Greatest comeback Spartans fans never saw
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Greatest comeback Spartans fans never saw

Jimmy Raye rallied Michigan State at Ohio State to set up Game of Century

Photo: Jimmy Raye

The 1966 season is remembered for the Game of the Century with Notre Dame played as a quasi-national championship played on Nov. 19, 1966 before a record crowd of 80,031 at Spartan Stadium and unprecedented national television audience.

The teams played to a 10-10 and finished with identical 9-0-1 records. The National Football Foundation’s MacArthur Bowl was presented to both schools as national co-champions, although the AP and UPI (now USA Today) polls voted Notre Dame No. 1 and the Spartans No. 2 (which were their rankings before the game and final vote).

But without Jimmy Raye’s clutch performance on Oct. 15, 1966 at Ohio State, there would not have been a Game of the Century. With Michigan State trailing 8-3 in the fourth quarter, Raye directed in a heavy rain on a muddy field a game-winning 16-play, 84 yard touchdown drive with a two-point conversion.

It’s the greatest comeback Michigan State fans never saw -- the game wasn’t televised.

Raye will be inducted into the Michigan State Hall of Fame on Thursday and honored during the Central Michigan game on Saturday at Spartan Stadium along with four other members of the Class of 2018. His legacy is legacy as the South’s first black quarterback to win a national title and coaching career mentoring young black coaches such as Tony Dungy and Tyrone Willingham.

Below is an excerpt from Raye of Light's Chapter 16, Rose Thorns and Woody's Tantrum.


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The conditions were referred to as “monsoon-like” because the temperature was 72 degrees with 35 mph winds that blew heavy rain sideways.

The Spartans came from behind to beat the Buckeyes with a fourth-quarter drive for the ages. The victory should be better remembered in Michigan State lore as one of the Spartans’ finest hours in the two-year run of back-to-back unbeaten Big Ten titles. Perhaps if the game had been televised, the game would be accorded its proper place in history.

The narrow win preserved Michigan State’s feat of back-to-back unbeaten Big Ten titles that has not been matched.

The Spartans’ 1966 task at Ohio State included winning a game Ohio State coach Woody Hayes had circled on his calendar to avenge the Buckeyes’ 32-7 loss a year earlier. The night before the game, Hayes was believed to have ordered the field watered to slow down the bigger and quicker Spartans. The field was soaked by the time heavy rain fell for the afternoon kickoff.

Michigan State committed the first mistake in the sloppy conditions midway through the first quarter. The Spartans faced fourth-and-8 at its 31-yard line when Ron Ranieri – playing his first game of the year after a fall camp injury – snapped the ball out of the end zone to give Ohio State a 2-0 lead.

The Detroit Free Press story by Hal McCoy said of the snap, “In Tiger Stadium, Ranieri’s pitch would have been in the upper deck.”

Midway through the third quarter, Michigan State took a 3-2 lead after barefooted Hawaiian kicker Dick Kenney trotted onto the muddy field to boot a 27-yard field goal.

A 3-2 lead was welcomed, thanks to a Michigan State defense that forced seven Ohio State punts and four turnovers. But on the first play of the fourth quarter, the Buckeyes caught the Spartans overplaying the run. Billy Anders got behind the secondary and caught a 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from quarterback Bill Long. The extra-point kick failed, but Ohio State still led 8-3 with 14:53 to play.

With Michigan State’s unbeaten season stuck in the mud.

“It was a terrible day, the rain pouring down, the field a quagmire and a strong wind blowing,” said Michigan State assistant coach Al Dorow. “It was a dark moment for us.”

The drive started at the Ohio State 16-yard line when Raye hit a first-down pass to Gene Washington for 28 yards to the Spartans’ 44. Raye then connected on two passes with Allen Brenner that advanced the ball to the Ohio State 25. Brenner caught a 14-yarder on second-and-10 and then a 17-yarder on third-and-10.

“Jimmy found himself in the Ohio State game,” Dorow said. “That was the day he grew up and became the master, the day his teammates gained solid confidence in him. Jimmy drove the team with the expertness of a craftsman, and we got the winning touchdown.”

The next four snaps were running plays with Raye, Clinton Jones and Dick Berlinski – the state’s representative from the small town of Quinnesec in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. That set up a third-and-10 at the Ohio State 12-yard line. Raye and Washington were a clutch combination again, with Washington catching a 10-yard pass from Raye for a first-and-goal at the 2-yard line.

Raye was 4-of-7 passing for 69 yards on the drive, and Robert Markus of the Chicago Tribune wrote in his game story the three incompletions were dropped balls. The Ohio State game was only Raye’s fifth start, so pundits and fans were still evaluating whether he could prove himself to be a team leader and effective passer under pressure for the No. 1-ranked team.

Wrote Markus: “With desperation born of despair, Raye had put the soggy, slippery football in the air seven times on this advance and he connected four times. The other three passes were on target, too, but his receivers simply could not hold on to the treacherous ball.”

With first-and-goal from the 2, the Spartans called Raye’s number for three straight dives. He only nudged the ball to the 1-yard line. The season had come down to a fourth-and-goal from the 1. The play sent in from the sideline called for Bob Apisa to carry the ball.

“Ohio State put up a good defense, but the problem was the footing,” Apisa said. “If it was dry, Jimmy would have marched in there. We knew fourth down was our last hurrah. If we lose, we won’t be No. 1. Dick Berlinski came in as a substitute halfback. He was short and squatty, but a good blocker. When the play was called, I looked at him and I said, ‘Dick, just give me a crease. All I need is a crease.’

