Michigan considers itself the be-all and end-all of college football. They were the first non-“Ivy League” team to emerge as a national powerhouse. Before Notre Dame established itself in the American conscience, Michigan was Midwestern football. The Wolverines were winning national championships in the early part of the twentieth century. Their all-time record is the best going back almost to Reconstruction.
Ohio State University
Colors: Scarlet and gray
Stadium: Ohio Stadium (opened: 1922: capacity: 101,568)
All-time record: (1890-2006): 787-301-53
Bowl record: 18-20 (through 2006)
National championships: 1942, 1954, 1957, 1968, 2002
Big 10 championships: 31 (through 2006)
Heisman Trophies: Les Horvath (1944), Vic Janowicz (1950), Howard Cassady (1955),
Archie Griffin (1974-75), Eddie George (1995), Troy Smith (2006)
Outland Trophies: Jim Parker (1956), Jim Stillwagon (1970), John Hicks (1973),
Orlando Pace (1996)
First round NFL draftees: 65 (through 2007)
Notable alumni: Olympians Jesse Owens and Max Whitfield; golfer Jack Nicklaus;
basketball coach Bobby Knight; Hall of Fame basketball player John Havlicek; basketball players Jerry Lucas, Larry Siegried, Jim Jackson and Greg Oden; baseball announcer Jack Buck; comedian Richard Lewis; author R. L. Stine; The Limited, Inc. founder Leslie H. Wexner
Michigan had a tremendous rivalry with Notre Dame almost from the beginning. When the Big 10 formed itself, their stiffest competition came from Minnesota and Chicago. Ohio State was an after-thought.
Michigan thinks of itself as the upscale school; better academics, wealthier students. Ohio State carries with it the unfortunate moniker of just that, a state institution. Even though Michigan is, too, they take on the heirs of a private school. They most definitely look down on Ohio State’s team. Its alumni are considered yokels.
A funny thing happened along the way, however. Ohio State, Michigan’s lapdog, built a great football program. After many years, Michigan had to admit that their biggest rivalry was not with old powerhouse Minnesota, and certainly not with Chicago (who eventually gave up football), but with the Buckeyes.
There are no other Big 10 teams in Ohio. The rivalry based itself on intense, great football match-ups. Like other fantastic rivalries, Ohio State-Michigan elevated both programs to higher status, which is the mark of the best rivals. But to Michigan’s great chagrin, the Buckeyes passed them. The Wolverines have plenty of gaudy numbers to throw out there, much of it built in the “leather helmet and rugby” era. It may not be a cut ‘n’ dried case, but all things considered, Ohio State is today the greater tradition by a narrow margin. Had the Buckeyes not collapsed against Florida in the 2007 BCS nation championship game, there would be little question. In addition, the Buckeyes would have asserted a strong argument that they had replaced USC as the “Team of the Decade” for the 2000s.
Alas for them they did not, but Buckeye football is nevertheless steeped in great lore. There is something extra special about these guys; the decals on their helmets, their great nickname – Buckeyes – and the sense that they are the embodiment of rough, tough, cold, raw Midwestern football. Ohio is a state that has seen its share of tough times. It is a blue collar state, a factory state. Michigan’s factories are seen as cutting edge auto shops. Ohio is coal mines and textile mills.
There are two major cities in Ohio, Cleveland and Cincinnati. Cleveland tends to be liberal, has more minorities, and lacks glamour. Cincinnati tends to be conservative, white and lacks glamour. There is passion for professional sports in both cities; the Browns, Indians, Cavaliers, Bengals, Reds. Then there is Columbus. Passion for Buckeye football in Columbus supercedes all other consideration. Whether you are a fan of the Browns, Indians, Cavaliers, Bengals, or Reds, you better root for the Bucks.
Ohio State versus Michigan: 57-40-6
The Buckeye is the state tree. The decals on Ohio State helmets are those of the tree. However, the term “Buckeye” elicits the image of something more powerful than a tree (which Stanford, for instance, receives endless heat over since that seems to be their mascot, sort of). A Buckeye sounds more like a tough, Medieval warrior; some guy who warded off the invading Romans or Moors, maybe using a battle-axe called a “buckeye.”
On November 24, 1900 mighty Michigan deigned to allow Ohio State to travel to Ann Arbor for a football match. The Wolverines were just beginning the greatest run in school history and thought little of lightly-regarded Ohio State. The game ended in a 0-0 tie, a decided “victory” for Ohio State.
Fielding Yost’s “point a minute” teams did not forgive the intruders from Columbus. Between 1901 and 1909, Michigan destroyed Ohio State by mostly embarrassing scores: 21-0, 86-0, 36-0, 31-6, 40-0, 6-0, 22-0, 10-6 and 33-6. To Ohio State’s credit, they kept coming back for more. Then, in 1910, they tied Michigan again, 3-3. Two more shutout losses followed. In 1913 Ohio State called it quits. Despite being a member of the so-called Western Conference, which was given the popular appellation “Big 10,” they did not play Michigan for years.
