"Why Earle has a problem with popularity I have never quite understood, because everybody who knows him likes him," says Ohio State athletic director Rick Bay. "Maybe he needs to get out more. I always hate coming to work on Wednesdays because the letters that were written at halftime on Saturday get to me about then."
Mail was particularly heavy after the Buckeyes went 0-2 this season for the first time since 1894. Following the opener, a 16-10 loss to Alabama in the Kickoff Classic, Mike Harden, a columnist on The Dispatch, snidely contrasted the Tide's trim coach, Ray Perkins, to Bruce, who was 55 pounds heavier than he was as a 155-pound halfback in 1950. Harden's mail ran in favor of his appeal for a slimmer Bruce. When the Buckeyes lost again, Bruce took heat for the game plan. When they won, he got flak for running up the score. After one victory, Mayor Dana G. Rinehart referred to Columbus as a city that some might call "the future former home of Earle Bruce." No books entitled Earle Bruce: Beyond the Headset or anything of the sort are about to roll off the presses.
Somehow, though (call it coaching), Bruce got some momentum going. Entering the Michigan game he had a shot at his second 11-win season, his third outright Big Ten championship and his second Big Ten Coach of the Year award. But.... Trailing by two points with 1:32 remaining, the Buckeyes faced third-and-10 on the Michigan 36. Quarterback Jim Karsatos teamed up with all-world wideout Cris Carter on an eight-yard buttonhook. "The play depends on the coverage," said Bruce softly afterward. "It could go 10 yards."
On fourth-and-two, Bruce called on Matt Frantz to try a 45-yard field goal, which would be the longest of his career, into a 10-mile-an-hour wind. Maybe Bruce should have gone for the first down, run down the clock and given Frantz a more makable kick. The Buckeye kicking coach, Randy Hart, said that Frantz was capable of converting the 45-yarder. The boot was strong enough, but tailed to the left. Ohio State, now Cotton Bowl-bound, came up two points shy of the Roses.
Bruce knows only too well that it might as well have been a million.