Dr. Hazel Losh is a slight, bright-eyed woman who teaches astronomy at the University of Michigan and, according to an underclass in-group exaggeration, grades on an A-B-C curve: A for athletes, B for boys, C for coeds. This is not so much an injustice to Dr. Losh's considerable teaching ability as it is a tribute to her avocation—she is some red-hot football fan. Last Thursday evening, with the snow coming down and the temperature dropping to a point where little bright-eyed astronomy professors should be home curled up with their Copernican theory, Dr. Losh made a speech on the steps of the library. The snow was piling up on Doc Losh's gray head and on the heads of 4,000 Michigan pep ralliers, the Michigan band, cheerleaders and the Michigan football team as she spoke—with feeling—of the frustrations of not having won a Big Ten championship or having gone to the Rose Bowl for 14 years, or of having done much to stop Bitter Old Rival Ohio State from going. Her jaw set in a trim, firm line, she assured her audience that this year, goodness knows, was different, that the last pep rally had been for the Michigan State game (won by Michigan for the first time since 1955), this one was for Ohio State (to be won by Michigan for the first time since 1959) and the next would be for the Rose Bowl game (attended, and won, by Michigan last in 1951). Every fresh inflammatory sentence delivered in her downy monotone drew a huge cry of pleasure from the crowd, and some snowballs. She concluded, "Remember this. Scholarship is not the only important thing at Michigan. Go, Blue!"
The crowd had barely settled down from this inspirational voltage when Coach Chalmers (Bump) Elliott brought members of his team forward, some of them with giant signs plastered to their backs reading: OPERATION HARDNOSE. BEAT OHIO STATE. They had worn them to class all week. "It may be cold tonight," said Bump, who has had more than a few cold nights in five years of coaching at Michigan, "but it will be hot out there [in Columbus] on Saturday." He did not say "for Ohio State" because Bump Elliott is a very nice man whose speeches and on-the-record quotes are impeccably unrevealing, but there was enough innuendo to get a loud cheer and a few more snowballs. And, as it turned out, there was enough fact. On Saturday, Professor Elliott's scholars dispatched Ohio State convincingly 10-0.
On hindsight, it is unthinkable that the outcome could have been different. Had the Wolverines lost, as Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes promised they would, something—or someone—surely would have died on the Michigan campus, to be found only at the spring thaw, or never. Football feeling there was not just high, it was astronomical, a phenomenon to be charted like an asteroid by Dr. Losh.
Michigan had not done well in the years preceding Elliott, nor had it flourished during his first five years. But almost worse than losing, Elliott's teams played dull football.
There were signs of a change in 1963—Michigan ran on fourth down from its 28-yard line in a game with Purdue. The play failed and Purdue won, but Elliott was beginning to come of age. This year he had the equipment to come all the way. "My philosophy did not change," he said. "My people did."
Most important among his people is senior Quarterback Bob Timberlake, a large (6 feet 4, 215 pounds) student of theology recruited out of Franklin, Ohio. (All four backfield starters and four defensive starters for Michigan are Ohioans.) Timberlake runs like a fullback, leads the team in rushing and passing, kicks extra points and field goals and scares the pelts off his own kind with reeling option-pitchouts and off-balance flip-laterals. For the first time, too, Elliott had excellent outside speed: sophomore Halfbacks Carl Ward and Jim Detwiler and some fine defensive outfielders named Rick—Sygar and Volk.
But most Big Ten teams have these commodities. The intangibles that put the bounce back into Michigan's deflated football were things like the captaincy of End Jim Conley. "Jim's not big—hell no, he's scrawny—and he might not make anybody's All-America," says a teammate, "but he's tough, and he keeps us hopping." Ward became a Sunday-morning favorite at game-movie time with his voracious backfield blocking—on one play against Illinois he lay in the end zone pounding his fist on the ground after he missed a block, even though the play went for a Michigan touchdown. Ward takes great pride in his blocking. And then there is Guard John Marcum, a tension-easing sensation with his pregame, postgame and during-game monologues. He is any number of characters—a Bolshevik looking for recruits, the head of "secret project S," a pitchman for a waxed some-thing-or-other—and he can go on at any time. After watching the Wolverines, an Ohio State scout said, "They are not just spirited, or very spirited, but very, very spirited."
With that, and with Timberlake key-noting the finest offense in the league and a defense not far behind it, Michigan won seven of eight games coming up to Ohio State. Its only loss was to Purdue 21-20, when the ball was flipped around twice too often for killing pass interceptions. By early October, however, the Ohio State-Michigan game was looming large—just as it used to every October, but most particularly since the advent of Woody Hayes in 1951. Impressionable Michigan fans tend to think of Hayes as unbelievable, indestructible and utterly cold-blooded. If there is one thing that sticks in their craws more than his detestable habit of wearing short-sleeved shirts in freezing weather, which Hayes always does, it is the 50-20 lacing he gave Michigan in 1960 when he put his first team back in for a last-minute touchdown and a two-point conversion.
By midweek Bump Elliott had a suspicious eye out for every lingering car near the Michigan practice field and had his managers shooing away the unauthorized. "Nothing new," he said when asked what was doing. There were, of course, things new. Defensive Coach Bob Hollway devised 16 different buffers and sealers to contain what he figured would be an unbalanced-line Ohio State offense. "Woody always shows us some unbalanced line," he said, "and he's stubborn." Elliott hoped to get more use out of men-in-motion on offense, but Line Coach Tony Mason had spotted something in the Ohio defense that proved to be the grandest flaw of all—State's fast-reacting linebackers consistently followed the tight end when he came across the field on a pass pattern. This very likely could leave Michigan's wingback open on a trailing pattern behind the tight end—if the time to throw was ever quite right.
Michigan's loss to Purdue gave Ohio State one big advantage: win or tie, the Buckeyes (5-0 in the conference to Michigan's 5-1) would win the championship. The Buckeyes did not even have to score, provided Michigan failed to. As it developed, Ohio State did not score—and Michigan did not reciprocate.