Then something really crazy happened. Under coach John W. Wilce, Ohio State went unbeaten in 1916 and 1917. In 1918 Michigan found itself back on their schedule. Same result: 14-0, Wolverines. In 1919, it was the Fourth of July, the Emancipation Proclamation and the fall of the Berlin Wall all in one: Buckeyes 13, Wolverines 3. The timing could not be better. With World War I over, America turned its attention to college football from coast to coast, mountain to prairie. The Rose Bowl invited the unbeaten Buckeyes to Pasadena on January 1, 1921 to play the greatest power in the land, California’s “Wonder Team.” It was a game for the national championship, for renewed Midwestern respect after a down period, and the chance to put Ohio State football on the map. The 28-0 pounding they took at the hands of Brick Muller and the Golden Bears set the program back two decades.
Michigan regained their place, winning national titles in 1923 and 1933. Ohio State under Wilce, then coaches Sam Willaman (1929-1933) and Francis Schmidt (1934-(1940) fielded an array of winning and near .500 teams, none of which made anybody forget that Michigan and Minnesota ruled the Big 10. There were no bowl invites anywhere. There were some great players, to be sure. Chick Harley was a three-time consensus All-American. Other consensus choices included Charles Bolen, Iolas Huffman, Gaylord Stinchcomb, Ed Hess, Wes Fesler, Gomer Jones, and Esco Sarkinnen.
High school football was almost as big in Ohio as Ohio State. It fit in perfectly with the small town values of its rural citizenry. One school rose above the rest, the very first of the great prep dynasties. Before there was Cincinnati Moeller, Long Beach Poly, Santa Ana Mater Dei or Concord De La Salle, there was Massillon of Ohio. The name alone connotes something substantial. Massillon of Ohio! Its coach: Paul W. Brown.
The argument over who is the greatest football coach ever creates a lengthy discussion worthy of many beers and maybe a few shots for good measure. Amos “Alonzo” Stagg, Knute Rockne, Vince Lombardi, Bud Wilkinson, Bear Bryant, Bill Walsh? . . . just to get warmed up.
But if somebody chooses to make the case that Paul Brown is the greatest of all football coaches, it is as worthy a choice as any. When it comes to men who forged dynasties at the high school, college and pro levels, he did it better than anybody. As an innovator, he ranks with Pop Warner, Clark Shaughnessy and Sid Gillman. From the halls of Massillon did Brown emerge, and within one year ultimate victory was achieved in Columbus. In 1942 Ohio State went 9-1, beat Michigan 21-7, and was voted number one in the final Associated Press poll. Michigan was forced to take them seriously now.
Unfortunately, the only thing anybody really took seriously over the next couple years were the German and Japanese armies. Brown left after the 1943 season. The fact that Iowa Pre-Flight had a better team than Ohio State that season indicated where the best talent was in the war years. After World War II, Brown took over the Cleveland Browns, and turned them into the greatest professional juggernaut heretofore seen.
Ohio State was 9-0 under coach Carroll Widdess in 1944, but nobody was going to get the votes that went for Army’s national title. The Big 10’s Rose Bowl arrangement was not yet in place, so there were no New Year’s Day games to give the program any added luster. There was not much luster of any kind until 1949. The Buckeyes salvaged a season that included a frustrating 7-7 tie against Michigan (then at the height of the program’s glory) by gaining revenge for the 1921 shutout loss to California.
The Golden Bears were unbeaten and finished third in the final Associated Press rankings behind Notre Dame and Oklahoma. However, a Rose Bowl win would give imprimatur to the Pacific Coast Conference, which had lost prestige since the death of USC’s Howard Jones a decade earlier. Cal fans still argue that a bad call cost them the 17-14 loss to Ohio State.
On November 25, 1950 Ohio State, led by coach Wes Fesler, lost 9-3 to Fritz Crisler and Michigan in brutal snow, ten-degree temperatures, and forty mile per hour winds. Fesler was fired after the season. That game, contrasted with eighty degree New Year’s Day Rose Bowl games, is credited with much of the enormous migration of Midwesterners to California over the next decade.
All-Time Ohio State Team
Chosen by the Columbus Touchdown Club, 2002
OL Jim Parker
OL John Hicks
OL Orlando Pace
E Wes Fesler
WR Cris Carter
WR David Boston
QB Rex Kern
QB Art Schlichter
QB Joe Germaine
RB Chick Harley
RB Les Horvath
RB Howard “Hopalong” Cassady
RB Archie Griffin
RB Eddie George
PL Vlade Janakievski
DL Bill Willis
DL Jim Stillwagon
LB Chris Spielman
LB Andy Katzenmoyer
DB Jack Tatum
DB Neal Colzie
DB Antoine Winfield
P Tom Skladany
By the end of the 1940s, Ohio State was a competent college football program, but far below the standards of Michigan (established as their primary rival when their game was scheduled at the end of the season beginning in 1935). Consensus All-Americans of the 1940s included Jack Dugger, Bill Hackett, and Warren Amling. Les Horvath won the 1944 Heisman Trophy. In 1950, Vic Janowicz won the school’s second Heisman. In 1951, everything changed for Ohio State football fortunes. Woodrow “Woody” Hayes made his arrival.
