by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

   If it seems like we bring up the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry on these pages every couple of years, well, it’s because we do.  Throughout the span of our TGS publishing history, which dates to 1957, we’re not sure any rivalry has endured at the sort of fever pitch as the have the Wolverines and Buckeyes (though we’re sure there is an argument to be made for fans of the Alabama-Auburn Iron Bowl, which also renews this weekend), and offers so much to recall.  Once again, another Michigan-Ohio State matchup come Saturday is a highlight of  “Rivalry” week.  As usual, a lot is on the line, this time an effective elimination game in the chase for the national title, with Big Ten East honors to the victor and a chance to stay alive for a berth in the Final Four.
  (For our previews of all of the “Rivalry Week games, including Wolverines-Buckeyes, Notre Dame-USC, the Iron Bowl, Civil War, Old Oaken Bucket, Apple Cup, etc., check out our College Analysis.)

    In the past we have only peeled back a portion of the onion that is the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, where passions on each side run astoundingly deep.  In modern times, the feud was perhaps summed up best by legendary Buckeyes HC Woody Hayes, a main character in this history of hate, who once said that if his car ran out of gas on the Michigan side of the border, he would push it a couple of miles if need be to Toledo to fill up his tank from an Ohio gas station, rather than patronize one in Michigan.

    Hayes, however, is only part of a narrative in this rivalry unique from all others in that Ohio and Michigan did indeed once go to war...literally and figuratively.  In fact, Michigan, Ohio, and antagonism have a long history even before the Wolverines and Buckeyes started to put on their football pads. 

   To better understand the depths of their dislike, a quick history review is in order.

   The Toledo War (1835-1836), also known as the Michigan-Ohio War, was the boundary dispute that originated from conflicting state and federal legislation passed between 1787 and 1805, a dispute resulted from poor understanding of geographical features of the Great Lakes at the time. (The “war” reference is used rather loosely, because there were hardly any casualties. But if historians can call it war, then so can we.)

   The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established an east-west line drawn from the southern tip of Lake Michigan across the base of the peninsula. The original line was drawn using maps that showed the line intersecting Lake Erie north of the Maumee River. This was the territorial "line-of- scrimmage" that Ohioans recognized when their constitution was drafted in 1803. When the Michigan Territory was created in 1805, surveyors realized the tip of Lake Michigan was actually further south and included the area that would later become Toledo.

   This revelation had the Ohioans in Congress screaming, "Offsides!" They immediately campaigned to have the northern line accepted as the official border. In 1817, U.S. Surveyor General, and former Ohio governor, Edward Tiffin, sent William Harris out to survey the line according to Ohio's constitution. Which prompted Michigan’s Territorial Governor, Lewis Cass, to go to President James Monroe to protest the call. John A. Fulton was called into the fray to make another survey of the disputed claim in accordance with the Northwest Ordinance. Such varying interpretations of the law caused the governments of Ohio and Michigan to both claim sovereignty over the disputed 468-square mile region along the border, now known as the Toledo Strip.

   The controversy heated up again when Michigan sought admission to the union on December 11, 1833. In spite of Michigan's presence in the Toledo Strip, Ohio Congressmen successfully lobbied to block Michigan's acceptance as a state until it agreed to Ohio's version of the boundary. Massachusetts Representative, and former President, John Quincy Adams, supported Michigan saying, "Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other." Yet Ohio's position was so strong that Governor Robert Lucas refused to negotiate with Michigan over the issue. Michigan's territorial council countered by passing a resolution that would impose heavy fines on anyone other than Michigan or federal officers trying to exercise jurisdiction in the Toledo Strip. In a blatant act of defiance, Governor Lucas turned the disputed region into a county named after himself and appointed a sheriff and judge. Michigan's 24-year-old "boy governor" had seen enough! Stevens T. Mason mobilized his troops and headed towards Ohio. The Toledo War had begun!

   The “War” involved more saber-rattling and one-upmanship than it did shooting and blood-letting (sounds like a modern-day game between the Toledo Rockets and Eastern Michigan Eagles). For instance, after the Ohio legislature voted to approve a $300,000 military budget, Michigan upped the ante by approving one with $315,000. Michigan's militia did end up arresting some Ohio officials, capturing nine surveyors, and firing a few shots over the heads of others as they ran out of the area. But only Ohio inflicted any casualties, when a Buckeye named Two Stickney stabbed a Michigan Sheriff during a tavern brawl.

   When President Andrew Jackson stepped in, the war ended. Jackson removed Mason from office and the militia commander, General Joseph W. Brown, disbanded his troops. But Congress still held Michigan statehood hostage until it agreed to Ohio's claims. In December 1836 the Michigan territorial government, facing a dire financial crisis, surrendered the land under pressure from Congress and President Jackson and accepted a proposed resolution adopted in the U.S. Congress. Under the compromise Michigan gave up its claim to the strip in exchange for its statehood and approximately three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. The citizens of Michigan set up a state government, and elected young Stevens T. Mason as governor.

