Time and Change: The Game - 1973
In this installment of Time and Change, I have the distinct pleasure of retelling the story one of the greatest games in college football history -- the Ohio State vs. Michigan game of 1973. This year marks the 40th anniversary of that great, yet controversial contest, where the Buckeyes and Wolverines tied, 10-10. Ohio State was then chosen to go to the Rose Bowl in an unprecedented vote by Big Ten athletic directors.
Recently, I had the opportunity to visit with many Ohio State greats as well as a few from That School Up North regarding that game and their experiences.
I talked with John Hicks, Archie Griffin, Pete Cusick, Randy Gradishar and Tom Skladany, all from the '73 team as well as assistant A.D. Larry Romanoff,. From the other side I spoke with 1973 Michigan starting quarterback Dennis Franklin and former M-Club President Laura Melvin.
Regarding the 1973 team, let us remember that OSU team had lost only twice in four years, both to Michigan State. Additionally, the Buckeyes had already played in three consecutive Rose Bowls.
Most football observers agree that the '73 game was one of the most controversial games in the history of college football. Big Ten Network will be airing a feature this weekend titled "Tiebreaker" that goes into more depth about the controversy around the vote that grew out of the game.
In this game both teams came in undefeated, with Ohio State (9-0) ranked 1st and Michigan (10-0) ranked fourth. The Buckeyes had outscored their opponents by an average of 37 points per game. A conference championship, Rose Bowl appearance and a possible national championship was on the line in the monumental game. And, of course, this game was part of the hotly contested stretch of the rivalry known as The Ten Year War. A then-NCAA record crowd of 105,233 watched the game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor (Mich.).
As the teams took the field, the rivalry game got off to an even more heated beginning when the Buckeyes, led by John Hicks, stormed the field and tore down the famous "M - Go Blue" Letterman's Club banner. The famous banner has been a staple at Michigan games for many generations and the Wolverines, to this day, still run under the banner. The banner was quickly straightened out and raised once again and the team managed to finally run under it after the Buckeyes fired off the opening shot.
Needless to say, the 105-thousand plus fans in attendance that day roared in noisy disapproval of the actions of Woody's team.
Many reported that heavy rain prior to the game was the reason the battle was mostly fought on the ground. Michigan had 90 yards passing and Ohio State attempted only seven passing plays in a defensive contest.
Buckeye quarterback Cornelius Green actually had a broken hand going into the game and that was the major reason why Ohio State did not go to the air often.
The Buckeyes won the first half, leading, 10-0, at the break. But the game still had 30 minutes to go and Michigan stormed back in the second half and ended up tying the game in the 4th on a Franklin 10-yard touchdown run.
Michigan's coaches and players felt that although the game was a tie, they were the better team and deserved to go to the Rose Bowl. Even Ohio State coach Woody Hayes admitted that his team wouldn't go to the Rose Bowl. There was lots of debate on who would play in the Rose Bowl. Michigan's strong second half and Franklin's injury (broken collar bone with 2:32 remaining in the game) were factors in debating who would represent the conference in the "Granddaddy of Them All".
Ohio State had gone to the Rose Bowl the year before. The Big Ten, at the time, had a longstanding policy stating that only the conference champion would go to a bowl, and at that time it was the Rose Bowl or bust. The Big Ten also had a "no-repeat" rule until 1971 and had it still been in effect, Michigan would have gone to the Rose Bowl automatically, even if it had lost to Ohio State. With the rule abolished the decision as to who would represent the conference would be left up to a telephone vote by the Big Ten's athletic directors.
According to Michigan coach Bo Schembechler's autobiography, the Big Ten was nervous because the conference had lost the previous four Rose Bowls and Franklin's injury may have been a deciding factor.
The day after the game, a now-infamous conference call announced Ohio State would play in the Rose Bowl instead of Michigan. Schembechler was furious at the call, referring to it as "an embarrassment to the Big Ten Conference" and claiming "petty jealousies" were involved.
Schembechler went on to demand changes to the Big Ten's policies regarding post-season play. Bo was particularly bitter because his 1973 team did not lose a game and was not rewarded with a bowl assignment, and he remained angry at the vote until his death in 2006. Schembechler also claimed the Franklin injury was just an excuse, since Ohio State's strength was a running game and not a passing attack.
While putting this piece together, I have had the great opportunity to talk with many people who were involved in that historic game and here are some of their comments:
I remember pre-game in the tunnel and I don't think we even thought about it at the time, but even though John Hicks won't admit to it, he led us out and I believe John was the first one to grab the Michigan banner and the rest of the team joined in. It really ticked them off.
My most vivid memory of that game was the toughness, but also the fact that we jumped out to an early lead, 10-0 and the got conservative with very limited passing. Corny Greene hurt his hand against Minnesota the week before and we didn't want to take any chances. So we ran the ball the entire game and that was very predictable and we ended with a ten to ten tie. It was the only blemish on our season, which kept us from the National Championship.