“He’s the stompin’, snortin’, fire-breathin’ bully who ran a caveman ‘three yards and a cloud of dust’ offense, tormented game officials, tore up yard markers, smashed his wrist watches and went down swinging,” according to the ESPN College Football Encyclopedia.
A lieutenant commander in the Navy, Hayes modeled football strategy and discipline after military strategy and discipline. General George Patton, above all others, was the man he wanted to emulate. In his mind, a football team moved down field on the ground, via the “infantry.” A pass could result in one of only three things “and two of them are bad.”
In 1954, Hayes returned Ohio State to the promised land. A 21-7 triumph over arch-rival Michigan capped a perfect regular reason and the Associated Press national championship. But the game everybody wanted to see, a match-up against the United Press International’s number one team, Red Sanders’s UCLA Bruins, did not happen because for a few years the Pacific Coast Conference instituted the notorious “no-repeat” rule. UCLA was prevented from a trip to Pasadena. Southern California went in their stead after getting hammered by the Bruins, 34-0 in front of 102,548 fans.
A rare rainstorm hit Pasadena, meaning that Ohio State played in Ohio State weather. 89,191 observed quarterback Dave Leggett lead his team to a resounding 20-7 victory, preserving the integrity of the national championship following three disastrous years in which the 1950, 1951 and 1953 “champions” all fell in ignominious manner after the votes were in.
Hayes began his long-standing feud with the Tournament of Roses Committee. Even though the muddy conditions probably played to the Buckeyes’ strength, he criticized a decision not to cover the field with a tarpaulin, and to allow the bands to play on the field. Up until that time, the 1952 Trojans were the only PCC team to beat a Big 10 team in the Rose Bowl arrangement that began on January 1, 1947. Hayes had little praise for USC, Pasadena, Los Angeles, the film industry, Southern California, the state of California, the Pacific Coast, the West Coast, the “left coast,” the West or liberalism, which in his mind was a cancer on society manifesting itself in the immoral ways of Hollywood and environs. The contrast to this was that one of Hayes’s favorite politicians, then-Vice President Richard Nixon, was a Southern Californian Republican.
The following season, Howard Cassady won Ohio State’s third Heisman Trophy.. He was given the nickname “Hopalong” because his last name was the same as a famous cowboy figure in the movies known as “Hopalong Cassady.” In 1956, Bob White made consensus All-America and big Jim Parker won the Outland Trophy. In 1957 the Buckeyes won Hayes’s second national championship.
After beating Michigan, 31-14 , Woody again led his team to Pasadena. Oregon was a strong foe, but with the game tied 7-7 with five minutes remaining in the game, the Bucks drove for the winning field goal in a 10-7 victory. Hayes and his program were on top of the world. Parker was made the first round choice of the Baltimore Colts, where he and Johnny Unitas teamed up to create a great NFL powerhouse.
The 1950s seemed to be a decade tailor made for Ohio State and its conference. The conservative tenor of those times fit perfectly well with Woody’s strict personality. The PCC continued to flounder amidst a recruiting and payola scandal.
The 1961 Buckeyes were 8-0-1 with a 50-20 pasting of Michigan. Led by running back Bob Ferguson, they were named national champions by the football writers, who awarded them the MacArthur Bowl. However, Alabama was unbeaten, untied and won their bowl game after being voted number one in both the AP and UPI pre-bowl polls. Ohio State, for unfathomable reasons, actually voted not to accept a Rose Bowl invitation. Victory in Pasadena would have at least strengthened their argument that the MacArthur Bowl carried some prestige. When they stayed home instead, the MacArthur trophy became just a piece of hardware. Woody and the Buckeyes were known to accept challenges, but the decision not to travel to Pasadena looks very much like avoidance of a possible loss in a lame effort at preserving an unbeaten record. Historical legitimacy, as well as both polls, accords Alabama the undisputed consensus national championship of 1961.
In the 1960s, USC and UCLA established themselves as the glamour rivalry of college football, raising the prestige of their conference from its lowest depths in the 1950s to a position, arguably as the best in college football. Power shifted to the Trojans, who in 1967 and 1969 won death struggles with the Bruins, their most significant threat. The USC-Notre Dame rivalry was revived in a big way, too and Alabama re-asserted themselves under Bear Bryant.
After 1961, Woody’s Buckeyes and the Big 10 in general were competent but not dominant. Then, in 1968 Ohio State emerged with a team that probably stands out above all others as the greatest of the decade. It was the beginning of a bittersweet period.
Hayes was a firm believer in people earning their “place at the table.” He preferred seniors and upperclassmen to inexperienced youngsters because they had put the time in and deserved to be rewarded for it; and also because they were generally better through maturity and experience. But talent trumps all other considerations.
