Somewhere between the bloodletting in South Bend and the hysteria in Los Angeles last week, a Michigan alumnus returning to Ann Arbor for his big football weekend sat in the jam-packed bar at a Holiday Inn, passing the time as any diehard fan might. Long in the tooth and red of eye, he was watching yet another key college game on a portable Sony TV precariously balanced on his knees. Suddenly he complained of something akin to double vision.
"I think," he said, peering blearily from beneath an outrageously, floppy blue-and-gold cap bearing the banner SAVE FUEL, BURN WOODY, "I just saw Chris Schenkel score on an end around."
So it might have appeared to most anyone who tried to digest the entire menu of college football served up over the long Thanksgiving weekend. Nine of the nation's top 10 college teams met in matchups arranged by that Great Mover and Shaker of Schedules—ABC-TV. All told, six undefeated records were put on the line. Four conference titles were at stake. Both Rose Bowl berths were decided. And, as usual, when all was computed and disputed, the answer to the ultimate question of Who is No. 1? satisfied practically nobody.
Certainly not Notre Dame. The Irish, ranked No. 5, dismantled the Air Force 48-15 in the only real turkey of a game but, given a schedule that was something less than formidable this year, Notre Dame's lopsided win did little to detract from its reputation as a bunch of bullies beating up defenseless tykes.
December 3, 1973
The same cannot be said of Barry Switzer's first Oklahoma team. No matter that the Sooners, banned from playing in bowl games this season because of recruiting violations committed while Switzer was an assistant, have image problems of their own. After No. 3 Oklahoma thumped No. 10 Nebraska 27-0, Switzer declared his team numero uno because the Sooners play a tougher schedule than any other claimant to the crown.
"I'm sure there is prejudice against us," he said, "but if we're not the best team, I don't know who is."
No. 8 UCLA and No. 9 USC were not out to claim anything except the rights to the Pacific Eight title and the fringe benefits derived therefrom. The Trojans won that typically rowdy encounter (page 90) and will be in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day.
But when it comes to gritty rivalries, none of last week's games were so crucial or promised so much mayhem as the confrontations between No. 2 Alabama (see cover) and No. 7 LSU, and No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan. Each was a classic reunion of teacher and pupil and each in its own way taught the same lesson: respect your elders.
When Bear Bryant brought the Crimson Tide to Baton Rouge last week, the mist had not settled on the bayous before he and LSU's Charlie McClendon were bragging on one another again. It is a gracious Southern ritual that has been going on since McClendon, who is not only a fellow traveler from Arkansas but played and coached under Bryant, took over LSU in 1962.
According to the script, Bryant puts on his most venerable face and then will say as he did last week, "Cholly Mac and I are good friends, as everyone knows, and I hope he'll be kind to his old coach." Then, after Bryant's boys waylay McClendon's, as they have done seven times in nine meetings, Cholly Mac will drawl, "Somehow, I don't think Bear taught me all he knows."
There were hints of that last week when Bryant rightly prophesied that "mistakes will decide this game." ABC made the first one when it scheduled the game for prime time only to find that it would be bucking heads with NBC's offering of My Fair Lady. So, pulling strings again, ABC rescheduled the kickoff for the odd hour of 5:35 p.m. "As cute as Bear Bryant is," said one ABC operative, "he can't match Audrey Hepburn."
Collaring the referees before the game, Bryant tried to make certain that his young squad would not be rattled by Tiger Stadium, a notorious arena that has justifiably been dubbed Death Valley. No delay-of-game calls were made against the crowd but it was not for their want of trying. With the Southeastern Conference title at stake and both teams flaunting unblemished records, the playing conditions were, as one 'Bama player described them, "downright hellacious."
There were smoke bombs, Roman candles, barrages of oranges and, above all, an almost constant ear-thumping roar that was augmented by Mike III, a huge Bengal tiger that was strategically posted at the gate through which the visiting team must pass to enter the playing field. "Don't pay him no attention," Bear told his players. "He's as old as I am."
