Just before the Oregon football team ran out onto the Rose Bowl field to start the game, a distressed rooter shook his head pityingly: "Poor devils! Don't you think they ought at least to blindfold them?"
The point was, the game that followed was supposed to be a drawn-out execution with the Ohio State Buckeyes on the business end of the firing squad. The worst defeat in Rose Bowl history was freely predicted for the Oregon Ducks.
As it turned out, the doughty Oregon team was still staring its "executioners" resolutely in the eye right up to the final gun. A field goal, hardly the weapon of an irresistible attack, was the margin of victory. A missed field goal from exactly the same spot was the margin of defeat. The Oregonians outgained and out-first-downed the team which had gone into the game as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Few West Coast teams in the long torment of defeat by the Big Ten had given as good an account of themselves. And it was Oregon's quarterback, Jack Crabtree, who was voted the Player of the Game, and it was the Oregon coach, Len Casanova, who got carried off the field on the shoulders of his players.
The Ohio Staters, white not, to be sure, ashamed of themselves, slipped more furtively into their dressing rooms than any of their victorious predecessors. "Well, at least we beat the gamblers' price again," was the first reaction of Coach Woody Hayes as he reached the dressing room.
Ohio State started out as though the game was to be as one-sided as everyone said. Their attack was an unstoppable as a buffalo stampede. The Buckeye theory of offense is to hand the ball to the fullback and get the hell out of his way. This entails knocking down the opposing linemen in the process, but it never occurred to OSU that this would be any particular problem.
In the beginning, it wasn't. The Ohio stampede knocked Oregon's best lineman, Harry Mondale, right out of the game on the first series of plays. The score was Ohio State 7, Oregon 0, almost before they got Mondale dragged out of the way.
Then when Oregon got the ball Quarterback Crabtree saw that the massively strong Ohio State iron gang could not move laterally as well as it could straight ahead and that he was burning the Buckeye defense badly with split-T rollouts. Ohio's problem was that its linebackers, admittedly a step or two slower than Oregon's murderously fast trailing backs, Jim Shanley and Jack Moriis, could not commit themselves too soon or Crabtree would pitch the ball back and Oregon would be off for the end zone. Prudent play dictated they drift with the play and drifting entailed giving Oregon a grudging but unavoidable five to six yards per crack. The alert Ducks put the ball quickly in the end zone when they realized this, and the score was tied, 7-7.
Ohio State was too good a football team to permit this to go on. The rest of the game was a head-butting Donnybrook, the kind the Big Ten revels in but which is supposed to be too much for more effete sections of the country such as the Pacific Coast. There was no evidence that this was a new experience for Casanova's Oregon Ducks at all. After Mondale, there were no more stretcher cases.
Neither, it should be said, was there any quarter asked on the Ohio State side of the field. The scarlet and gray played a typically determined game and deserved victory quite as much as Oregon. The big fact, it seemed to disappointed West Coast rooters, was not so much that Oregon deserved to win as that Oregon deserved not to lose. A tie might have been poetic justice.