Ohio State versus Alabama (0-3), Miami (2-1), Michigan (40-57-6), Nebraska, Notre Dame (2-
2), Southern California (9-11-1)
The Massillon High School program had continued to thrive long after Paul Brown left. They provided the nucleus of Hayes’s greatest team. Five “super sophomores” started for the Buckeyes, including quarterback Rex Kern, defensive back Jack Tatum, and defensive end Jim Stillwagon. After an early-season upset of number one Purdue, they averaged thirty-two points and 442 yards a game, mostly on the ground. It was more than “three yards and a cloud of dust,” however. The Buckeyes were likely to knock off five or six yards before the dust cloud formed.
Defensively they allowed fifteen points per game and annihilated Michigan, 50-14. Finally, the AP had come to their senses once and for all. Their decision to vote the final rankings after the bowls meant that the 1969 Rose Bowl game between Ohio State and defending national champion Southern California was one for the ages. The Trojans featured the unstoppable O. J. Simpson. The challenge of beating Troy in what amounted to a “home game” for USC was monumental.
1968 was the epoch of America’s cultural divide. The Vietnam War raged, assassinations and war protests roiled the land, and sides were taken: hippies and “fellow travelers” on one side, the “Silent Majority” on the other. Hayes was the “Silent Majority,” although not so silent. He campaigned for Republican nominee Richard Nixon, who beat Hubert Humphrey to attain the White House that year.
The University of Southern California is a conservative, private institution. Los Angeles was still relatively Republican and Christian in 1968. Its origins were Southern and Midwestern, so much so that L.A. Times sports columnist Jim Murray dubbed nearby Long Beach “Iowa West.” But Hayes characterized the trip to Pasadena as Daniel venturing into the “lion’s den” of Hollywood, immorality and values run amok. He and John McKay had more in common than not, but for purposes of motivating his team, he wanted them to feel like they were facing not just enemies of Buckeye football, but tacit enemies of the state.
The Trojans got out to a 10-0 lead on the strength of an 80-yard touchdown run by Heisman Trophy winner Simpson, one of the most remarkable of his collegiate and pro and career. But five USC turnovers allowed Ohio State back into the game. They ground Southern Cal down in the second half to give Hayes vindication and another national championship, 27-16.
With a sophomore-laden team, predictions of a first-ever three-straight national title dynasty in Columbus were made. The 1969 Buckeyes were immediately installed as the greatest team in college football history. Sports Illustrated’s headline after their opening game was simply “62-0,” the score of their demolition of Texas Christian. The Buckeyes rolled through the season ranked number one. They never trailed in a game and did not veer one bit from the concept that they were indeed the best college team ever.
With the ridiculous “no-repeat” rule still in place, the Buckeyes needed only a victory over Michigan to capture the national title even without a trip to the Rose Bowl.
On November 22 Ohio State traveled to Michigan, led by new coach Bo Schembechler, a one-time Hayes assistant. Ohio State scored two touchdowns but missed extra points on both. It did not seem to matter much, but Michigan came roaring back. They stopped the Buckeyes cold, winning one of the greatest upsets in history, 24-12. Schembechler’s legend was made.
In 1970, Hayes’s team were all seniors. They were again a dominant group, but like other great college sports teams that returned superstars – think of the 1974 UCLA Bruin basketball team, the 1991 UNLV basketball team, or the 2005 USC Trojans football team – they had a slight case of “senioritis.” They were certainly a great team, some think Woody’s best ever, but there were small chinks in the armor.
By 1970, the culture Hayes came to despise had crept closer and closer to Columbus. The war was not going well. Shootings at nearby Kent State University brought it home even further. Woody liked to show a movie to his team the night before a game. His favorite fare, not surprisingly, were John Wayne movies like The Sands of Iwo Jima. In 1970, Patton was released. Woody thought it was not just the greatest war movie ever made, but perfect pre-game inspiration. Woody himself could not deliver a more fiery speech than George C. Scott’s opening oration outlined by an oversized American flag.
Buckeyes on the run
S/Start season; F/Finish season
Year Record Run
1967 6-3 F/4-0 6-3 (1967)
1968 10-0 16-3 (1967-68)
1969 8-1 S/8-0 24-3 (1967-68)
20-0 (1967-68) 20 games
1970 9-1 33-4 (1967-70)
Year Record Run
1972 9-2 9-2 (1972)
1973 10-0-1 19-2-1 (1972)
1974 10-2 29-4-1 (1972-74)
1975 11-1 40-5-1 (1972-75)
1976 9-2-1 S/2-0 49-7-2 (1972-76)
42-6-2 (1972-76) 50 games
Woody Hayes and Earle Bruce – a sustained run
1951 4-3-2 Woody Hayes
1979 11-1 Earle Bruce
His players enjoyed the film, so much so that Woody began to count on them to go so see it on their own instead of the usual team gatherings. Prior to one game, Woody encountered two of his players returning from the movie theatre. He inquired what they had seen.
“Easy Rider,” was the answer.
“EASY RIDER?” Hayes responded in disgust. “You can’t play football after seeing that crap.”