   Michigan eventually became the 26th state of the union, on the 26th of January, 1837. But its territory did not include the Toledo Strip. Instead, it gained title to the western three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula as compensation; 9,000 square miles of the most valuable timber, iron, and copper country in America. At the time, the compromise was considered a poor outcome for Michigan, but the later discovery of copper and iron deposits and the plentiful timber in the region has more than offset Michigan's losses. So, unless a devotee of the Tony Packo's chili dog, effectively trading Toledo for much of the “U.P.” has been a big win for Michigan.

.    Fast-forward to the TGS era, and a game that we believe was perhaps the most-impactful in college football history, considering the dominoes that would eventually fall, effectively because of the result of the memorable 1969 clash, which was at the outset of the storied “10-Year War” (football, that is) between Ohio State and Woody Hayes vs. Michigan and Bo Schembechler.  

    By the time the 1969 season would finally begin for Ohio State, the nation’s sports media was already hailing it as one of the greatest teams in college football history. After all, almost everyone was back from the previous season’s undefeated national champions, a soph-filled roster that whipped USC and O.J. Simpson, 27-16, in the Rose Bowl. Throughout the season no one had much reason to dispute that notion, either, as the Buckeyes gleefully tortured most of their foes, beginning with a 62-0 romp past TCU. Seven other victims would fall in results almost as one-sided en route to the regular season finale at Michigan. The OSU win streak would grow to 22 in a 42-14 rout of QB Mike Phipps (who would throw five picks) and tenth-ranked Purdue the previous week on November 15.  The “greatest-ever” chatter was at full bore as the Buckeyes prepared for their final game of the season at Ann Arbor.

    Indeed, there had been almost no drama in the polls that season despite the presence of numerous other unbeatens (Texas, Arkansas, Penn State, Southern Cal, and UCLA; Tennessee would fall from the ranks of the unbeaten when it would lose on November 15 at Archie Manning and Ole Miss by a shocking 38-0 scoreline) besides Woody Hayes’ powerhouse Buckeyes into mid-November. So strong was OSU’s grip on the top spot in the rankings that the Buckeyes were assumed to claim another national crown when they disposed, as expected, of the Wolverines in the regular-season finale.

    Mind you, this was also in the era of the Big Ten’s no-repeat rule, and Ohio State was banned from a return visit to the Rose Bowl. Win (as most expected) on November 22 at Ann Arbor and the Buckeyes would be a neat and tidy national champ before any subsequent showdowns elsewhere (USC and UCLA later that day at the L.A. Coliseum, Texas and Arkansas two weeks hence at Fayetteville, and any upcoming bowl action).

    As for the Wolverines, they had lost a pair of games (routed at home by a potent Missouri, and beaten at Michigan State) early in the maiden voyage of Schembechler, who had been hired away from Miami-Ohio (which had earlier spawned Hayes) to replace Bump Elliott after '68.  Bo's U-M, however, had developed some momentum in the second half of the '69 season, and had buried four straight Big Ten foes (Minnesota 35-9, Wisconsin 35-7, Illinois 57-0, and Iowa 51-6) heading into the showdown vs. the Buckeyes.  By virtue of an early season win over Purdue, and the fact it had been longer since it had been to the Rose Bowl than it had been for the Boilermakers, Schembechler’s Michigan was in line for an invitation to Pasadena even with a loss, but Bo suggested that his Wolverines would likely decline unless they beat Ohio State.

    Schembechler might have been the only person in America who believed his Michigan had a chance, but after the Wolverines had pasted Iowa the week before, Bo was convinced. “We knew right then that we were going to beat Ohio State,” Bo said later. Schembechler personally kept the fires burning within his team, even to the point of making the players on his scout team wear a tiny number 50 on their practice jerseys, a gentle reminder of the Buckeyes’ 50-14 rout of the Wolverines the previous year. Such mental warfare suggested that learning at the master’s knee; Bo displayed such a passion for Hayes’s tactics, both psychological and physical, it was no wonder his peers gave him the “Little Woody” nickname, which had stuck even though Schembechler himself was not particularly fond of it.

    The way to beat Ohio State, Schembechler had decided, was to grudgingly concede FB Jim Otis his yardage and concentrate more on stopping big-play QB Rex Kern. “We didn’t want Kern running the football,” Schembechler would later say, “So we set our defenses for him. We felt that our secondary could stop his passing, and we felt that we could score against their defense by running at ‘em, which is something nobody had done.”  Which all sounded straight from the Woody Hayes textbook on winning...always attack an opponent at his strongest point.

