Photo: Regis Cavender
Fifty-years ago fate tapped Regis Cavender on the shoulder more than once. It’s the reason he is one of those rare athletes rightly forever famous for one play.
He scored Michigan State’s only touchdown for a 7-0 second-quarter lead when the Michigan State and Notre Dame played to a controversial 10-10 tie in the 1966 Game of the Century. A record TV audience in the pre-Super Bowl era watched the quasi-national championship game on Nov. 19, 1966 with 80,011 fans packed into 76,000-seat Spartan Stadium.
Fate first tapped Cavender when he chose the Spartans over Notre Dame and Michigan. Ohio State and Nebraska also had pursued him.
“Notre Dame was nice and I liked it, but I wanted to stay in-state,” Cavender said. “I liked (head coach) Duffy Daugherty. He was a people-person with a good sense of humor and he hired a good staff. That was a strong reason for picking Michigan State.”
Fate appeared again as a sophomore backup fullback from Detroit Cathedral in the 1966 season. Daugherty moved Cavender into the starter’s role for the final three games. He replaced Michigan State’s two-time All-American Bob Apisa, who had suffered a knee injury.
Cavender scored seven touchdowns in 1966 but none bigger than one he scored with a separated shoulder against Notre Dame. He fell into the end zone, and if you watch the video (see below) you can see his left arm is limp as teammates helped him up by the right side of his body.
The 10-play, 73-yard scoring drive was set up by quarterback Jimmy Raye hitting Gene Washington, the two-time All-American wide receiver and College Football Hall of Famer, with a 42-yard pass to the 28-yard line.
On second-and-10 from the 20-yard line, Cavender gained 11 yards to the 9. He carried again on first down for 5 yards to the 4.
On second-and-goal, Daugherty sent in a play called “power right.” Cavender led the way into the left side of the line blocking for two-time All-American halfback and College Football Hall-of-Famer Clinton Jones. But Notre Dame’s Alan Page, a College Football and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman, stunted into the hole.
Cavender threw a block at Page’s thighs that shattered his shoulder pads. It wasn’t until after the game he was diagnosed with a separated shoulder. The plastic on his pads were cracked with a “spider web” pattern similar to cracked windows.
With no gain, the Spartans faced third-and-goal from the 4-yard line as Cavender retreated to the huddle with burning pain. That’s when fate tapped him on the shoulder again. Right offensive guard Mitch Pruiett offered encouragement.
“As we waited for the play to come in, I mentioned to Pruiett I might have to take myself out of the game,” Cavender said. “It seemed like a long time, but obviously it was only a few seconds. He said, ‘There is no time for pain.’ Just about then, Jimmy called the play.”
“Slash right” was designed for Cavender to run to his right first looking for a hole between the guard and tackle and if there was no hole to break the play wider.
With Pruiett and right tackle Jerry West pushing their linemen inside, Notre Dame’s Jim Lynch, the All-American linebacker, Maxwell Trophy winner and College Football Hall of Famer, launched himself into the hole. At the same time, Washington blocked his man outside. That left a hole that halfback Clinton Jones led Cavender through.
“I had studied enough film to know Lynch liked to fill the hole early,” Cavender said. “I cut outside to the next hole and the hole was there. Clinton Jones was not known for blocking, but he pancaked the safety and I followed him into the end zone. Clinton Jones doesn’t get credit for that play, but I have to give him a shoutout.
“I get a lot of credit for the play, but everybody did their job on that play for it to work.That's the thing about football. Even a decoy away from the play is doing his job. All I did was my job just like when I blocked on other plays.”
Michigan State’s lead mounted to 10-0 on a Dick Kenney's 47-yard field goal before the Irish trimmed the deficit to 10-7 at halftime. A field goal early in the fourth quarter ended the scoring.
Michigan State and Notre Dame finished with identical 9-0-1 records, but the Associated Press and United Press International polls both named Notre Dame the national champion. However, the National Football Foundation’s MacArthur Bowl cited the 10-10 tie on the field and identical records and named the teams co-national champions.
Cavender’s place was cemented in Michigan State lore.
But fate tapped him on the shoulder for his touchdown once more. Ten years later Michigan State invited alumni back to play the varsity for the 1976 spring game. It also was a fund-raiser for the women’s athletic program.
Cavender not only played in the game, he attended a pep rally that was part of the fund-raising effort held at a bar popular with students in 1970s, “Dooley’s.” He met a Michigan State track athlete, Debra Krcmarik.
“We’ve been happily married 36 years,” Cavender said.
Cavender worked for Chrysler for 21 years and then started a company as a consultant for Chrysler as the auto maker opened sales in Japan, Korea and China. When his son Luke attended Brother Rice, he was invited to serve as school's athletic director. He held that role until retiring after the 2014-15 school year.
Cavender is among the 1966 Spartans that will remember the Game of the Century on Wednesday, Oct. 12 at Conrad Hall. The event is sponsored by University Archives and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion. The reception begins at 6 pm and the program at 7 p.m.
At the Game of the Century discussion, fans can purchase pre-sale tickets for the "Men of Sparta" showing on Thursday, Oct. 13 at Wells Hall.
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