On January 1, 1970 the Buckeyes came out to play the ultimate Easy Rider team, Stanford. Earlier in the day, the defending national champions, number one-ranked Texas fell to Notre Dame, 24-11. All Ohio State needed to do was beat outgunned Stanford and they would have their second national title in three years. It would cap the greatest class in history, a three-year run not approached before or since. The game started and Ohio State took the lead, but Heisman Trophy-winning Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett led the Indians all the way back to a resounding 27-17 victory. It was a California earthquake felt across the country. That night, Nebraska squeaked past LSU, 17-12 to win a surprise national championship.
Consensus All-Americans in the 1960s included the likes of Bob Ferguson, Dave Foley, Jim Otis, Jack Tatum and Jim Stillwagon. Tatum is considered one of the finest defensive backs in college football history. He starred for great Oakland Raiders teams where he was given the unfortunate moniker “Assassin” after his hit of New England’s Darryl Stingley resulted in Stingley’s paralysis. Stingley finally died in 2007.
The loss to Stanford in the 1971 Rose Bowl was the symbolic end of one era and the beginning of another. From 1972 to 1975, Ohio State went to four straight Rose Bowls, but it was a period of terrific frustration for Woody. His greatest player, Archie Griffin, won two Heisman Trophies (1974-1975). Incredible success but ultimate glory, again enticingly close, was not attained.
Woody’s feud with the state of California intensified. Losses to USC and UCLA, sometimes by blowout, sometimes by the barest of margins, enraged him. He told his team to “be polite to everybody, but don’t say anything. No son of a b---h out here wants you to win.” When a Los Angeles Times photographer got too close at an inopportune time, Woody punched him. A lawsuit ensued.
Hayes was incensed by what he considered the insouciance of Trojan coach John McKay. McKay was a wise-cracker who seemingly joked his way to victory over the Buckeyes. One year McKay sent his assistant, Davy Levy, to a series of pre-game functions in his place. Hayes was non-plussed.
“He should be here,” he snapped to Levy, expressing the attitude that McKay showed disrespect via non-attendance. What Woody did not know was that both McKay and his son, Trojan wide receiver J. K. McKay, had received death threats – from a Buckeye fan? – and were advised by the FBI to stay out of public view as much as possible.
When USC’s Sam Cunningham kept going over the top of the Ohio State line to score four touchdowns against the Buckeyes in the 1973 Rose Bowl, McKay motioned to Woody from across the field the field that Cunningham was going “over the top,” inferring that even though he knew it was coming the Bucks could not stop him. Cunningham did precisely that. Woody seethed.
The Trojans destroyed Ohio State that day, 42-17 to take the national title and gain revenge for O. J.’s 1969 loss. In 1973 the Buckeyes were back with one of the best teams in their history. They were a juggernaut on offense and produced three straight shutouts on defense.
All season long, America waited for the battle with Michigan. Both teams were unbeaten and untied coming into the game at Ann Arbor. It was for the Big 10 title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. For the first time, the “no-repeat” rule was done away with, meaning that Ohio State could return with a win. Ranked number one for eight weeks, it would also give the Buckeyes – or the Wolverines - the “poll position” going into the bowls, although a “national title game” between unbeaten Alabama and Notre Dame promised to upset the apple cart.
Ohio State jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but stayed on the ground for forty-nine straight plays. Woody’s lack of inventiveness on offense cost him. Michigan bottled the Buckeyes up, especially Griffin who hurt his leg after having gained most of his 163 yards. Michigan rallied. The game settled into “trench warfare,” the gridiron version of the Germans and English at Verdun.
Woody’s admonition that the forward pass could result in “three things and two of them are bad” seemed to justify itself when he went to the air late in an effort to drive into field goal position. The resulting Wolverine interception gave Michigan their shot, but a field goal try failed. The 10-10 tie was totally unsatisfying. It also killed national championship hopes for either team. Notre Dame beat Alabama in an extraordinary Sugar Bowl to win it.
With a repeat to Pasadena now available, Ohio State lobbied hard to go. Gone were the days of 1961, when they turned down the invite. Big bucks had come to college football. Television money was exorbitant. The Rose Bowl was the most lucrative of all TV deals.
Big 10 officials gathered for the vote. A 5-5 tie would send Michigan since Ohio had gone the year before. But it came in 6-4 for Woody’s team. Bo Schembechler was livid. Hard words and accusations were thrown about. Michigan State’s representative voted against their in-state rival, reportedly as reprisal against Michigan’s decades-old attempt to keep the Spartans out of the Big 10 Conference. The fact that Michigan suffered debilitating injuries, potentially weakenig them against USC, the Pac-8 champion, played into the decision, too. In the end, however, Ohio State deserved to go. They had tied Michigan at Ann Arbor and were considered the better team all season.
Retribution was Woody’s when his team came out throwing in a 42-21 win over the Trojans. Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian advised Woody to do just that against USC. Hayes called it the “greatest victory” in Ohio State history, which probably says as much about USC as it does about Ohio State. Beating the Trojans in those days was like knocking off Napoleon’s Grand Armee or the . . . Trojans when the Mycenaean Greeks burned Troy after the “stealing” of Helen, the “face that launched a thousand ships.”