It was Alabama, however, who took the Tigers by the tail in the first half. One of the top 10 teams in scoring, rushing, total offense and total defense, Alabama must also lead in the unofficial category of total depth. Shuttling 70 or more players into each game, Bryant this year achieved a battering effect on opposing teams.
Something had to give and, after LSU held Alabama to a standoff in the first period, a hurried Tiger handoff went astray and 'Bama Tackle Mike Raines, who was a tidal force unto himself all night long, pounced on the ball on the LSU 19. Then Quarterback Gary Rutledge, a rangy redhead who looks like Huck Finn in hip pads, made a beautifully deceptive fake into the line and peeled off on a keeper to score easily.
Rutledge caught the Tiger defense out of sync again a few minutes later when he sucked in the safety with a running fake and flipped a pass to a very lonely tight end, George Pugh, who loped into the end zone for a 49-yard scoring play. LSU's third and last critical error came in the third quarter when Tiger Cornerback Mike Williams fell while covering 'Bama's Wayne Wheeler and the fleet split end easily turned the pass play into a 77-yard touchdown.
Down 21-0 early in the fourth quarter, LSU and the denizens of Tiger Stadium came alive again on a rampaging drive led by Quarterback Mike Miley, a scrambler who prefers to bang up the middle rather than seek the solace of the sidelines. Starting on his 18, Miley quickly took the Tigers 42 yards and then called on Tailback Brad Davis, a squat, low-flying power runner who was the leading rusher for the evening with 143 yards, to apply the finishing touch.
Breaking over left guard, Davis ran smack into a gang mugging but then somehow came out the other side and went 40 yards for a touchdown. LSU threatened once more but sophomore Alabama Linebacker Woodrow Lowe, who Bryant feels is better than Lee Roy Jordan was during his college years, added an interception to his 11 solo tackles to ensure a 21-7 Alabama victory.
Afterward, Bryant and McClendon slipped back into their routine. "I'm tickled to death to win from Cholly Mac," said the Bear. "He's taught me a lot. I always try to learn from my best boys."
McClendon was characteristically more demonstrative. Sipping a beer, he said, "Dagburn it! The program says that 'Bama center is 223 pounds. Why, his one damn leg weighs 223. It just doesn't seem proper that 'Bama gets all those good folks who like to play. But I'll tell you something, the best one of 'em all is old Bear himself."
No such warm bonds are outwardly evident between Woody Hayes and his former assistant at Ohio State, Bo Schembechler. For one thing, Hayes is averse to mentioning rival coaches' names, so for public purposes Schembechler of Michigan is "the coach from that school up north." For another, both coaches have authored new books, and Bo's Man in Motion, in which he reveals that Hayes is not only less of a handball player but once threw a chair at him during a heated argument, sells for a mere $6.95 while Woody's You Win with People commands $8.95.
On the field the differences in style are so minimal that Schembechler, to his undying chagrin, is called a "chip off the old Woody" and "Little Woody." Both are hard drivers, have hot tempers, prefer the grind-it-out offense and are always looking for new ways to make the relentless business of winning a trifle more interesting. Last week, for instance, Bo lectured his team about "thinking No. 1 until it's stamped on your mind." Then on cue, a bald assistant stepped forward and took off a stocking cap to reveal a big blue "No. 1" painted on his pate.
The game predictably developed into an unimaginative clash of I formation offenses battering against two of the best defenses in the country. Hayes came to Ann Arbor with the unspoken knowledge that the Buckeyes not only would not throw, but could not. "I can tell you that now," he said afterward—when it had become obvious. Nor is Michigan's passing worthy of celebration either but it became very effective toward the end before Quarterback Dennis Franklin suffered a broken collarbone and Schembechler deflated the ball and his team's winning chances. Ultimately, the caution may have cost Michigan the Rose Bowl invitation.
Ohio State went only as far as the squirming Archie Griffin could take it. He did not score but he slipped enough tackles to get 163 yards in 30 carries and set up a 31-yard second-quarter field goal by Blair Conway and a later five-yard TD burst by Pete Johnson.
