OSU-MICHIGAN Ordinary players become heroes
Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler elevated the rivalry to new heights.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- The last time Ohio State won a national championship, Woody Hayes wasn't taking chances.
A coach who fancied himself a general, Hayes sent his starters back in for the final minutes of the 1968 game with Michigan, even though the top-ranked Buckeyes were ahead 44-14. He later said he didn't feel comfortable against powerful offenses without his team scoring 50 points.
And after fullback Jim Otis scored with 1:23 remaining, Hayes went for two points -- on a pass, no less. When asked why he went for two, Hayes reportedly said, "Because we couldn't go for three!"
During the 1969 season, Ohio State was winning with ease, and Hayes called his top-ranked Buckeyes "probably the best team that ever played college football."
They took a 22-game winning streak into Ann Arbor for the season finale, and Michigan pounced. The Wolverines shut down the triple option, and the Buckeyes ended up throwing six interceptions in Michigan's 24-12 victory.
"This is the greatest victory in the history of the world!" Michigan fullback Garvie Craw said.
And another chapter was added to this glorious rivalry.
When the second-ranked Buckeyes (12-0) and 12th-ranked Wolverines (9-2) meet for the 99th time Saturday at Ohio Stadium, Ohio State will be looking for another shot at a national title. This time, a win over Michigan would send Ohio State to the Fiesta Bowl to play in the BCS national title game on Jan. 3. So once again, it's simply "The Game."
ESPN.com rated the 10 greatest rivalries of the 20th century recently. Ahead of Ali-Frazier, Red Sox-Yankees and Chamberlain-Russell was Michigan-Ohio State.
"When you grow up in Ohio, it's kind of in your blood," former Buckeyes linebacker Chris Spielman said. "It's a game that means so much. When you lose, it is devastating and stays with you all year. When you win, there is no feeling like it. You are on air until you play them again."
This is a rivalry where ordinary players become heroes.
"When you have a great rivalry, it has a focus like nothing else ... no one forgets what happens that day," said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr. "That's what legend and tradition is all about."
A former walk-on, Todd Plate was almost an afterthought on the 1989 Michigan team. Used sparingly as a fifth defensive back, Plate broke up a sure touchdown pass just before halftime and intercepted passes to set up Michigan's last two TDs in a 28-18 victory.
Ohio State was ranked second and Michigan was 13th, when the teams met at The Big House in Ann Arbor on Nov. 17, 1979.
With the Wolverines ahead by three points and just over four minutes remaining, Michigan punted deep in its own territory. Little-known linebacker Jim Laughlin blocked the punt, and Todd Bell recovered and ran 18 yards for the winning TD.
"If you don't win the Michigan-Ohio State game, that's a problem. You're not going to be recognized for too much success," said Earle Bruce, who coached the 1979 Ohio State team. "We've had 11-1 and 10-1 football teams that lost to Michigan -- they're not even mentioned in the second breath."
The Game is also about characters.
Michigan quarterback Jim Harbaugh predicted victory in 1985, and backed it up. Ohio State wide receiver Terry Glenn said before the '95 game that he didn't think Michigan was any good; the Wolverines beat the second-ranked Buckeyes 31-23. Michigan's Desmond Howard returned a punt for a TD in the '91 game, struck a Heisman pose in the end zone and won the award three weeks later.