The January 1, 1975 “Trojan War” involved no bloodshed, but USC was out to avenge their loss just as Agamemnon had set out to avenge, on behalf of Menelaus, Helen’s “capture” by a lovestruck Paris. The stakes were not nearly so complicated at the Rose Bowl: just the national championship, up for grabs again. Oklahoma was on probation. The UPI finally joined the post-bowl party. Southern California beat Notre Dame in one of the wildest games ever played, 55-24 in Los Angeles. Woody’s 10-1 team had hopes that victory over USC would give them the national title. Sitting in the Coliseum press box, where he was an analyst on the national TV broadcast, he saw USC dismantle the Irish on the green plains below. He must have felt like a German military commander with a binocular view of Patton’s tanks marching through the low countries, knowing the only thing he had was Hitler’s order to, “Stop the Americans at the Saar.”
Fat chance, that.
The USC fans, knowing Woody was in the house, began to chant, “Woody, you’re next.” It was a surreal day. One month later, the Buckeyes were back in Pasadena. USC supporters, having also observed the football version of the American Army rumbling through the Wehrmacht in the late winter of 1945, probably thought Ohio State would fall in like manner. No so quick there, Johnson.
USC came out looking for a little payback after what it considered a bad Heisman vote. The junior Griffin indeed outplayed USC senior tailback Anthony Davis most of the season, although the differential was not enormous. In the days before the Internet and fax machines, votes had to be mailed in and received. The tradition was to vote prior to the weekend’s last games. In 1974, USC played Notre Dame on November 30, a fairly late date. Most ballots were already in the “snail mail” when Davis had what many historians consider one of the finest games any player has ever had against the Irish, or anybody else. The prevailing view is that A. D.’s game against Notre Dame would have pushed him ahead of the underclassman Griffin had the votes been cast after the game, as they should have been. That said, A. D. was hurt early in the Rose Bowl and was not a big factor. Griffin went on to a repeat Heisman in 1975, a better pro career, and is seen as the greater of the two players.
The Buckeyes played USC straight up and down. All-American defensive back Neal Colzie kept breaking up Trojan quarterback Pat Haden’s passes to J. K. McKay and Shelton Diggs, then taunting the Trojans. In the end the last laugh was on him.
Haden led Troy on a two-minute drive and a touchdown pass to McKay in the corner of the end zone . . . over Colzie. Then Haden’s two-point conversion pass to Diggs, a desperation move when a wall of Buckeyes prevented him from running it in, broke Woody’s heart. The national title belonged not to Ohio State, but to USC.
The game was heartbreaking, but on New Year’s Day, 1976 came the straw that broke Buckeyes’ backs. Oklahoma had a loss. Unbeaten, second-ranked Texas A&M lost, 20-0 to Southern California in the Liberty Bowl. Undefeated Arizona State, not yet in the Pacific-10 Conference, was not yet considered national championship material.
The Buckeyes faced 8-2-1 UCLA, who had survived a down, competitive Pac-8 schedule to emerge as champions. The Bruins survived seven fumbles in their 25-22 win over the Trojans in a game nobody looked like they wanted to win. Ohio State, led by the two-time Heisman winner Griffin, was heavily favored. Was it possible that this team could lose to such a mediocre team as UCLA?
The score was 23-10, Bruins. UCLA’s All-American quarterback, John Sciarra was masterful. The Bruins dominated Ohio State; it was never really close. Just like the 1969, 1970, and 1974 seasons, a national title eluded Woody Hayes in the final game; for the third time versus a team he was heavily favored to beat. Only against a team considered even or favored to beat them – USC in the 1974 and 1975 Rose Bowls – had Ohio State won and then really made it close.
The frustration built into a crescendo for Woody. Here was a genuinely good man who asked his players to “pay it forward” by doing good deeds for the community. Hayes was a groundbreaker when it came to recruiting black players. He turned boys into men who graduated and God did he love them. They loved him, too, because he truly cared about them, their families and their lives. He was utterly sentimental, emotional and real. He was not a mercenary; he was Ohio State football.