Michigan's awakening did not come until the second half. More specifically, it was late in the third quarter when Buckeye Quarterback Cornelius Greene, facing fourth and two at the Wolverine 34, tried to sneak for the yardage. He did not make it. "I really thought we were going on to score a touchdown and maybe put the game out of reach," Woody said later.
Just as Griffin had done for Ohio State, Ed Shuttlesworth moved Michigan. "We had a great fullback in there today," said Schembechler after Shuttlesworth had gained 116 yards in 27 cracks at the heart of the Buckeye defense. "I don't remember him running that well against us the last two years," said Hayes.
Shuttlesworth carried on eight of the 11 plays that led to a 30-yard field goal by Mike Lantry early in the fourth quarter. The game-tying 49-yard TD drive featured Shuttlesworth also but it was Franklin's 27-yard pass to Paul Seal that was the biggest gainer. Franklin scored the touchdown from the 10 after a nifty inside fake to his fullback.
With Griffin carrying four straight times for 29 yards, Ohio State responded with a late bid to regain the lead. But Griffin missed two plays with a leg cramp and the drive lost its impetus.
Franklin then took Michigan to the Ohio State 48 before he was hurt. Substitute Larry Cipa entered with 2:25 remaining—under orders to stay on the ground. Schembechler was less than convincing when he explained later, "We didn't settle for a tie, we did everything we could to win." Three running plays leading to a 58-yard field-goal attempt (that came remarkably close) did not seem much like pulling out all the stops. "I was surprised," admitted Hayes. A pass interception gave Michigan a more realistic opportunity from the Buckeye 34 but this time Lantry missed badly.
As the seconds ran out on the 10-10 tie, 105,223 people, an NCAA regular-season record, went home assuming the Big Ten's Rose Bowl representative would be Michigan, since Ohio State had gone last season. But on Sunday a vote of conference athletic directors produced something of a surprise. The choice was Ohio State, no doubt a reflection of the Buckeyes' more impressive season and the fact that Franklin probably would be unable to play. The Big Ten has lost the last four Rose Bowls, so its athletic directors were guided by expedience, not sentiment. "I'm very bitter," said Schembechler. "It's a tragic thing for Big Ten football."
When the hectic week had ended, Alabama was the majority choice for No. 1. The Tide had started the year No. 4 in the polls, trailing USC, the defending champion, Nebraska and Ohio State. In late September, when USC was tied by Oklahoma, the Trojans fell back and Ohio State vaulted over Nebraska (which almost lost to a weak Wisconsin) into first. Alabama went to third. At mid-season Nebraska was upset by Missouri, yielding the second spot to the Tide, and so it remained until last week. Alabama scored impressive victories but so did Ohio State and the unwritten law of the polls says that whatever team holds the top spot continues to hold it until it loses, ties or, perhaps, wins shakily.
It is this law that now gives No. 1 to Alabama instead of to Notre Dame or Penn State, both of whom are equally unbeaten and untied. Worry not for the Irish, however. Last week's tie (an ironic 10-10) at Ann Arbor was like an early Christmas present for Ara Parseghian, for both Big Ten teams were ranked ahead of Notre Dame. Now, if the Irish should beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year's Eve, there is an excellent chance they would be voted the national championship—and why not? If you are unbeaten, untied and you whip the No. 1 team, you deserve it.
Penn State? Joe Paterno needs a miracle, namely an Alabama loss this week, followed by an Alabama victory over Notre Dame in New Orleans. Or the other way around. If both teams are unbeaten going into the Sugar Bowl, as is likely, Penn State must hope for a tie—and even that might not convince the voters.
The most curious case is Oklahoma. It started the big week No. 3 and won more impressively than any other team, but it is bowl-boundless. To be No. 1, it needs all the aforementioned miracles, plus a prayer that the voters will not be prejudiced by its probation.
One thing is certain. Ara can hope, Joe can hope, Barry can hope. Maybe even Woody can hope. But as of now, only the Bear has it.