June 13, 2006

Auburn's Dye has no regrets about tie

As the traditional Father's Day gift, ties are nice, but not really that exciting.

The same was said once about ties in college football.

Asked why he had forsaken a game-tying field goal in a 21-18 loss to archrival Army in 1946, then-Navy coach Tom Hamilton gave the legendary and oft-repeated response: "A tie is like kissing your sister."

Nice. But not exciting.

Perhaps college's football's most famous or perhaps infamous deadlock was Notre Dame's 10-10 finish with Michigan State in 1966 in which coach Ara Parseghian did not attempt to mount a scoring drive when the Irish got the ball at their 30 with almost a minute and a half remaining.

Notre Dame and Michigan State both finished the season 9-0-1 and claimed a share of the national title - much to the dismay of Alabama, which went 11-0 that year.

However, for enduring bitterness, Syracuse's 16-16 tie with Auburn in the Sugar Bowl following the 1987 season would be difficult to top.

Although boasting an 11-0 record, Syracuse was ranked No. 4 behind Miami, Oklahoma and Florida State. But a Sugar Bowl victory would at least have given the Orange a claim on a share of the national championship, which Miami won by defeating Oklahoma 20-14 in the Orange Bowl.

The Orange (then the Orangemen) surely wish Hamilton had been coaching No. 6 Auburn instead of Pat Dye, who opted for a game-tying field goal that prevented Syracuse from posting a perfect season.

Memorable Ties
1. Notre Dame 10, Michigan State 10, Nov. 19, 1966, at East Lansing, Mich.: The then-No. 1 Irish faced the No. 2 Spartans in a matchup of unbeaten teams which was expected to settle the national championship. Joe Azzaro's 28-yard field goal for Notre Dame tied the game early in the fourth quarter, but he missed a potential game-winner from 41 yards with just over 4 minutes remaining. The Irish regained possession at their 30 with 1:24 to go, but coach Ara Parseghian opted to settle for the tie. It proved a good move. The Irish were crowned national champions by AP and UPI.
2. Syracuse 16, Auburn 16, Jan. 1, 1988, at New Orleans: (See story). Auburn kicker Win Lyle's 30-yard field goal with one second remaining prevented Syracuse from finishing with a perfect season and making a claim on the national championship. Auburn coach Pat Dye was given the nickname Pat Tie for his decision to kick.
3. Army 0, Notre Dame 0, Nov. 9, 1946, at New York: In another matchup of top-ranked teams, No. 1 Army had a 25-game winning streak, two Heisman Trophy-winning running backs in "Mr. Inside" Doc Blanchard and "Mr. Outside" Glenn Davis and a supportive crowd at Yankee Stadium against coach Frank Leahy's No. 2 Fighting Irish. Notre Dame reached the Army 4 in the second quarter, but was denied on four consecutive running plays. Army moved to the Notre Dame 12 in the fourth quarter, but Davis' option pass was intercepted by Terry Brennan, a future Irish coach. Army finished the season 9-0-1. Notre Dame finished 8-0-1, and as was the case 20 years later, was voted national champion.
4. Harvard 29, Yale 29, Nov. 23, 1968, at Cambridge, Mass.: Behind quarterback Brian Dowling - who hadn't lost a football game since the sixth grade - and running back Calvin Hill, Yale had a 16-game winning streak and was ranked No. 18 in the nation. The Elis were leading 29-13 with 3:34 remaining when they lost a fumble at the Harvard 14. They never got the ball again. Aided by an onside kick, Harvard scored 16 points in 42 seconds. Backup quarterback Frank Champi threw two touchdown passes in that span (the second covering 8 yards to Vic Gratto on the final play) and the Crimson made two two-point conversions. The next day's headline in the Harvard student newspaper proclaimed: Harvard beats Yale 29-29.
5. Florida State 31, Florida 31, Nov., 26, 1994 at Tallahassee, Fla.: The game is known as "The Choke at Doak" for Florida's failure to hold a 28-point lead going into the fourth quarter. Florida was cruising with a 31-3 lead with less than 15 minutes remaining, but the Gators got conservative and Florida State quarterback Danny Kanell rallied the Seminoles before a frenzied home crowd at Doak Campbell Stadium. Kanell ran for a touchdown and passed for another in the fourth quarter, and Rock Preston scored a game-tying touchdown on a 4-yard run with 1:45 remaining. Like Harvard 26 years before, Florida State felt like it won the game. Both teams ended the regular season 9-1-1. They met again in the Sugar Bowl, "the Fifth Quarter in the French Quarter," with the Seminoles prevailing 23-17.
6. Navy 21, Army 21, Nov. 27, 1948
7. Oklahoma 6, Texas 6, Oct. 9, 1976 at Dallas
8. Ohio State 10, Michigan 10, Nov. 24, 1973 at Ann Arbor, Mich.
9. Texas 15, Oklahoma 15, Oct. 13, 1984 at Dallas
10. Iowa 20, Notre Dame 20, Nov. 21, 1953 at South Bend, Ind.
"Anyone who's been in a tie has experienced that empty feeling," said Don McPherson, who quarterbacked Syracuse in that game. "The empty feeling (this time) came before the kick."

