The 1966 Notre Dame vs. Michigan State game was the first “Game of the Century.”
When I was young enough to discover this thing called college football, I kept hearing about “Game of the Century” for a full week in the fall of 1966. There have been only two subsequent centuries but the hype would be similar for 20 or 30 games after that one.
In my mostly Irish Catholic Northeast Philadelphia neighborhood, the talk of the sports world that time was the game between Michigan State and Notre Dame.
Nobody was rooting for Michigan State.
To me, as a kid, I never understood what the big deal was. I always rooted or the local teams, the Phillies, the Eagles, the Sixers.
“Is Notre Dame local? I can’t get into it.”
Others, though, did partly because I guess they thought rooting for the Irish would get them the necessary plenary indulgences to get through the back door of Heaven.
It was about that time I started watching Temple football every Saturday night on Channel 17, the UHF station. Al Meltzer handled the play-by-play and Charlie Swift the color. I started getting into it. This was MY college football team from MY hometown.
Football played a big part of my decision on where to attend college. The fact that my favorite college football team also had a journalism school attached to it did not hurt, either.
Little did I know the team representing that school would ever play a team that was involved in the college game of the last century, but that’s where were in 2013, 2015 and a couple of afternoons from today.
The residue of that first game of the century are still around today in Philadelphia, where Notre Dame claims a much larger fan base than even Penn State and Temple.
Hard to believe Harry (Donahue), but Notre Dame has a large “subway alumni” fan base in Philadelphia. They helped fill Lincoln Financial Field in 2015 and were mostly gracious to the Temple fans around them.
When Will Fuller, a four-star wide receiver from one mile down the street from Temple (Roman Catholic High), beat a walk-on named Will Hayes for the game-winning score, a steady line of these fans shook my hand walking out the stadium and told me things like, “congratulations, your team played a great game.” For someone who probably puts too much emphasis on winning, it was only mildly consoling.
I’m like Vince Lombardi. Winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.
In bars and taverns all over Philadelphia, there will green-glad Irish fans who are expecting the winning thing to happen as a normal course of events. You could probably walk out of Two Logan Square, where Temple is having its official Watch Party, and duck into every Center City bar within a four-block radius and see it packed with Golden Domers. (Heck, at The Temple Bar in Dublin, Ireland, the kickoff will be at 8:30 p.m. and no one will be rooting for Temple.)
It would be nice to crash one of those parties late in the fourth quarter on Saturday.
Temple finally shook off 74 years of frustration a couple of years ago in beating Penn State. Oddly enough, to me, the greatest satisfaction was not seeing the final seconds tick off but the entire fourth quarter watching a steady stream of glum Penn State fans exit the stadium because that game was over some time in the third quarter.
Those Penn State fans entered the stadium around 3:30 that afternoon thinking a win was in the normal course of human events. Notre Dame fans walking into taverns all over Philly on Saturday probably have adopted the same mindset. Few things would be more satisfying than to see similar assumptions disabused by the real hometown team this Saturday.
Catching those green-painted faces file out of those parties in my hometown with sullen looks would be just as satisfying. It might not be The Game of the Century, but it would be close enough.
Friday: Spaghetti Western
Sunday: Lessons Learned