'Upset of century' renewed a rivalry



Another Day, Another Dollar
Mar 1, 2002
OSU's 22-game winning streak ended at Michigan in 1969

Thursday, November 20, 2003

News Sports Reporter

Woody Hayes

On the very same Michigan Stadium field where he'll later throw some of the most legendary temper tantrums in college football history, sending yard markers flying and officials fleeing, Hayes is bounding up to the television camera, grinning. Then he waves and runs toward the players warming up in the distance.

Hayes never says a word in those few seconds, but there's an almost tangible joy about him, something like a kid at a birthday party.

It's Nov. 22, 1969, and the Ohio State coach practically owns college football.

His team hasn't lost a game in more than two years, hasn't even trailed at any point this season, and is so overwhelming Sports

Illustrated writes that it might be the best college team ever.

The Buckeyes are four quarters away from another perfect season and, with seven wins in his last nine meetings against Michigan and a 36-point win the previous season over what was supposed to be the Wolverines' best team in years, Hayes has every reason to smile.

A win by the 7-2 Wolverines would be the upset of the century, ABC television announcer Bill Fleming remarks. There's no proving that was Hayes' last carefree smile in Michigan Stadium, but it might have been.

Over the next three hours, everything changed.

Bo Schembechler - Woody's former player and assistant, the man he wanted to take over for him at Ohio State - beat one of the best teams in the history of Ohio State football. The Wolverines won the game that couldn't be won, 24-12, and started what fans would come to call "The Ten Year War," a rivalry within a rivalry that made Michigan vs. Ohio State matter again.

Down days for Michigan

The captain of the 1969 Michigan team remembers a football depression that a young Wolverine fan probably can't even contemplate, things like a 4-6 record in 1967, a half-empty stadium and seniors desperate not to graduate without ever beating Ohio State.

"We'd have crowds of 56,000, 49,000 at the big house," said Jim Mandich, then a senior tight end and now a radio and television sports analyst. "We'd have band day to try and get the crowd up to 67,000."

Even Ohio State couldn't sell out Michigan Stadium in 1967, but there wasn't a seat to be had in 1969. It was a no-lose proposition for Michigan fans. They knew they'd either get to say they saw one of the greatest teams in college football history or one of the game's greatest upsets.

"As you know, Bill," Mandich told Fleming in a pre-game television interview, "I've never been on a team that has defeated Ohio State and, unfortunately, we're going into our third year against the supposedly greatest Ohio State team of all-time. But that doesn't bother me (we) feel our chances are better than anyone else of defeating Ohio State."

What Mandich didn't mention was the grudge factor.

A year earlier, Hayes and the Buckeyes had destroyed the Wolverines, 50-14, then seemingly disrespected Michigan by trying a two-point conversion after the final late touchdown.

Hayes reportedly later said he went for two, "because I couldn't go for three."

"Bo didn't let us forget it," remembers Michigan defensive back Barry Pierson, now a retired teacher.

"He had stuff on all our lockers. That was one of his greatest traits, his motivational thought process. That was one of his specialties and, believe me, he didn't lack anything for that game. It was beautiful what he did."

'Go for three' a myth?

The thing about that two-point conversion?

Hayes didn't call it.

Jim Otis did.

And the thing about the infamous Hayes quote saying he went for two because he couldn't go for three? The one that really fired up the Wolverines? Otis, the Buckeyes' starting fullback that day, doubts his old coach said it.

According to Otis, here's what really happened. He was standing behind Hayes as the third string tried to punch in a fourth-quarter touchdown. They got to the 2-yard line, then faced fourth down.

"I said, 'Hey coach, you want me to go in there and score the touchdown?' and he said, 'Go ahead," says Otis, currently a real estate developer in St. Louis. "He said, 'You call the play.' I didn't know the faces in the huddle. I just looked at the left tackle, Dave Cheney, and said, 'Woody wants this going over you. You better block your ass off!"'

Then Otis punched it in for a 50-14 lead, and the Buckeye backups went nuts. When the celebration died down, Otis realized the kicker hadn't come out for the extra point. Rather than call a timeout or take a penalty, Otis told the kids to line up and he'd run it in.

The fullback failed to get the conversion, but created a legend, one that grew even larger when the infamous quote attributed to Hayes started circulating months later.

