These games are history now, some with parts grown to myth. Over the years, college football has produced momentous meetings that seem like fiction, held in roaring stadiums that stilled theearth's rotation, games that persrist in memory and forever stir feelings.
Everyone has his favorite Big Game. Some were keenly anticipated: Michigan State-Notre Dame in 1966, Army-Notre Dame in 1946. Often, they occurred without warning, as last season when a mighty pass from Doug Flutie with no time left would spiral past mesmerized angels and Miami defenders for a winning Boston College touchdown,and earn for Flutie, as noted in no less esteemed a publication than The New Yorker, ''not unfavorable comparison with God in the next morning's Boston papers.''
To put down the ''great'' games in a neat and infalible list is like trying to bottle the euphoria that was part of them. Any Saturday in autumn could produce enough new twists and unforeseen thunderbolts to keep football historians working overtime sorting glories.
Take Miami in 1984. Three times the Hurricanes played memorable games: their Jan. 2 Orange Bowl against Nebraska, and last fall against Maryland and Boston College.
So much has gone before, the history of the game is so rich, that almost any derrig-do, say, Flutie's pass, can be measured against some previous heroics. LSU's Billy Cannon, for instance, can forever be imagined threading through Ole Miss on that 89-yard punt return in 1959.
And what of the pass launched by Jim McMahon on the last play of the 1980 Holiday Bowl to give Brigham Young, with the point after, a 46-45 victory over Southern Methodist?
Miami-Nebraska for the national title was a reminder that there were ever giants who trod the earth: Army of the '40s, and Doak Walker's SMU, and Stanford's 10-0 team of 1940 that featured Clark Shaughnessy's explosive new T-formation. And even nonbelievers must admit Notre Dame's echoes seldom have been quieted very long before they're awakened.
What team can boast/bemoan more arch rivals than Texas? USC and UCLA, the Techs, the States and the A&Ms -- they're always playing Big Games. How much bigger do games get than in the Big Ten, and the Big Eight?
Yet it was in neither Ann Arbor, Mich., nor Lincoln, Neb., but Williamstown, Mass., that in a Little Three game, Williams College, on Nov. 10, 1982, went 84 yards in the last 23 seconds to beat Wesleyan.
On the game's last play, Williams' quarterback started to go down under the weight of a tackle. Somehow, he wriggled free and, as his coach stopped in amazement on the way to congratulate his opposite number, and with Williams' defensive coach already having left the field, threw the ball to a reciever, who dodged two defenders and fell into the end zone with three inches to spare. B.J. Connolly to Mark Hummon. Little Mark Hummon, a singer and composer of folk music, fainted under the pileup of celebrators.
Still one could ask: What about the '69 Texas-Arkansas ''Shootout''? Or SMU's 20 points in the last 39 seconds to beat Houston in '77? Or . . .
On the subject of great upsets, football historian Steve Boda speaks: ''Holy Cross 55, Boston College 12. Nov. 28, 1942. In my opinion, the greatest upset in football history.'' As a result, Boston College canceled its victory dinner that night at the Coconut Grve club in Boston, the very night that 491 persons died in the famous fire there.
Then, too, there are games given endless life by the unusual incident: the 1940 Cornell-Dartmouth ''Fifth Down Game,'' apparently won on the extra play by Cornell, but which was reversed the next day; the Rice-Alabama '54 Cotton Bowl, when AlAbama's Tommy Lewis came off the bench to tackle Dick Moegle; Penn State 15, Kansas 14 in the '69 Orange Bowl, when Kansas had 12 or 13 men on the field (historian Boda believes 13), giving the Nittany Lions another chance for their winning two-point conversion.
And there is the California-Stanford ''Band Game'' of '82 -- how could anyone forget the ''Band Game''? -- when the Stanford musicians prematurely marched out of the end zone into which the action was heading, the action being a five-lateral kickoff return with the man who made the first lateral, Kevin Moen, ending it by running the last 25 yards through the Stanford band, smashing into a trombonist named Gary Tyrell for the touchdown that gave California a 25-20 victory.
So, what follows are not necessarily the best games of the last half century, but surely some vintage ones. Opinions on the matter being what they are, widely varied and often passionately held, the list can be extended almost infinitely. Nov. 2, 1935: Notre Dame 18, Ohio State 13 -- SMU's 20-14 victory over Texas Christian that year might have been the better game, but Notre Dame-Ohio State looms still in mythic proportion. The Buckeyes took a 13-0 lead into the final period at Columbus before ''the game of the century'' lived up to billing.
