There have been more than a few “Game of the Century” contests by this time, but when in 1969 the sportswriters were polled on this question, the overwhelming choice was the 1935 thriller between unbeaten Notre Dame and unbeaten Ohio State, featuring a stunning fourth quarter comeback by the Irish that ranks right up there with the 1979 Cotton Bowl game against Houston in the annals of Houdinism.
Going into the game, the Buckeyes, led by their sophomore sensation Joe Williams, were slight favorites, on the basis of having the home field and because of their record of having lost but three games in the past four years, having polished off four previous 1935 opponents by a combined score of 160 to 26.
Not that the Ramblers (as they were then called) were exactly slouches, having gone unbeaten themselves at the expense of powerhouses such as previously unbeaten Pitt. Led by coach Elmer Layden, they featured stars such as halfbacks Andy Pilney and Bill Shakespeare, who was known variously as “The Bard of South Bend” and “The Merchant of Menace”. Shakespeare was truly a jack of all trades, known equally for his running, passing and punting skills – his 86-yard punt in the Pitt game remains a Notre Dame record to this day.
Once the game got underway, it was all Buckeyes in the first three quarters, as they raced to a 13-0 halftime lead while keeping the ball in the Ramblers’ side of the field. But as soon as the final quarter began, the Irish struck quickly. First Steve Miller raced in from the one-yard line to cut the margin to 13-6. Then after a Miller fumble on the one stifled a chance to tie the game, Andy Pilney capped a 78-yard march with a touchdown pass to Mike Layden. But for the second time the extra point failed, and after the Buckeyes recovered the onside kick, only a minute remained and Ohio State got set to run out the clock.
But here’s where the fun began. The Irish forced a fumble near midfield. Pilney escaped a ferocious pass rush and scrambled to the Ohio State 19, only to tear a ligament in his leg and be carried off the field in an ambulance. But with time about to expire, Bill Shakespeare entered the game, faked a reverse, and rifled the winning touchdown pass to Wayne Millner, who caught the pass in the end zone on his own two knees, while bringing the Buckeyes to theirs.
All during the game, there were reports of priests and nuns praying for Notre Dame touchdowns, but as it turned out, the winning touchdown came from a pass from a Protestant to a Jew. There were no reports of regrets or ambivalence on the part of the millions of Catholic faithful.
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