No, I am not crazy. Actually, that is debatable, but this really did happen.
Purdue was actually the number one team in the entire country in the fall of 1968.
The Boilermakers were preseason number one based on the strength of returning starters, mostly quarterback Mike Phipps and All American running back Leroy Keyes. But, they were huge along the front lines on both sides of the ball and they were deep at running back. Greek wrestler Veno Paraskevas teamed up with Bob Yunaska to form an excellent pair of linebackers.
Also, Purdue took advantage of the old south not allowing blacks to play on their teams. Ridiculous.
Notre Dame was equally talented with returning quarterback Terry Hanratty leading the way. But, they started the season ranked number 3 behind Purdue and USC. The Trojans were the defending national champs, plus they returned Heisman favorite O.J. Simpson.
Notre Dame checked in at number 3, but after a severe beating of 5th ranked Oklahoma, 45-21, at South Bend they passed USC in the polls.
The Irish not only returned a potent quarterback, they also had top receiver Jim Seymour and All American offensive tackle George Kunz.
Kunz would go on to become a first round draft pick by the Atlanta Falcons and establish himself as one of the great players of his time with 8 Pro Bowls. The quickness and athleticism shown by Kunz coming off the ball was more than impressive. If you get a chance to watch any of the old Notre Dame games, keep an eye on George Kunz, number 78. You can’t miss him, he plays either side of the ball at tackle and looks like the biggest guy on the field.
The Purdue Boilermakers, yes ranked number one in the country, came into South Bend, Indiana on September 28th, 1968 ready to play and protect their top ranking.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish welcomed them with open arms basically telling their old rivals, the Boilermakers, to bring it.
A classic number one versus number two match up. Awesome.
On Purdue’s first possession of the game, star quarterback Mike Phipps goes down with an injury. Back up quarterback Don Kiepert had to come off the bench. Mostly with the running of star running back Leroy Keyes, Purdue drove the ball down the field. But, they had to settle for a field goal and took an early 3-0 lead on the Irish.
The Fighting Irish had a potent offense of their own, meaning mostly quarterback Terry Hanratty and his favorite target, Jim Seymour.
Notre Dame dominated the game early on, but had nothing to show for it with a fumbled snap costing one field goal attempt and just a plain miss costing them 3 more points.
Purdue’s leader, Mike Phipps, came back into the game at the start of the second quarter. However, instead of throwing the ball, the Boilers tried three straight runs which didn’t bring about a first down and they were forced to punt the ball. The action got going when starting defensive back Chuck Zloch barely tipped the punt off of his fingers and it only few and the partially blocked punt only traveled about 10 yards setting Notre Dame up with excellent field position.
This game was 1968 and I had forgotten just how athletic Notre Dame quarterback Terry Hanratty was. Now, he’s not going to remind anyone of Michael Vick, by any means. But, Hanratty could run the option and run it pretty well. He had a decent arm and was the consensus All American quarterback in 1968. He had some talent, in other words.
Running and passing, he quickly and almost methodically drove the Irish down the field.
Purdue was much like Michigan State back in the 1960’s in that they were good because of national recruiting and the ability to sign black recruits from the old south where they were not welcomed on any of the southern teams. The Boilermakers, much like the Spartans, took full advantage of this golden opportunity. Their offensive backfield was talented with Leroy Keyes who grew up in Newport News, Virginia but wasn’t wanted at any of the local universities. Purdue gladly took him in and he was a Heisman candidate for them.
But, Purdue’s backfield was more than just Keyes. They had super fullback Perry Williams and other halfbacks Jim Kirkpatrick and speedster Stan Brown. Nobody else in the country had the backs like
It wasn’t just speed, the Boilermakers also had huge defensive lineman Ron Maree. Unwelcome in his home state, the Boilermakers gladly signed the 6-6, 275 Maree from Sumter, South Carolina. There just weren’t a lot of guys that size back in that period. He was a man, a grown man. It’s not like their weren’t racial problems in the north, too, but at least they allowed young black men a chance to play some football.
The Fighting Irish impressively drove the ball down to the Purdue 4 yard line and just when it looked like another field goal attempt was coming, Hanratty faked to his left and then pitched to sophomore running back Denny Allen running to his right and he scored untouched.
Notre Dame took a 7-3 lead.
Leroy Keyes was used as a decoy on the next Purdue drive, mostly as Purdue wide receiver Bob Dillingham had the game of his life with quarterback Mike Phipps hitting him 11 times to keep drives moving. After a really impressive drive, Leroy Keyes showed his greatness by taking it 16 yards for a touchdown. Top ranked Purdue took the lead back 10-7.
But, the Fighting Irish are good and they come roaring back with Hanratty hitting his favorite target Jim Seymour. But, Hanratty’s next pass was picked off by Purdue linebacker Bob Yunaska who had a really nice return.
A few plays later, Heisman candidate Keyes on a pitch out half back pass threw one of the more beautiful passes you’ll ever see to Bob Dillingham to help the Boilermakers take a 17-7 lead.
There was still 2:30 remaining in the second quarter and plenty of time for an Irish score. But, instead Irish running back Bob Gladieux coughed up the football which was recovered by linebacker Yunaska.
Two passes by Mike Phipps later and Dillingham was in the end zone for a Purdue touchdown and a bad snap on the extra point kept the score at 23-7.
Phipps got hit hard by a Fighting Irish pass rusher and was helped off the field and he was lost for the
second time in the first half.
There’s a reason they are called the Fighting Irish because they had plenty of fight left in them. Hanratty completed a few passes and then hit George Eaton in the end zone to make it 23-14.