''Ohio State was beating the hell out of us,'' recalled Chuck Sweeney, a Notre Dame reserve that day who later was a part of another historic game as field judge in the Baltimore Colts-New York Giants ''greatest pro game'' of 1958. ''I mean, they were physically beating us, playing superb football. Then the Notre Dame spirit asserted itself.''
Ohio State also made major mistakes. The Irish scored two touchdowns but missed both extra points. They appeared finished with 90 seconds left when an onside kick failed. But on the next play, Ohio State fumbled and Notre Dame recovered. Andy Pilney, who had led the comeback, was knocked out of the game on a weaving run to the Ohio State 19. His replacement, Bill (The Bard) Shakespeare, threw into and out of the arms of Ohio State's Dick Beltz, who also had made the cruxial fumble.
Finally, the winning play from Coach Elmer Layden was brought in by scrub Jim McKenna, who had sneaked aboard the tam train -- the stuff of Irish legend. Shakespeare (an English major?) trhrew a scoring pass to Wayne Millner, later a Redskins scout. Millner made the catch in front of Pilney, who was behind the end zone being carried from the field on a stretcher. Shades of Gipper lore. Nov. 16, 1940: Boston College 19, Georgetown 18 -- Grantland Rice wrote that this game, played before a turnaway crowd of 42,000 at Fenway Park, was the greatest he had ever covered. Boston College, coached by Frank Leahy, would go 11-0, including a victory over Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl; having won 23 straight, Georgetown was about as invincible as its Patrick Ewing-era basketball teams.
The game's star was Boston College's slender quarterback, Charlie O'Rourke, who, at 5 feet 10 and 153 pounds, was the Flutie of his day. On O'Rourke's passing and running, Boston College rallied from 10-0 and 16-13 deficits. Its third and deciding touchdown came on a 43-yard pass by O'Rourke, from punt formation deep in his territory, ran backward into the end zone, then laterally back and forth before taking an intentional safety.
''Leahy sent the word in to take a safety but he didn't say how to take it, so I just ran around in the end zone killing time,'' said O'Rourke, now retired and living near Boston. ''After the free kick, Georgetown had time for only two plays.'' And a bit of immortality was O'Rourke's ''all because of that episode in our end zone. That's all I ever hear: 'I was at the Georgetown game and I remember that.' '' Nov. 9, 1946: Notre Dame 0, Army 0 -- The two greatest college football teams of the immediate post-World War II era met in the so-called ''world's greatest football game; at Yankee Stadium before 74,121. ''I've never seen so much hype in all my life,'' said Frank Tripucka, then a Notre Dame reserve quarterback and now a beer distributor in Paterson, N.J. ''(Coach Frank) Leahy would give you that stuff, 'I'd rather get a telegram that my son is dying than lose today.' ''
The game could have been decided by a field goal, but neither team tried one despite inviting opportunities. ''In that day and age, they didn't think of field goals,'' said Tripucka. The big play: Notre Dame's Johnny Lujack tackling Doc Blanchard in the open field at the Irish 36, a game-saver after Blanchard had run 21 yard.
''It was really inconclusive,'' said Tripucka. ''It was similar to the Notre Dame-Michigan State 10-10 tie (of 1966). I was there and I couldn't help compare the games. They were similar: a lot of hard hitting, nobody going to take a big gamble.''
Not surprisingly, Leahy didn't let Tripucka off the bench against Army. ''That day, he used only about 18 people,'' Tripucka said. ''Leahy, till the day he died, said that was his mistake: ''I should have played everybody that day.' But as I grow older and put myself in Leahy's position, I probably would have done the same thing.'' Jan. 1, 1963: Southern Cal 42, Wisconsin 37 -- The 49th Rose Bowl, otherwise known as ''The VanderKelen game,'' was a passing battle that broke all kinds of records. Pete Bethard threw four touchdown passes as USC ran up a 42-14 score by early in the fourth period. But quarterback Ron VanderKelen, who had scored on a wild 17-yard dash, rallied Wisconsin to a 23-point final quarter in which he threw two touchdown passes.
In all, VanderKelen completed 33 of 48 passes for 401 yards. The final touchdown came on a pass to end Pat Richter, a Redskins No. 1 draft choice who caught 11 passes in the game for 163 yards.
''We were being embarrassed,'' VanderKelen said recently, ''and I think it was a matter of everytbody feeling, 'Let's get out there and score some points. Being respectable, we'll all feel better.'