    Before Bo had time to seriously doubt his game plan, however, the Buckeyes had taken their first possession to the Michigan 10, at which point Schembechler’s defense held, which was the first inkling of what was to happen throughout the afternoon.  Even after Ohio State’s second possession, when Otis plunged in from the one for a 6-0 Buckeyes lead, the Wolverines remained confident. Working to the short side of the field, QB Don Moorhead passed the Wolverines 55 yards in 10 plays to take a 7-6 lead, putting Ohio State behind for the first time all season. Twice Moorhead hit TE Jim Mandich with key passes, and once he found wide receiver Mike Oldham. An 11-yard reverse by wingback John Gabler helped, and rugged senior FB Garvie Craw, known more for his blocking exploits, got the final three yards on a dive.

  Interestingly, Schembechler had made no special effort to work away from Jack Tatum, the Buckeyes’ CB whose hits packed the wallop of a Joe Frazier left hook. “Sure, we wanted to go into their short side, then hit Mandich when they single-covered,” Schembechler would later say.“Tatum just happens to play the wide side, but you can’t really run away from him—he’ll hunt you down.”

    Initially, the Buckeyes were quick to respond. They came right back to take a 12-7 lead on the first play of the second quarter, Kern passing to a wide-open TE Jan White in the flat for a 22-yard TD. Ohio State’s Stan White kicked the PAT.  However, Michigan was offside, and Woody accepted the penalty, then  tried for two points from shorter range.  But Kern was smothered by Michigan DE Mike Keller, a sight that was to become routine before the end of the game.

  What unfolded for the remainder of the quarter was one of the most stunning developments of the decade, as Michigan pushed around the supposedly super-human Buckeyes as no one had done since the pre-“super sophs” 1967 season.
On the subsequent possession following White’s TD, Michigan QB Moorhead answered quickly, as the Wolverines moved to the Ohio State 27, then HB Billy Taylor, breaking three tackles, ran to the five, setting up Craw’s second scoring smash two plays later, and Michigan was back in front, 14-12. Included among the stunned were ABC telecasters Bill Flemming and Lee Grosscup, who searched for the right words to frame the unfolding drama.  And when Ohio State could not move on its next possession and had to punt, DB Barry Pierson took the kick and raced up the middle of the field, all of the way to the OSU three in what was perhaps the single most important play of the game.  (Pierson would also contribute two interceptions for the afternoon.) Two plays later Moorhead went over for another TD, and a 21-12 lead!  Now the words were coming easier for Flemming and Grosscup as they told the nation that what they were seeing in front of their eyes was indeed true.

    The Wolverines pressed on. The Buckeyes were held again, and after Michigan scored what was apparently another touchdown on Moorhead’s three-yard pass to Mandich with 1:15 left in the half, only to have it nullified by a holding penalty, junior Tim Killian kicked a 25-yard field goal, making the score 24-12.  An interception of Kern on the final play of the half kept the lead at 24-12 into the break.  The only scoring threats of the second half were Michigan’s, which ended in four missed FGs by Killian.  No matter, the damage had been done; with OSU, guilty of seven turnvoers (six interceptions!) and unable to mount a serious threat against the Schembechler defense in the second half, the score ended at that same 24-12, sending shock waves through sporting America much like those when Joe Namath’s Jets upset the Colts in Super Bowl III just ten months earlier.

    Oh yes, for those repercussions. Of course, Michigan went to the Rose Bowl (where Schembechler would suffer a heart attack on New Yea’s Eve, and miss the 10-3 loss to USC).  The national title race unexpectedly flew wide open; Texas and Arkansas, scheduled to meet in an ABC TV special two weeks later, were suddenly going to be playing for Number One.  Another unbeaten, Penn State, thinking Ohio State would beat Michigan and take care of the national title, had voted to accept an Orange Bowl bid vs. Missouri rather than the Cotton to face the Texas-Arkansas winner.  Notre Dame, 44 years a bowl outsider, decided to jump back in and face the Horns-Razorback winner.  (We talked about that Notre Dame-Texas Cotton classic in a summer "Retrospective" piece.) Meanwhile, Nittany Lion HC Joe Paterno never forgave the polls that would eventually vote his team No. 2 instead of No. 1, blaming an Eastern bias for denying him a national title.  Right then and there, sources tell us, Paterno decided never to officially align with Eastern schools (shunning the eventual creation of the Big East), setting his eyes on the Big Ten instead.  It would take 24 more years, but Penn State indeed got there, one of the first shots across the bow of college sport and the hectic conference re-shuffling that would ensue.

    All, directly or indirectly, because of Michigan-Ohio State 1969. Quite a legacy, we’d say!

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