a Trojans defensive back and the holder, bobbled the snap on a game-winning field goal.

7. No. 1 Texas 15, No. 3 Oklahoma 15, 1984: Played in a driving rainstorm that made the day game look as if it were being played at night, the Longhorns survived to tie it thanks to a bad call. Officials ruled that Sooners defensive back Keith Stanberry had not intercepted a tipped pass in the Oklahoma end zone. TV replays disagreed. Texas' Jeff Ward kicked a 32-yard field goal on the next play.

[+] EnlargeUF/FSU
Getty ImagesA 28-point rally to tie Florida sparked a Florida State celebration in '94.

8. No. 7 Florida State 31, No. 4 Florida 31, 1994: The visiting Gators led 31-3 in the third quarter, which is why Seminoles fans gleefully refer to this game as the "Choke at Doak." Florida State coach Bobby Bowden couldn't stomach the thought of coming back from so far down only to lose by a point. He played for the tie and got the opportunity to win when the teams agreed to a rematch in the Sugar Bowl. The Seminoles won that one 23-17.

9. Harvard 29, Yale 29, 1968: These archrivals came into the game with 8-0 records. The Bulldogs dominated the game for nearly 59 minutes, only to allow two touchdowns and two two-point conversions in the waning seconds. The legendary headline in the Harvard Crimson, "Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29," guaranteed the game would be remembered. As the 2008 documentary that used that headline for a title proved, the men who played the game replay it in their minds to this day.

10. No. 1 Notre Dame 14, No. 20 Iowa 14, 1953: The Hawkeyes dominated this game, yet the Irish scored the tying touchdown in the waning seconds. Notre Dame had those waning seconds because a few Irish players feigned injury to stop the clock. The tactic earned national scorn for the team and coach Frank Leahy, so much so that the NCAA Football Rules Committee felt no need to change the rules to outlaw the practice. Leahy retired after the season.

Ivan Maisel is a senior writer for ESPN.com and hosts the ESPNU College Football podcast. Send your questions and comments to him at Ivan.Maisel@ESPN.com.

Ivan Maisel | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com