Incidentally, the Boilermakers put star running back Leroy Keyes on Notre Dame star receiver Jim Seymour late in the 2nd quarter because he was their best cornerback. When Keyes was in the game at cornerback, Hanratty threw the ball away from All American Seymour.
Notre Dame had mostly dominated the first half, but two turnovers cost them mightily and they were down by two scores at the half.
In the second half, Mike Phipps was back and he came out throwing the football. But, just when it looked like Purdue was going to blow Notre Dame off the field, Irish linebacker Bob Neidert intercepted Phipps for Purdue’s first turnover.
Notre Dame, with the ball at it’s own 29, comes out throwing as well with All American Hanratty hitting Seymour a couple of times and little used tight end Jim Winegardner, to take the Irish into scoring position. However, the drive stalled and Notre Dame had to settle for a field goal.
Special teams were generally awful in those years and it was another miss.
With the ball back on their own 20, Purdue goes to their running game. The least known of their running backs, Jim Kirkpatrick, breaks free on a beautiful 38 yard run. Purdue had to have had the best running backs in the nation not located in southern California and named O.J. Simpson.
Notre Dame defense does finally get the stop when they stuff Phipps on a quarterback sneak.
This Notre Dame offense is really impressive at times and they are again moving it down the field through the air. Of course, it’s Hanratty to Seymour mostly. But, the tight end Winegardner is also heavily involved.
Gaining the Purdue 22 yard line, the drive stalls and on 4th and 14 Ara Parseghian is clearly upset with his kicker and they go for it. Hanratty is sacked for a huge loss by defensive lineman Billy
With Purdue getting the ball on their own 37, Leroy Keyes has an impressive run almost breaking it big. But, he is injured slightly on the play.
Stan Brown, supposedly the fastest player on the team, came in to replace Keyes. Phipps hit fullback Perry Williams on a swing pass which may have been the most impressive play of the game. Williams had been wide open, but then he ran into and over several Notre Dame defenders before being finally tackled at the Notre Dame 29 yard line.
Purdue is threatening again to break this game open as the 3rd quarter came to a close.
With Keyes back in the game, the first play of the 4th quarter, he took a pitch from Phipps and he demonstrated why he was a Heisman candidate by blowing past Fighting Irish defenders and taking it 17 yards for another Purdue score.
Things looked bleak for Notre Dame as the Boilers took a 30-14 lead with a full quarter to go.
I was amused by color commentator Bud Wilkinson’s words about Keyes. ‘Keyes looks like he could have a glass of water on his head and not spill a drop because he’s that smooth’. Keyes was a fluid athlete to say the least.
With Touchdown Jesus in the background, there is no giving up in the Fighting Irish.
But, unfortunately for the Irish, Hanratty was sacked big on third down and they were forced to punt. Notre Dame had been up and down the field all day with well over 400 yards of offense, but turnovers and sacks killed them in the end.
Purdue was flagged for the first time all day on their next possession with a clipping penalty. But, they are saved by a personal foul on Notre Dame. After another missed field goal, the Irish still have a shot. The kicking games are awful for both sides and these teams are supposedly the top two teams in the country.
Hanratty threw a lame duck that was picked off by Purdue at the Notre Dame 31 yard line.
A few plays later, with Keyes again as a decoy, Phipps pitched out to fullback Perry Williams who once again demonstrated his own skills and he took it in from 18 yards out. Purdue took a commanding 37-14 lead with the clock ticking.
On Notre Dame’s next drive, the quarterback of the future made an appearance. Joe Theismann came in and ran a few plays, but Hanratty was back in soon enough and a face mask penalty against Purdue
saved the Irish drive.
Unfortunately, Hanratty threw his third pick of the day at Purdue 26. Purdue back ups fumble the ball right back to the Irish and with another shot, Hanratty leads them to another score with just over 4 minutes left in the game. The Irish closed the gap to 37 to 22 with a successful 2 point conversion.
With the game almost out of reach, Notre Dame had scored and then they recovered an onside kick. In spite of the score, this is still an exciting game and Notre Dame running back Bob Gladieux took a pass from Hanratty on a screen play and runs it all the way down to the Purdue 14 yard line. A score here and Notre Dame still has a shot at a miracle come back and then, there is that Touchdown Jesus.
Alas, it was not to be as a heavy rush on 4th down forced Hanratty to throw the ball without his feet being set and he missed Jim Seymour in the end zone.
Purdue ball and they received a holding penalty which killed them running out the clock. On the punt, our guy Bob Gladiuex had a really impressive return and he nearly scored, but he fumbled the ball for the second time of the game.
The luck of the Irish had run out.
The historical significance of this game was Purdue’s number one ranking. They held it for another week after beating Notre Dame when they destroyed a bad Northwestern team, 43-6. The following week, they ran into a buzzsaw in Columbus, Ohio and the 4th ranked Ohio State Buckeyes who were ranked 4th coming in.
That would be the last time in the history of the Purdue Boilermakers that they would hold the top ranking in the polls. The Boilermakers lost another game, this one to the Minnesota Gophers to finish the season with a disappointing 8-2 record. An 8-2 record would have been impressive in just about any given year in the last nearly 50 years for the Buckeyes. Head coach Jack Mollenkopf hung up his whistle after the 1969 season and Purdue has been hit and miss ever since.
The Notre Dame Fighting Irish went on to national titles in 1973, 1977 and 1988. This season finished with a 7-2-1 record and a loss to Michigan State and tie with USC. In spite of the 22-37 loss on this day to the Boilermakers, they were a solid team in 1968.
1968 was the year of the Ohio State Buckeyes and their Super Sophomores.