I want to say a few words about the great Bubba Smith who died on August 3rd.
But to put Bubba in his proper perspective I need to say a few words about the 1966 Notre Dame Football team. It was the greatest Notre Dame team I ever saw and I would argue that point with any hard core Irish fan, even those who remember the great, post World War Two Frank Leahy teams.
How good were the ‘66 Irish? In a ten game season, they had six shutouts. Of the four teams that managed to score on them only one (Purdue with 14 points) scored more than ten points. Averaging out the season Notre Dame won (or tied) by a cumulative score of 36.2 to 3.8. I had never seen a defense that good before or since in college football.
And, of course, that season had the famous (MSU fans would still say infamous) 10-10 game in East Lansing. I was there and still have the ticket stub framed to prove it. That was the most tense and intense football game I ever attended. Sitting on the 40-yard line and just 15 rows from the field, what I remember more than anything else is the sound that came from the field, the sound of players hitting one another. There was one play in particular that I recall vividly all these years later. Our captain, classmate and friend Jim Lynch, made a key interception, took a u-turn to run the ball in the other direction and was immediately hit with such force that he was flipped upside down and landed on his head. I thought for sure that Lynch would not get up; in fact he might be seriously injured.
Lynch got back up but told me decades later that he not only recalls the hit like it was yesterday but he can still feel it.
Defensive end Alan Page was on that 1966 Notre Dame team and Alan was the best Notre Dame football player in all my years in South Bend. But he was not the best player on the field that gloomy November day in East Lansing. That was Bubba Smith.
I had always heard that Smith never got over the fact that the game ended in a tie and cost MSU the national Championship. In those days, Notre Dame did not go to bowl games and MSU could not go to the Rose Bowl because of a stupid rule that a team could not go two years in a row. Notre Dame had one game left and went out to Los Angeles and thrashed USC. The Irish won the National Championship, and MSU was left with only memories of an incredible season that left a bitter taste.
Obviously I also was left with memories of that season, that game and the warriors who were on the field. And no warrior should have been more proud than Bubba Smith.Bubba was one hell of a great football player.