Ohio State media relations director Steve Snapp believes Hayes did make the remarks to a reporter, but isn't sure when or where.

Otis isn't buying.

"I don't believe he ever said it," Otis says. "It was so much not like Woody. Woody would never kid about something like that. It's a myth. I think if you really talk to those Michigan guys. I don't think they were mad about it. They just wanted to win that game.

"Now, Bo maybe made a big deal out of it. That wouldn't have surprised me," Otis added, chuckling.

Bo has anatomy of an upset

OK, put the quote aside and just look at the football. What happened?

How does the team of the century lose? Where did Ohio State's six interceptions, four of them by starting quarterback Rex Kern, come from? What happened to Jack Tatum, the All-American hitting machine who'd almost single-handedly destroyed the Michigan offense a year earlier? Why does Michigan make play after play, on both sides of the ball and special teams?

Talk to the Wolverines, and they mostly point to Bo.

Part of it was motivation, of course. "Sitting in our Sunday meeting before that game, under the stands of the baseball field, and Bo's talking to us," quarterback Don Moorhead remembers. "He's going player by player and he was mad we weren't the favorites."

But a lot more of it was plain old X's and O's coaching.

"Bo knew he could win this game, because he knew what Woody did," Pierson said.

He knew because he'd coached with Hayes for six years and little had changed.

He knew Ohio State's tendencies, what would happen in certain offensive formations or when a man went in motion or the halfback shifted. He knew that every time Tatum blitzed, the cornerback opened Ohio State up for a a quick-hitter pass from Don Moorhead to Mandich. He knew how to stop Kern from running and make him pass.

Schembechler had it all in his head and, by the time they hit the field Saturday, so did the Wolverines.

"I remember moving the ball the first series and thinking, 'Damn, we're just cutting through these guys,' " remembers Michigan fullback Garvie Craw, now a securities trader in New Jersey. "And thinking, early on, 'We're going to beat these guys.' "

At first, they traded punches. Ohio State was up 6-0, trailed 7-6, went back up 12-7, fell behind 14-12. After the last Michigan score, the Buckeye offense gained just 2 yards on its next possession and punted.

Pierson fielded the ball on his own 37 with 4:50 to play in the second quarter, shot through a hole between two Buckeye pursuers, skipped out of an ankle tackle and didn't stop running until he was pushed out of bounds at the 3-yard line.

Moorhead punched the ball in for a touchdown two plays later for a 21-12 lead.

Michigan added a field goal before halftime, after a touchdown was called back because of an illegal motion penalty on Mike Oldham, but it didn't matter.

The best game ever?

The Buckeyes never scored another point.

"What I know, because I've looked at the film with a fine-toothed comb, and I've coached for years, is that every guy played a tremendous game," said Pierson, who added three interceptions to his big punt return that day.

"There were no let-downs at all, I'm talking right to the end, every guy. When that happens, it doesn't matter who you're playing."

Hayes told Otis afterward that if he'd run the fullback 15 more times, Ohio State would have won. But Otis, who finished with 144 yards on 28 carries, believes it wasn't that simple.

"We did everything wrong," Otis said. "They were the better team that day."

Otis, to this day, insists the 1969 team was worthy of all the praise it got. It was, he says, a better team than the undefeated 1968 national championship squad.

He's never watched the game since. He's never talked with his teammates about it.

That kind of pain, of course, is part of why the game means so much to Michigan and its fans. Craw called it the greatest victory in the history of the world afterward.

But was it even the greatest game in the series? Given there wasn't a score in the second half? Given that Michigan was only ruining Ohio State's special season instead of constructing its own?

It probably wouldn't even be an argument in Columbus, Ohio.

The Michigan players mostly seem comfortable calling it one of the greatest wins rather than the greatest. Even Craw now says, "To overstate it is disrespectful to all the great players from both schools who have played the game for 100 years."

There's no arguing it was the biggest turning point in the series, the start of the most intense period, 10 years that would see Schembechler go 5-4-1 against Hayes with almost every game a clash of giants on the sideline and the field.

The definitive answer, though, may have come at a banquet honoring the 1969 team when Wayne Woodrow Hayes told Schembechler, "Damn you, Bo, you will never win a bigger game than that."

He never did.

In the history of Michigan and Ohio State since, nobody has.


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