But his autocratic ways were made fun of. West Coast fans and writers took to belittling him. In the days of long hair and loose morals, Woody’s style was looked upon as old school, yesterday, by the lesser lights and unimpressives who criticized him but could not carry his dirty jock strap. But on the field, Woody was so fiery and competitive that it got the best of him. Finally, on December 29, 1978 it did get the best of him. With Ohio State trailing Clemson, 17-15 in the Gator Bowl, the Buckeyes were driving when Clemson’s Charlie Bauman intercepted Art Schlichter’s pass, sealing a Buckeye loss. Hayes lost control. In the heat of the moment he grabbed Bauman and tried to punch him. By Monday morning he was out of his office. That said, Woody is the best thing that ever happened to Ohio State football, and one of the finest people in the history of this great game. His human faults were just that, oh so human like the rest of us, whose best approach to his memory is to “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
Ohio College Hall of Famers (25)
Gomer Jones 1933-1935
Warren Amling 1945-1946
Jim Parker 1954-1956
Aurealius Thomas 1955-1957
Gust Zarnas 1935-1937
Jim Stillwagon 1968-1970
Warren Amling 1944-1946
Jim Daniell 1939-1941
John Hicks 1970-1973
Bill Willis 1942-1944
Wes Fesler 1928-1930
Jim Houston 1957-1959
Les Horvath 1940-1944
Hopalong Cassady 1952-1955
Archie Griffin 1972-1975
Chic Harley 1916-1919
Vic Janowicz 1949-1951
Gaylord Stinchcomb 1917-1920
Bob Ferguson 1959-1961
Randy Gradishar 1971-1973
Jack Tatum 1968-1970
Rex Kern 1968-1970
Woody Hayes 1946-1978
Francis Schmidt 1919-1942
John Wilce 1913-1928
Woody won 205 games and thirteen Big 10 championships. He passed in 1987 a larger than life figure. No successor has approached his record or persona. But he was an old man in 1978 and it was time for a change anyway. Earle Bruce led Ohio State to another one of those brutally disappointing seasons; disappointing because so much success preceded ultimate failure; disappointing because it became, and continues to this day, to be the mark of Buckeye football over the past forty years.
Led by the sophomore Schlichter, Ohio State surprised many by rolling to an 11-0 record. They kept getting better every week, capping the regular season with an 18-15 triumph over Michigan. Ranked number one heading into the Rose Bowl, all they needed to do was beat a team that many considered the greatest of all time!
Defending national champion Southern California was the pre-season number one, but a 21-21 tie with Stanford was the single bump in their road. It opened the door for Ohio State and Alabama, both unbeaten and untied. Early talk about the Trojans being the best team ever assembled did not quite hold up, but they were so good blind people came to the Coliseum to hear them hit opponents.
Schlichter kept the Trojans off-balance all afternoon. Ohio State managed a spare 16-10 lead in the defensive struggle, but Southern California got the ball with minutes left to play. Eschewing the pass, USC coach John Robinson used Heisman Trophy-winning tailback Charlie White to pound out yardage until Troy was in the end zone; the point-after was good, 17-16; and Ohio State was forced to walk off the Rose Bowl field in abject disappointment once again. The Big 10 had lost ten of the last eleven Rose Bowl games.
USC rooted for Arkansas to beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl, which would have given them back-to-back national championships, but the Crimson Tide was victorious. Despite so many “close but no cigar” seasons, it was one of the greatest decades in Buckeye football history. It had produced consensus All-Americans Jim Stillwagon, John Hicks, Randy Gradishar, Steve Meyers, Kurt Schumacher, Archie Griffin, Ted Smith, Tim Fox, Bob Brudzinski, Chris Ward, Tom Cousineau, and Ken Fritz. Stillwagon was the 1970 Lombardi Award and Outland Trophy recipient. Griffin is to this day the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Hicks also earned 1973 Outland and Lombardi honors.
Led by running back Keith Byars, Bruce’s Buckeyes returned to Pasadena on January 1, 1985. Their opponent: Southern California again. This may have been the weakest Trojan team ever to make it to the Rose Bowl, but the result was a familiar one: 20-17, Troy. The Buckeyes finished 9-3. Consensus All-Americans in the 1980s included Marcus Marek, Byars, Jim Lachey, talented receiver Cris Carter and Tom Tupa. Chris Spielman was a dominant two-time All-American linebacker (1986-1987) and winner of the Lombardi Award his senior year.
In 1995, running back Eddie George earned Ohio State’s sixth Heisman Trophy when he rushed for 1,927 yards and twenty-four touchdowns. His other honors included Doak Walker, Maxwell, Walter Camp and Big 10 Player of the Year awards. George was Houston’s first pick of the 1996 draft. He was named the NFL’s Rookie of the Year and earned All-Pro in a highly successful career with the Tennessee Titans (after Houston’s franchise moved to Nashville).
Under coach John Cooper, Ohio State was 11-1 with a 20-17 Rose Bowl win over Arizona State in the 1996 season. They were led by two-time consensus All-American offensive lineman Orlando Pace. Pace won the Outland Trophy and twice the Lombardi Award. Chosen by the St. Louis Rams with the first pick of the 1997 NFL Draft, Pace is considered one of if not the finest linemen in collegiate football history.
Wide receiver Terry Glenn, winner of the 1995 Biletnikoff Award, is considered one of the best college pass-catchers of all time. Certainly his career represented a paradigm shift at Ohio State from the old “three yards and a cloud of dust” offense to a more wide-open approach.
In 1997, linebacker Andy Katzenmoyer won the Dick Butkus Award. In 1998, Antoine Winfield was named winner of the Jim Thorpe Award. Other consensus All-Americans of the decade included Dan Wilkinson, Korey Stringer, Mike Vrabel, Shawn Springs and Rob Murphy.