Syracuse had taken a 16-13 lead on Tim Vesling's 38-yard field goal with 2:04 to play.

Auburn quarterback Jeff Burger then led the Tigers on a nine-play drive that reached the Syracuse 13, but on fourth down - and with mere seconds remaining - Dye sent in his kicker, who coincidentally was named Win.

Win Lyle kicked a 30-yard field goal with one second left that ensured Syracuse would finish fourth in the final poll.

"I think there's a highlight tape where the look on Coach Mac's (Syracuse coach Dick MacPherson) face tells it all absolute and utter disbelief," McPherson said. "As a competitor, you wonder why they would kick a field goal there. There was no overtime. It doesn't get you anything. Not to mention the fact they were moving the ball. Our defense was tired. It was the last drive of the game. I think it was just disbelief."

Afterward, Dye was often called Pat Tie, and criticized so often it seemed he needed a lawyer. Actually, he had one, and that's a big reason he opted for the tie.

Lawyer Tillman, a tall, stout receiver, had been a major problem for the Orange throughout the game. Tillman had six catches for 125 yards, including a 17-yard touchdown in the first quarter. He also had a catch that put Auburn at the Syracuse 15 in the final drive.

Dye felt the Syracuse defense could not cover Tillman, so it had resorted to blatant holding to prevent him from running pass routes.

"They were holding, tackling, doing anything they could to keep him from getting downfield and the officials wouldn't call it," said Dye, who remains unrepentant almost 20 years later. "They about tore his uniform off him and the officials would not call a penalty on Syracuse.

"I was so mad when it came down to fourth down I said, 'Well, our kids played too hard and too good to get beat. If they ain't going to call a penalty, we're going to kick a field goal.'

"That upset Syracuse fans, but I wasn't concerned about that. I was concerned about our football team. I thought they played well enough to win. If I thought Lawyer Tillman could get off the ball and have a fair chance to make it to the end zone I probably would gone for it. He was a 6-foot-4, 225-pound wide receiver, so if you throw it up to him you've got a 50-50 chance to get a touchdown. They knew that and that's the reason they weren't going to let him get off the line of scrimmage."

McPherson said he doubted Auburn players supported their coach's decision.

"I honestly feel like the Auburn players were a little embarrassed for a couple of reasons. For one, we weren't supposed to be on the field with them," said McPherson, who must have forgotten that Syracuse was the higher-ranked team. "They were Auburn. According to a lot of people, we were a Canadian team. We're in New Orleans, playing against Auburn, and they kicked a field goal to save face, it felt like.

"I've been to Auburn several times since, and I bust their chops about it all the time. That's the sense I got, that they were a little embarrassed to kick a field goal."

Not necessarily, says Lyle now a doctor who practices general orthopedics with a special interest in sports medicine.

"Some of our offensive linemen were yelling that they wanted to go for it," Lyle said. "You can understand that in the heat of the battle. We had just driven down the field and they wanted to win the game. But we weren't upset with (the decision to kick the field goal).

"We loved Coach Dye and respected his decision. After the game, when we got back to campus, there was no controversy or negativity about it. All that was coming from the Syracuse side."

Dye doesn't know if his players were embarrassed. He doesn't care, either.

"I make those decisions," he said. "I don't leave those decisions to a player."

In the weeks after the game, a Syracuse radio station ribbed Dye by collecting 2,000 ties and sending them to him.

Dye autographed each one and sold them. He raised about $30,000 $1,000 for each yard Lyle's game-tying field goal traveled and donated the money to Auburn's general scholarship fund.

"When you look back at fourth and 13 with four seconds left - the odds were so much greater that we'd make the field goal than score a touchdown," Lyle said. "I think our fans and players were good with it. In retrospect, I bet they'd think it was the right decision."


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