“That’s what happened. When the ball was snapped, I saw a smidgen of light. Everybody was converging on me, and I went up in there air. I got hit, but I instinctively extended my arms to put the ball out to break the plane. The ball got slapped out of my hands on the way down and I ended up on my back, but I knew I had broken the plane.”

Apisa looked up from the ground to the official, who raised his arms to signal a touchdown. Apisa felt a monkey hop off his back. He had been unfairly blaming himself for 288 days following the failed two-point conversion play at the Rose Bowl that cost the Spartans’ their AP share of the national title. The 14-12 upset loss to UCLA is considered one of the most shocking in college football history.

“To this day, the Rose Bowl is the toughest loss for me to take,” Apisa said. “That was one of the things that came to mind at the Ohio State game when the play came in and for me. I didn’t want to re-live that horror story. I said, ‘You know what, Bob, you were 1-yard short of the AP national title. I can’t afford to do this to my teammates again and lose the undefeated season and national title.’

“I knew I had to deliver the mail, and thank God I did. It was good fortune, good blocking and Jimmy was the captain with the way he handled the play and the ball.”

When Apisa says “good fortune,” he understood how easily it would have been for the official to rule the play was stopped short of a touchdown.

“The official knew I had broken the plane, but I had been hit and when I came down I wasn’t in the end zone,” Apisa said. “The crowd went nuts thinking I had been stopped. The referee was very courageous. He knew 84,000 Ohio State fans were ready to string him up. It was bedlam when he signaled touchdown. The fans booed and rained all kinds of debris down on us.”

Hayes went apoplectic on the sidelines protesting the touchdown call. Apisa blamed Hayes’ sideline tantrum for enraging the Ohio State partisans.

“Woody Hayes was just going nuts, and he incited the crowd,” Apisa said “He was a madman after that touchdown. I have never seen a coach display that kind of sideline behavior. I look at the way Duffy behaved as a coach and the way Woody behaved, and it was night and day.”

When order was restored, Michigan State added a two-point conversion on a pass from kicker Dick Kenney to holder Charlie Wedemeyer for the 11-8 margin that would force Ohio State to score a touchdown to win.

Ironically, when the game ended the sun came out. The only remaining rain was debris from Ohio State’s fans.

“We got bombarded as we ran to our locker room,” Apisa said. “We needed a police escort when we left the stadium.”

Hayes had calmed down by the post-game interview session. He called Michigan State “the best team in the country.” About his sideline tantrum, he said, “I never saw the official signal their touchdown. He must have just made it over by a whisker. I’m not implying that Michigan State didn’t score – but I just didn’t see it.”

Hayes’ infamous temper ended his career in disgrace at the 1978 Gator Bowl matching Ohio State and Clemson. Hayes punched a Clemson linebacker after he intercepted a pass and was knocked out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline. Hayes, though, has his name on the Big Ten Coach of the Year Award along with Michigan’s Bo Schembechler and Wisconsin’s Dave McClain.

There are no such awards recognizing Daugherty historic coaching career at Michigan State for the win-loss column or the field of integration.

Two days after the game Michigan State’s joy at preserving its unbeaten season turned to disbelief when the AP and UPI polls came out. Without Michigan State having suffered a loss, the No. 1 Spartans and No. 2 Notre Dame flip-flopped positions. Notre Dame’s 32-0 victory over North Carolina swayed enough voters.

On October 10, the Monday before the Ohio State/North Carolina results, Michigan State was 4-0 and No. 1 with 18 first-place votes and 369 points. Notre Dame was 3-0 and No. 2 with 15 first-place votes and 353 points.

On October 17, the Monday after the Ohio State/North Carolina results, Notre Dame was 4-0 and No. 1 with 31 first-place votes and 443 points. Michigan State was No. 2 and 5-0 with 10 first-place votes and 416 points.

The polls remained No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Michigan State the rest of the season and through the final votes.

“I always thought the object of the game was to win,” Daugherty said when the Spartans dropped to No. 2. “Apparently, they expect more of us.”

Later, the National Football Foundation announced its co-championship.

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Maya Washington's film "Through the Banks of the Red Cedar" is showing at 6 p.m. Wednesday (9-26-18) at Wells Hall, auditorium room 119B. Fans can also purchase copies of Raye of Light through the MSU Bookstore and get autographs from Michigan State Hall of Famers in attendance.

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I invite you to follow me on Twitter @shanny4055

Tom Shanahan, Author: Raye of Light

-- Book on Michigan State's leading role in the integration of college football. It explains Duffy Daugherty's untold pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.


Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan

Tom Shanahan is an award-winning sportswriter and the author of "Raye of Light". Tom spent the bulk of his career in San DIego writing for the San Diego Union-Tribune. He has covered NCAA Tournaments, Super Bowls, Rose Bowls, the NBA Finals and the World Series in a career that included writing for Voice of San Diego, the San Diego Hall of Champions and He contributes to the Detroit Free Press, Raleigh News & Observer,, and the National Football Foundation's Football Matters. He won multiple first-place awards from the San Diego Press Club and first place from the Copley News Service Ring of Truth Awards. The National Football Foundation/San Diego Chapter presented him its Distinguished American Award in 2003. USA Track and Field’s San Diego Chapter presented its President’s Award in 2000.

Raye of Light: Jimmy Raye, Duffy Daugherty, the integration of college football and the 1965-66 Michigan State Spartans. It explains Duffy Daugherty's pioneering role and debunks myths that steered recognition away from him to Bear Bryant.

By Tom Shanahan; Foreword by Tony Dungy; August Publications

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and biographer: "History writes people out of the story. It's our job to write them back in."