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- 19TH HOLE: THE READERS TAKE OVERSeptember 28, 1970
- They Said ItJune 18, 2001
Last Friday evening in Columbus, Ohio, while Woody Hayes and his Ohio State Buckeyes were watching yet another inspirational John Wayne movie—this time The Shootist—Bo Schembechler was tucking his Michigan Wolverines in for a long night's sleep. It is Bo's custom on these occasions to rap lightly at each player's door around 9 p.m. to make sure no one is doing anything outrageous, like ordering a garlic pizza or sneaking out the window for a night on the town. But when the night watchman came to one room he took the liberty of inviting himself in, sitting himself down and having a bedside chat with Greg Morton, a defensive tackle, and Calvin O'Neal, a middle linebacker. Schembechler wanted to give them something to dream about—namely, a victory over Ohio State.
Morton and O'Neal are both players of distinction, but even as fifth-year seniors, they had never seen their team defeat Ohio State. Michigan had been unbeaten before each of the previous four games with a chance to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. But after losses in 1972, '74 and '75 and a tie in '73, it was the Buckeyes who went West for New Year's.
"Gentlemen," Bo began, "here we are again. You know how close we've come in the past, but something has always happened to stop us. Some people are even saying we've choked. Now we know that's not true. We've just made some mistakes we shouldn't have made. But tomorrow we're not going to make those mistakes because tomorrow we're going to win."
The following afternoon, before a record and hostile Ohio Stadium crowd of 88,250, that dream became a reality as Michigan did win, 22-0. It took the Wolverines two full quarters to get their offense in gear, but once under way they were relentless, driving to three touchdowns in the second half and being thwarted on their other two possessions by an interception after reaching the 16 and by the clock after getting to the 12. During the same 30 minutes the Buckeyes were minus seven yards net on the ground, throwing an interception, losing the ball on a fumble and never penetrating past the Michigan 38.
"Any team that can beat us that badly," said a gracious Woody Hayes afterward, "has got to be No. 1." And Hayes threw a special bouquet to Schembechler. Recalling that his old prot�g� had undergone open-heart surgery before the season began, Hayes boosted him for Coach of the Year. "It is almost unbelievable what he has done," said Woody. "It was the most courageous job in football this year."
Only three weeks ago courageous Bo and mighty Michigan were everybody's No. 1. But that was before a 16-14 loss to Purdue. Because Ohio State was unbeaten in the Big Ten (although losing to Missouri 22-21 and being tied by UCLA 10-10 outside the conference), the Wolverines needed a victory Saturday just to be co-champion. The Buckeyes had been in that position twice before in recent years and won. Now that Michigan has finally done the same, the Wolverines can take their half loaf to Pasadena to play USC, while the Buckeyes head to the Big Ten's unofficial runner-up berth in the Orange Bowl.
This is the eighth time in the last nine years that the Michigan-Ohio State game has divvied up the conference spoils, leaving nothing at all for the Little Eight. Until Saturday the Wolverines had won only two of the games, upsetting the Buckeyes in 1969, Bo's first year, and winning in 1971, when Ohio State was out of the running and the result did not matter as much. Michigan's repeated, almost predictable failures had some people thinking it might never beat Ohio State again. Even back home in Ann Arbor a clothing salesman admitted that his store's $14 short-sleeved sweater with the school insignia "might be half price after the game on Saturday."
Schembechler was thinking more positively. The close scores of the last four games (14-11, 10-10, 12-10 and 21-14) indicated that "We've never played badly and they've never dominated us. In fact, the score is the only thing that's really gone against us. I'm not going to sit back and say they've beaten the heck out of us, because they haven't. We've been playing well enough to win, so now we have to play well and win as well."
Publicly at least, Schembechler went around radiating the good disposition of a man who knew his number would be drawn in the next lottery. But then, Bo is smiling more these days. His heart attack seven years ago and the surgery last May have given him a better perspective on life. "I'm not as uptight as I used to be," he says. "I know that losing a football game is not the end of the world." Losing the Ohio State game can be something else, of course—the end of the universe, at the very least—so he fudged a little on his doctor's standing orders to watch his diet, get plenty of exercise and take a nap every noon. He is still gung ho, as one of his players put it, but as another said with relief, "He's also more relaxed, and this week—that made it better for all of us."
Hayes was putting in extra hours too, even passing up Patton on television the Sunday night before the game for a staff meeting. "We started thinking about this one after the Rose Bowl last January," he said. "This is the best team we'll face this year and we always point to beat the best team." The Buckeyes had already clinched at least a share of their fifth straight conference title, but they figured to be a touchdown underdog against the Wolverines. A Columbus sportswriter who dared to predict a Michigan victory was hung in effigy at a meeting of a local booster organization. Woody answered such defeatist talk by saying, "When you're an underdog you play from your heart. It involves your ability, determination and just damn meanness to go on every play." Well, if meanness is all it takes, Defensive Tackle Eddie Beamon promised, "We'll crush 'em."