Here is a quote from an article by Daniel Gorenstein on the history of the classification of finite simple groups (available here).

During that year in Harvard, Thompson began his monumental classification of the minimal simple groups. He soon realized that he didn't need to know that

everysubgroup of the given subgroup was solvable, but only its local subgroups, and he dubbed such groupsN-groups. However, the odd order theorem was still fresh in his mind. One afternoon I ran into him in Harvard Square and noticed he had a copy of Spanier's book on algebraic topology under his arm. "What in the world are you doing with Spanier?" I asked."Michael Atiyah has given a topological formulation of the solvability of groups of odd order and I want to see if it provides an alternate way of attacking the problem,"was his reply.

What is this topological formulation of the solvability of groups of odd order?