On the third play of the game, Rick Leach, the freshman quarterback, threw a swing pass to Gordon Bell coming out of the Michigan backfield. As the play unfolded a voice in the press box, surely that of a veteran Ohio State-Michigan watcher, screamed, "He's passing!" The voice was thick with discovery and awe, the kind of sound one might make to announce that someone was stealing his wallet ("He's stealing my wallet!") or undressing at midfield ("He's undressing at midfield!"). The play gained only eight yards, hardly a blockbuster, but, ah, what a foretaste.
The game that probably won for Woody Hayes a fourth national championship to curl up with this winter as, say, he contemplates retirement at 62—which he says he would not tell you if he were—was nothing if not a discovery. A discovery that Michigan-Ohio State could be one of those games you never dreamed about when you were watching them slog it out at 10-10. An exquisitely exciting, breathtakingly imperfect football game—that's what last week's showdown in Ann Arbor turned out to be. Just like nobody said it would.
So Ohio State wins, but the score is not two field goals to one, it is 21-14. Not since the start of the decade has the winner needed more than two touchdowns in this game. And if Ohio State-Michigan is always three yards and a spray of Astronap, what are they doing making 40-yard runs (well, underdog Michigan is making 40-yard runs; No. 1-ranked Ohio State is mostly recovering Michigan fumbles) and throwing long, arcing devil-may-care passes? And completing them. And if these are teams that button down all the flaps and always keep to the right on the freeway, what are they doing committing eight turnovers (they are also intercepting long, arcing devil-may-care passes) and pitching the ball around so hairily?
The question will arise—did the game get out of hand? Was it so good only because the two teams played out of character? Thirty-seven passes may not seem like much, but when it's Michigan-Ohio State it's much. By comparison, the 20 they threw last year made you feel as if the ball were flying around all afternoon.
Alas, traditionalists, you will be surprised to learn that it was no accident at all, that it was all right there in the game plans just the way those two old sticklers-in-the-mud, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler, wrote them. "We will pass," said Hayes to a friend in Columbus a day beforehand, "because that is where they are vulnerable." Hayes has been known to rip out the field phones when such strategy was proposed in the past. "I really wouldn't be surprised if it came down to passing," said Schembechler in his office on Friday. He said he knew he would necessarily be asking a great deal of freshman Leach, pitted against the experienced Ohio State secondary, but he had already crossed that bridge ("He may be a freshman, but he was born to compete"). Schembechler told Bud Wilkinson he would play it from the start "like we were behind in the fourth quarter."
In those frenetic countdown hours there had been no hint that the two old rivals (Bo coached under Woody for six years) were anything more than fashionably irascible for the big game. Getting closer to their collars, they made predictable news—Hayes locked practices, held one icy press conference that lasted 97 seconds (a reporter timed it) and was steadfast in not being willing to express the word " Michigan" in conversation. But a close friend said Woody was actually "breezing—I've never seen him so loose. Uh, relatively speaking." Schembechler, for his part, waged a two-day war with United Press International over a photographer he caught aiming a sequence camera at his secret practice from an apartment building across the street. Before that slapstick was over, Schembechler had led a charge—battalion strength, presumably—on the building, got the police to confiscate the undeveloped film and, to demonstrate his indignation, resigned from the UPI ratings board. He also barred the UPI from the next day's press conference and called the photographer's attempt to sneak a picture "a shabby trick." The photographer called the Michigan coaches "bullies."
Schembechler smiled on Friday when he outlined the "secret formation" he was afraid the UPI man had photographed—a short-yardage alignment (picked up from watching films of Indiana's near-upset of Ohio State) in which, a la Indiana, he shifted a 230-pound defensive tackle to blocking back and adorned him with a camouflaging (though legal) No. 30 jersey. As it developed, the one time he had a chance to use the play against Ohio State it lost a yard.
Ironically, the behind-in-the-fourth-quarter approach actually got Michigan ahead in the fourth quarter, and only then—after almost three quarters of practically perfect play—did the Wolverines go awry, unfastening in a blink what seemed a secured, and deserved, victory. This is not to say that Ohio State did not deserve to win, rather to give Schembechler credit for a gallant try to overcome what has become his and his team's singular failing: an inability to tick for 60 minutes against Ohio State. In the last 70 regular-season games under Schembechler, the Wolverines have lost only four games—all to Ohio State.
Here, then, some familiar scenes and characters in Bo's recurring nightmare:
Archie Griffin. Heisman Trophy Archie. Hundred-yards-a-game Archie. Archie goes out for the pregame coin toss before 105,543 fans in Michigan Stadium (announced as a record crowd, though a contingent of freeloading Cub Scouts supposedly swelled the limit to 109,000 in an earlier game) on a bright, clear, cold day, with a national television audience witnessing, and gets hugged by archrival Gordie Bell. In front of all those hot-eyed partisans wearing " Ohio Is a Four-Letter Word" buttons, or singing "We don't give a damn about the whole state of Michigan." Is it a demonstration of affection, or is it just a demonstration? (See, guys, here's how you put the clamps on Archie—right arm around his neck, left arm....)