''Then, all of a sudden, we believed we could win. But we could never get ne last chance. As soon as it was over, I felt very depressed. Then when we got into the locker room, the governor of Wisconsin was there, and the president of the university, and the head coach, Milt Bruhn, and they all told us we had played a remarkable game. When we left the locker room there were so many fans cheering.
''Things kept building up, just like they did in the fourth quarter, until today, people still talk about that game. When I think about it, I have to think it must have been a classic.''
Nov. 19, 1966: Notre Dame 10, Michigan State 10 -- Top-ranked Notre Dame, 8-0 and coming off 40-0 and 64-0 victories, was a 41/2-point favorite over No. 2 Michigan State, winner of 19 straight regular-season games.
Strange things began happening the day before the game. Star halfback Nick Eddy slipped off the Notre Dame train on its arrival in East Lansing, fell on his already injured right shoulder and was out of the game.
Game day came up gray and ominous. In the first period, Bubba Smith, reacting to cries of ''Kill, Bubba, Kill,'' separated quarterback Terry Hanratty's left shoulder as State took a 10-0 lead. But Coley O'Brien, Hanratty's diminutive and diabetic backup, saved the Irish.
O'Brien threw a 34-yard scoring pass to Eddy's backup, Bob Gladieux, and directed a 70-yard drive to set up the tying field goal. But at the end, in one of the most controversial decisions in college coaching history, Ara Parseghian ordered O'Brien to kill the clock and preserve the tie and No. 1 ranking.
O'Brien, a St. John's High School product who still lives in the area, believes that Parseghian made the right decision, but at the time, he recalled, ''We felt we couldn't win running quarterback sneaks. I remember being confused by the play selection.''
Of Parseghian's strategy, Spartans cocaptain George Webster said later, ''We couldn't believe it.'' Michigan State players taunted the Irish and called time in a futile effort to get back the ball. One of Parseghian's many critics asked, ''What's he do in the future, ask them to tie one for the Gipper?'' Nov. 23, 1968: Harvard 29, Yale 29 -- In The Game, known among certain partisans as Harvard's ''29-29 victory,'' the Crimson rallied in the dusk at Harvard Stadium to score 16 points in the last 42 seconds, including eight points after the final gun. This one wasn't over even when it was over.
For the first time in 59 years, Harvard and Yale came into The Game undefeated and untied. Led by quarterback Brian Dowling and running back Calvin Hill, Yale held a seemingly insurmountable 2-0 lead.
With four minutes to go, it was 29-13 and Yale was driving for yet another score. Then, a fumble, and some freak plays and penalties and suddenly Harvard had momentum, and soon the outcome seemed fore-ordained.
Quarterback Frank Champi threw a touchdown pass. Harvard ran for two points after pass interference was called on the first two-point conversion attempt.
''That was the big play,'' said Vic Gatto, Harvard's 5-6 running back who now is football coach at Tufts. ''If we didn't get the two points, there was no way we could tie being down by 10. There was a sense of inevitability after that.''
With 42 seconds on the block, Harvard recovered an outside kick at Yale's 49. Champi ran to the 35. Face-mask penalty to the 20. Two incompletions. Draw play to the six. Champi thrown at the eight. Three seconds left. Champi rolled to the right as time ran out and spotted secondary receiver Gatto, heavily taped from a first-period hamstring pull, waving his arm in the end zone.
''I had gotten lost, which was a benefit of being short,'' he said. ''The ball looked like a watermelon coming up at me. It was the easiest catch I ever made.''
Then Champi passed to Pete Varney for the last two points and Harvard had a one-of-a-kind tie-victory. ''It was a great and wonderful brush with transcendence,'' Gatto said. Nov. 25, 1971: Nebraska 35, Oklahoma 31 -- It was one of the few games of the magnitude that it apparently was where both teams played good,'' said Jack Mildren, Oklahoma's quarterback. En route to a 13-0 season and the national championship, Nebraska drove 74 yards for a touchdown with 1:38 remaining to beat No. 2 Oklahoma. So talented were those teams the lineups read like an all-star game.
Oklahoma rallied twice from 11-point deficits behind Mildren, who ran for two scores and threw for two more. For Nebraska, Jerry Tagge excelled at quarterback. Jeff Kinney rushed for 50 yards in the winning drive, carrying the last four plays to finish with four touchdowns and 174 yards, 154 in the second half.
