SI Vault
Dan Jenkins
November 18, 1974
Ohio State was in the Spartans' end zone. There was no doubt about that. But had the Buckeyes arrived there in time to keep their No. 1 ranking?
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November 18, 1974

The Touchdown That Didn't Count

Ohio State was in the Spartans' end zone. There was no doubt about that. But had the Buckeyes arrived there in time to keep their No. 1 ranking?

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By now Woody Hayes may have stopped eating furniture, with reels of film for dessert. He may have quit shredding photographs of Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke. He may have finally turned away from growling at his Enemies List, fleshed out with such recent additions as Referee Gene Calhoun, Field Judge Robert Daganhardt and Back Judge William Kingzett, men who last weekend took their places next to Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in the state of Ohio. If Woody has calmed down, it is good for his digestion, but nothing has changed since last Saturday afternoon in East Lansing, Mich. when perverse fate, a clock or incompetence (depending on your loyalties) knocked off a college football team that was supposed to be mightier than a Divine Presence in a face mask.

To give it a memorable name, let's call it the Bizarre Bowl. For what happened on Nov. 9, 1974, in an athletic contest that was expected to be a normal 35-0 victory for No. 1 Ohio State over a group of undernourished and culturally deprived Michigan State Spartans defies, even at this hour, the logic of the mentally healthy everywhere.

That Michigan State scored one of the epic, colossal, classic, shocking (choose any two) upsets in the history of men and boys, 16-13, is no longer a secret on the globe. But exactly how it was managed in those last chaotic seconds is likely to remain a slight mystery because it was the greatest ending nobody ever saw.

Ignoring for a moment all of the madness that came before the game's final play, this is the way the scene will be etched in the minds of the 78,533 in Spartan Stadium and the multitudes tuned in on ABC-TV. The clock is ticking off; a ball squirts through the quarterback's legs with the Buckeyes inside the Spartans' one-yard line and everybody not quite in the proper place; a guy grabs the ball as it conveniently bounces into his hands; he crashes into the end zone; the head linesman signals touchdown while other officials signal time has expired. Both teams take turns celebrating the win although none of us will know who won, actually, for 45 more minutes.

All along, strangely enough, the officials knew which team had won. Michigan State. For at the same time that Head Linesman Ed Scheck was signaling a touchdown rather automatically—his job is to look for nothing other than the position of the football—other striped demons who had been raised up to haunt Woody Hayes were waving their arms crossways, a clear indication that time had expired before the last play.

Whether that was right or wrong did not even matter to Commissioner Wayne Duke once he had talked with the officials. As the commissioner announced in the press box, "Had time not expired, Ohio State would have been charged with a penalty for not being in a set position for a full second before the last play."

Illegal motion, in other words. And assuming that Michigan State would not have chosen to take the play and lose the game, that also would have been it. One of the least familiar rules of college football is that a game can not end on a defensive penalty, but it can end on an offensive penalty.

So much for things hypothetical. Woody Hayes left the field muttering several unmentionables, backhanding a Spartan rooter and remembering, "It was Napoleon who said, 'From the sublime to the ridiculous is but one step.' "

It was more like half a step. After the Spartans had miraculously pulled ahead with 3:17 left after a long pass and a longer run, the Buckeyes drove 70-and-two-thirds yards to their rendezvous with confusion and calamity. There at the end they were on the Spartans' one with two plays called in the huddle and 29 seconds remaining. Enough time, surely.

But if Woody's team had not been losing the game all day long, a thought that lingers in the minds of many, it made certain it could lose in the final moments. There is a coaching adage that goes: In the crucial moment you go with your best back on his best play. That would have been Archie Griffin, who gets over 100 yards a game as routinely as he goes to a water fountain. Weirdly, Archie had not been used nearly enough throughout the afternoon, and he was not used then. Harold Henson, the fullback, was called upon, and he did not get over.

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