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Ara Parseghian, Notre Dame architect of the Missing Ring, passes away at 94

Ara Parseghian tormented Alabama not once, but twice.

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Michigan State v Northwestern Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

One of the last living legends of the Silver Age, Notre Dame’s Ara Parseghian, passed away today at 94.

Parseghian was an interesting character. He was not a Notre Dame alum, and he was the first Protestant to coach the Irish since Knute Rockne -- and even Rockne converted. He didn’t have a big-time coaching resume; he had been the skipper at Miami of Ohio winning a few MAC titles, and he had one generally successful year at Northwestern (7-2.) But, what he did on the field with the Wildcats did turn the Irish’s eyes -- he beat Notre Dame straight-up and defeated Michigan in back-to-back seasons, the latter being a prerequisite for coaches in South Bend.

After the 1963 season, and a lot of begging, Parseghian was eventually given the job, At Notre Dame, he was instrumental in leading one of the greatest turnarounds in football history. After a disastrous 2-7 season in 1963, Coach Parseghian took the helm in ‘64 and morphed the Irish from a Big 10 style of play into an exciting passing unit. That Notre Dame team was undeafeated and No. 1 in the country going into its finale against USC. The Trojans won the game, but ND QB John Huarte set 12 school records and took home the Heisman Trophy.

Two years later, Parseghian would come to haunt Alabama fans in the shameful spectacle that was a colluded tie between his No. 1 Irish and the No. 2 Michigan State Spartans. Parseghian was unapologetic his entire life about playing for a tie, and why not? As so many things in the classical era of football, it inured to the Irish’s benefit.

In 1966, Alabama fielded perhaps its best Bryant team ever, and was the only undefeated untied team in the country. However, the Tide finished No. 3 in the nation, while Michigan State (No. 2) and Notre Dame (No. 1) split the national title after their disgusting melodrama, denying the Tide a third straight championship.

Alabama was passed over for the title in no small part to its draconian defense of segregation and the symbolic election of Lurleen Wallace as a figurehead for her husband’s apartheid policies. It is not really coincidence then that Alabama began permitting black walk-ons in 1967, is it? The Missing Ring had more to do with starting the slow integration of Alabama football than the much-mythologized 1970 USC loss.

It would not be the only time Parseghian tormented the Crimson Tide. Seven years later, in 1973, undefeated and No. 1 ranked Alabama met Parseghian’s undefeated No. 3 Irish in the Sugar Bowl. At least Notre Dame had the decency to beat Alabama on the field this time -- his Irish walked away with a one-point win and the national title following a 24-23 classic.

The two-time national coach of the year finished his coaching career with a 170–58–6 record, going 3-2 in bowl games. He retired following the 1975 season and entered the broadcast booth. His titles in 1966 and 1973 would be the only championships Ara Parseghian captured, and both at the expense of the Crimson Tide.

The man Alabama loved to hate, let the ground lie softly above him.

RIP, Coach.