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Beano: Nebraska-Notre Dame always dramatic
College Football schedule
Tuesday, September 18, 2001
The Irish helped put the Spartans on the map
By Beano Cook
Special to ESPN.com
The old timers from Michigan State are fading away, but they still have a deep affection for Notre Dame. Michigan State was trying to become a power program after World War II in the late 1940s. They knew if they got a game with Notre Dame, it would be the seal of Good Housekeeping.
Syracuse graduate Biggie Munn was the Spartans head coach, and he and the Michigan State administration approached Notre Dame president Father Cavanaugh about playing. The Spartans offered a deal -- they said they'd let ND take 80 percent of the gate, but the Irish insisted they split the gate receipts down the middle.
In the early part of the 20th Century, Notre Dame went through the same thing. They were the little guy and had a hard time getting games against national powers -- they knew what the Spartans were going through and probably wanted to cut them a break.
The minute Notre Dame agreed to play Michigan State, the Spartans were able to get other big games across the country. It gave them almost instant national recognition. It should also be mentioned that Munn was the only coach to beat Frank Leahy three years in a row, 1950, '51, and '52.
Around the same time, Michigan State was trying to get into the Big Ten, but Michigan was trying to keep them out. The Michigan State Legislature threatened to stop giving the University of Michigan money if they didn't cool it, and the Spartans eventually got into the conference. Their first season of Big Ten play was 1953, when they tied for the conference crown, went to the Rose Bowl as a seven point underdog and defeated UCLA 28-20.
All of this rich history explains why, while Michigan State wants to beat Notre Dame, they don't hate Notre Dame -- they're too busy hating Michigan. The Spartans still feel they owe something to the Irish.
Twenty-eight players from those two teams went on to play in the NFL, including Bubba Smith, George Webster, Alan Page and Bob Kuechenberg. The game went on to be a legend of its own, and is still considered one of the most famous in the history of college football.
Beano Cook is a college football historian for ESPN.
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