What Kinney remembers most ''is the last carry, when I went over for the touchdown. My big old fullback grabbed me and hugged me. It was a meaningful time for all of us.'' Oklahoma's defense was led by tackle Lucious Selmon, but Greg Pruitt was held to 53 yards. Nebraska's Johnny Rodgers scored in the first 31/2 minutes with a 72-yard punt return and the Cornhuskers moved in front, 14-3.
But Oklahoma came back to lead, 17-14, the first time in the season Nebraska had trailed. ''We were a little timid in the first half,'' Kinney said. ''You could feel the electricity and it put you in an awe-struck frame of mind.''
Early in the second half, Mildren fumbled away the ball after a tremendous hit to give Nebraska renewed vigor. ''We had the ball and the lead,'' Mildren recalled, ''and any time you had the ball and the lead in that game you were in pretty good position.''
Behind Kinney, Nebraska went up, 28-17. But Mildren ran and passed the Sooners to a 31-28 margin. A controversial play marked the Cornhuskers' winning drive when Kinney was separated from the ball at the Oklahoma two, but it was ruled no fumble.
''I was on the ground, hit, kind of rolled over, and he pulled it out,'' said Kinney. ''It wasn't even close to a fumble.''
After the touchdown, Mildren tried to rally the Sooners one last time but, on fourth and 14 from the Oklahoma 15-yard line, his pass was knocked down by middle guard Rich GLover, who made 22 tackles in the game.
''The losing part of it has kind of drifted,'' said Mildren, now in the ''oil business'' in Oklahoma City. 'And even at the time, I knew we couldn't have played any better. I've never had any remorseful thoughts, except when a national championship is brought up. Then it comes back to haunt me.'' Dec. 31, 1973: Notre Dame 24, Alabama 23 -- In a Sugar Bowl game billed as -- what else? -- ''the game of the century,'' the national championship was at stake in this first meeting betwen the schools, and Parseghian and Bear Bryant. An 11-0 record and national title went to the Irish as Bob Thomas kicked a 19-yard field goal with 4:26 remaining to give Notre Dame and Prseghian an upset over top-ranked Alabama.
With three minutes to play, it appeared Alabama might come back again one more time when a punt backed the Irish to the one. But Parseghian ordered a dangerous pass from the end zone to maintain control of the ball.
On third down from the two, Tom Clements, who passed for 169 yards and rushed for 74, threw to tight end Robin Weber at the Notre Dame 38, getting the Irish out of danger.
Earlier in the fourth period, Alabama scored on a razzle-dazzle play: Second-string quarterback Richard Todd took halfback Mike Stock's pass for a touchdown and a 23-21 lead.
But Clements led Notre Dame on its 79-yard winning drive, with three good runs and a 30-yard pass to Dave Casper to set up the decisive field goal. And Parseghian was carried off on his joyous players' shoulders. Jan. 2, 1984: Miami 31, Nebraska 30 -- In an Orange Bowl game for the national championship, Howard Schnellenberger's Hurricanes blew out to a 17-0 first-quarter lead on two Bernie Kusar-to-Glenn Dennison touchdown passes and a 45-yard field goal.
Nebraska, averaging 52 points a game, rallied with the ''Fumblerooski'' trick play: on third down at the Miami 19, quarterback Turner Gill fumbled intentionally, leaving the ball on the ground for all-America guard Dean Steinkuhler, who picked it up and ran for a touchdown. Nebraska got 10 more points before the half to tie the core.
In the third period, Miami put together scoring drives of 75 and 73 yards for a 31-17 lead. Nebraska closed to 31-24 with a drive of its own. Then, Gill passed to Jeff Smith on fourth and eight from the Miami 24 for a touchdown with 48 seconds left. The Cornhuskers trailed, 31-30. Although a tie probably would have given Nebraska the national championship, Coach Tom Osborne went for the victory.
''I don't think he ever considered going for a tie and the players backed him up on that,'' a Nebraska spokesman said. ''And so on a ''flood pattern'' to the right side, Gill threw toward Smith, but rover Kenny Calhoun tipped the ball and it fell to the ground. Kosar ran triumphantly from the field, holding the ball high in the air. Miami was voted No. 1 and previously top-ranked Nebraska slipped to No. 2.
But if Kosar had known the ecstasy, he would yet experience the agonies of two dates that could not have been foretold:
Nov. 10, 1984: Maryland 42, Miami 40 -- Down by 31 at half-time, Maryland won with the greatest comeback in the history of major college football.
Nov. 23, 1984: Boston College 47, Miami 45 -- After Flutie's last pass, Kosar might well have summed up both the Maryland and Boston College games. Not altogether kidding, he said, ''I'm in a state of shock.''