That might have been the greatest team we ever had at Ohio State. If you look at the numbers that we put out, they were ridiculous. And then we have to settle for a 10-10 tie. We didn't think we were going to be able to go to the Rose Bowl and then when the athletic directors voted for Ohio State to go, we were elated. It gave us a chance to go out and avenge the loss we had to USC in the Rose Bowl the year before.
Two-time Heisman Trophy winner - starting tailback
The 1973 Ohio State vs. Michigan game was the most intense game of our classic rivalry, at least what I remember of it. In the middle of the third quarter, I had my 'bell rung' and I had staggered into the Michigan huddle. Randy Gradishar led me back to our huddle and I don't remember much after that.
I do remember flying back from the game and Woody was so livid, he was banging his head on the side of the plane. It was a tough one to tie and we were one point away from winning the National Championship, especially after the way we beat Southern Cal in the Rose Bowl.
Starting Defensive Tackle, All-American, All-Big Ten 1973
It was one of the greatest playing experiences of my life. It was one we should have won, but we then went out and redeemed ourselves against USC in the Rose Bowl.
Starting middle linebacker, All-American 1973
It was the greatest game in Ohio State vs. Michigan history. I remember how excited we were to play that game as we ran out of the tunnel and the next thing I knew, the Michigan banner was coming down on top of me. I had nothing to do with pulling it down.
Starting offensive tackle, outland trophy & Lombardi trophy 1973
Alleged 1st Person on the M-Club Banner
At Michigan, both teams come out of the same tunnel. I remember before the game, Woody said, "Put on your helmets and buckle up those chinstraps because we're going to take on those SOBs right here in the tunnel."
We were so fired up that when the ABC Sports official pointed to the team and said two minutes until you take the field, we just bolted out of the tunnel right then and there. Hicks absolutely grabbed that banner and we all piled on.
The biggest thing I remember from the '73 Michigan game was that I got crushed on the opening kickoff. I had led the team in tackles on kickoffs that season and I was running down the field after the kick in my lane and I had the return man dead to rights. That's when a guy clipped me. I dislocated my ankle and broke my tibia. Doctor Bob is taking care of me on the sidelines, when Woody comes up and says, 'How is he?' Dr. Bob just shook his head. Woody then said, 'He can't punt then?' Dr. Bob shook his head again, when Woody said, 'How about kickoffs?' I was just crying laughing, even though I was hurt bad.
After the game, we found out that play was in Michigan's plan to try to get me out of the game and damage our kicking game.
Starting kicker (kickoffs) and punter
We're down in the tunnel and all the fans are cheering and we see the M-Club guys with the banner out on the field and Woody says, "Go get that (G**damn) thing!" We run out and Hicks jumps up on the thing and all our guys pile on. They didn't really show it on TV, but it turned into a real slugfest.
1973 Team manager, current Ohio State associate athletic director
After 40 years, while trying to go back and find the guys who held the M-Club banner that game, I have not been able to find them.
I think we would all just rather forget that we had our banner torn down on our home field.
Michigan - Former President of the M-Club
We never heard about the banner being torn down until after the game, but Hicks still denies it to this day.
It was great to have the opportunity to play in the greatest rivalry in college football and the 1973 game was a 'bloodbath'. We were stunned when the Big Ten athletic directors voted for Ohio State to go. Using the broken collarbone as an excuse was a cop out. We knew we were the better team and the Ohio State players knew it, too.
Once the athletic director vote came out, it was the first time I ever saw Bo Schembechler at a loss for words. He had to tell us we were not going to the Rose Bowl and he couldn't tell us why. He was livid and he was stunned.
Ohio State and Michigan players are cut from the same cloth: intense, disciplined and ultra-competitive. I still stay in touch with some of the Ohio State players like Steve Luke and Archie Griffin. It's pretty cool to have the only two-time Heisman trophy winner as good friends.
Michigan - 1973 starting quarterback
After the athletic director vote, and I believe as a result of many of Schembechler's protests, the Big Ten made changes to its bowl selection processes. Among the changes that were made included the abolishment of the archaic "Rose Bowl or No Bowl" rule. This would allow conference teams other than the champion to accept invitations to other bowls. Michigan would be the first team to receive such an invite to the Orange Bowl following the 1975 season.
The Buckeyes proved the Big Ten athletics director's vote was correct when they went on to root Southern Cal, 42-21, in the Rose Bowl.
The tie, 10-10, denied Ohio State the national championship. Alabama vaulted the Buckeyes into the top spot in both polls, and the Crimson Tide finished the regular season, 11-0, to earn the number one ranking in the UPI coach's poll, which did not conduct a post-bowl poll at that time. Notre Dame ended up as AP national champions by defeating Alabama, 24-23, in the Sugar Bowl, leaving the Buckeyes second in both wire-service surveys.
To this day, the aftermath of the 1973 Michigan-Ohio State contest remains one of the biggest controversies in college football history.
Some things will never change.
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