Jim Tressel took over at Columbus in 2001. The 2002 Buckeyes rival the 1968 champions as the greatest team in the school’s hallowed history. They played stifling defense and were led by a utilitarian, ball-control quarterback, Craig Krenzel. Ohio State survived all challenges to take on the mighty Miami Hurricanes in the BCS Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona for the national championship. Despite carrying a 13-0 record into the contest, Tressel’s team was a decided underdog. But Miami had suffered some key injuries and were tense trying to defend the weight of history: a repeat national title, an all-time record twenty-one straight weeks ranked number one in the nation, and a 34-game winning streak which, with victory against the Bucks, would put them within one undefeated regular season of Oklahoma’s all-time record forty-seven straight (1953-1957).
The game has been described as one of the greatest in collegiate history. In terms of pressure, unbeaten teams, stakes and the fact it was a close contest that went into two overtimes, it was. But it was also marked by mistakes, questionable officiating and decided tentativeness, especially by the Hurricanes. But Ohio State refused to buckle down against one of the fastest, strongest, talented teams ever assembled.
Roscoe Parrish made a clutch 50-yard punt return. This set up Todd Sievers’s 40-yard field goal for Ohio State on the final play of regulation, forcing overtime, 17-17. Miami scored to take the lead, but Krenzel converted a fourth-and-fourteen pass. Later, his fourth down end zone pass resulted in a controversial interference call against Miami’s Glenn Sharpe. Given a second life, Ohio State pushed it in to keep the dream alive.
In the second overtime freshman running back Maurice Clarett ran for a five-yard touchdown to put Ohio State up, 31-24. Miami drove to the Buckeye two, but Ohio held on four plays to capture its sixth national championship.
Four years later, the Buckeyes were the dominant team in college football. They entered the season full of momentum, following up a decisive 34-20 Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame to end the 2005 campaign. In 2006, Ohio State was not “utilitarian.” Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Troy Smith may not have had great size or a strong arm. He was not considered a major NFL prospect, but under his leadership the Buckeyes were an explosive offensive force.
Ohio was ranked number one from the pre-season through the entire regular campaign. Michigan, after beating the Irish early, settled in at number two. The game between the two teams at Ohio Stadium (the “Horseshoe”) had the greatest build-up in the history of the rivalry. The old “Game of the Century,” or at least “Game of the Twenty-first Century” maxims were applied. Troy Smith earned the Heisman Trophy and the game lived up to its billing with the Buckeyes prevailing by a 42-39 score.
Unbeaten Ohio State moved on to the Bowl Championship Series national title contest, played at the brand new University of Phoenix Stadium in suburban Glendale, Arizona. Their opponent, after much angst, were the once-beaten Florida Gators, survivors of a regular season BCS battle with Michigan and USC to earn the trip.
What the Gators did that night to Ohio State might not be legal. After the 41-14 pounding, Ohio State looked to be the seventh or eighth best team in the nation, not the first. In the history of the Heisman Trophy, many winners had failed in subsequent bowl losses, but none ever looked as terrible as Smith. Details are just too dreary to recount herein. It was just bad.
Tressel’s team entered the game looking for their second national championship of the young century. Had they won, it would have matched Southern California’s two, and this could have effectuated a strong argument on behalf of the Buckeyes that they were the new “Team of the Century.” It did not happen.
Consensus All-Americans in the new century included LeCharles Bentley, Mike Nugent, Matt Wilhelm, Mike Doss, Will Allen, A. J. Hawk, Donte Witner, Nick Mangold, Antonio Pittman, Anthony Gonzalez, Ted Ginn and Smith. Bentley was the 2001 Rimington Award winner. B . J. Sanders won the 2003 Ray Guy Award. Kicker Mike Nugent earned the Lou Groza Award in 2004. Two-time All-American linebacker A. J. Hawk, one of Ohio State’s all-time greats, was the 2005 Lombardi Award honoree. In 2007, Ted Ginn Jr. went in the first round to Miami; Anthony Gonzalez, also a first rounder, to the Colts.
Victory in Glendale would have replaced the 1950s, when Woody Hayes’s team won two national titles, as the best in school history. Nevertheless, the 2000s were shaping up to be even better than the 1970s. By winning their sixth national title and their seventh Heisman Trophy (tying Southern California and Notre Dame), Ohio State moved past Nebraska into the fifth spot among College Football’s All-Time Top 25 Traditions. In so doing, and also by beating Michigan in 2006, the Buckeyes established themselves as the greater of the two rivals going back more than 100 years. Michigan fans can argue the point, and they come to the debate well-armed with many facts on their side. However, Hayes began a period in Buckeye history that overshadowed Michigan.
His rivalry with Bo Schembechler was fairly even but favored Woody. Michigan had many opportunities over the decades to assert themselves in the national picture, but with some exceptions fell short too often. Ohio State is the greater team in modern times, having won five national championships since the 1950s compared to Michigan’s one.
However, the situation is fluid. With a 2006 national championship, which would have been their seventh, Ohio State may well have moved past Oklahoma into the fourth position in the “all-time poll.” They will be battling the Wolverines, the Sooners, the Trojans and the rest of collegiate football’s powerhouses for ultimate supremacy well into the new century. What a grand game it is, and for Buckeye fans they will “fight to the end for O-hi-o.”
Causes Steven Travers Supports
Conservative, Christian, USC, American patriotism