By now Woody Hayes may have stopped eating furniture, with reels of film for dessert. He may have quit shredding photographs of Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke. He may have finally turned away from growling at his Enemies List, fleshed out with such recent additions as Referee Gene Calhoun, Field Judge Robert Daganhardt and Back Judge William Kingzett, men who last weekend took their places next to Hitler, Tojo and Mussolini in the state of Ohio. If Woody has calmed down, it is good for his digestion, but nothing has changed since last Saturday afternoon in East Lansing, Mich. when perverse fate, a clock or incompetence (depending on your loyalties) knocked off a college football team that was supposed to be mightier than a Divine Presence in a face mask.
To give it a memorable name, let's call it the Bizarre Bowl. For what happened on Nov. 9, 1974, in an athletic contest that was expected to be a normal 35-0 victory for No. 1 Ohio State over a group of undernourished and culturally deprived Michigan State Spartans defies, even at this hour, the logic of the mentally healthy everywhere.
That Michigan State scored one of the epic, colossal, classic, shocking (choose any two) upsets in the history of men and boys, 16-13, is no longer a secret on the globe. But exactly how it was managed in those last chaotic seconds is likely to remain a slight mystery because it was the greatest ending nobody ever saw.
Ignoring for a moment all of the madness that came before the game's final play, this is the way the scene will be etched in the minds of the 78,533 in Spartan Stadium and the multitudes tuned in on ABC-TV. The clock is ticking off four...three...two...one; a ball squirts through the quarterback's legs with the Buckeyes inside the Spartans' one-yard line and everybody not quite in the proper place; a guy grabs the ball as it conveniently bounces into his hands; he crashes into the end zone; the head linesman signals touchdown while other officials signal time has expired. Both teams take turns celebrating the win although none of us will know who won, actually, for 45 more minutes.
November 18, 1974
All along, strangely enough, the officials knew which team had won. Michigan State. For at the same time that Head Linesman Ed Scheck was signaling a touchdown rather automatically—his job is to look for nothing other than the position of the football—other striped demons who had been raised up to haunt Woody Hayes were waving their arms crossways, a clear indication that time had expired before the last play.
Whether that was right or wrong did not even matter to Commissioner Wayne Duke once he had talked with the officials. As the commissioner announced in the press box, "Had time not expired, Ohio State would have been charged with a penalty for not being in a set position for a full second before the last play."
Illegal motion, in other words. And assuming that Michigan State would not have chosen to take the play and lose the game, that also would have been it. One of the least familiar rules of college football is that a game can not end on a defensive penalty, but it can end on an offensive penalty.
So much for things hypothetical. Woody Hayes left the field muttering several unmentionables, backhanding a Spartan rooter and remembering, "It was Napoleon who said, 'From the sublime to the ridiculous is but one step.' "
It was more like half a step. After the Spartans had miraculously pulled ahead with 3:17 left after a long pass and a longer run, the Buckeyes drove 70-and-two-thirds yards to their rendezvous with confusion and calamity. There at the end they were on the Spartans' one with two plays called in the huddle and 29 seconds remaining. Enough time, surely.
But if Woody's team had not been losing the game all day long, a thought that lingers in the minds of many, it made certain it could lose in the final moments. There is a coaching adage that goes: In the crucial moment you go with your best back on his best play. That would have been Archie Griffin, who gets over 100 yards a game as routinely as he goes to a water fountain. Weirdly, Archie had not been used nearly enough throughout the afternoon, and he was not used then. Harold Henson, the fullback, was called upon, and he did not get over.
Woody, between bites of sofas and chairs, will believe forever that the game was lost in the untangling of the resultant pile. The officials, he said, should have made the Spartans get up faster, and they especially should have made one of them stop holding on to Steve Myers' face mask, preventing the center from reaching his feet. Naturally, the Spartans got up slowly; that is part of football.
Woody's argument would be more convincing if his Buckeyes themselves had looked ready to run a play. Some of them looked as if they thought they had time to browse through a volume or two of The History of Gauze before lining up. One fellow, Doug France, a tight end, seemed to start back toward a huddle that did not exist. Two other linemen never got completely down. And Griffin never quite made it to a set position.
Woody Hayes did not care about any of that over the gloomy weekend. He managed to pull himself together enough to appear on his TV show back in Columbus on Saturday night. Barely.
"I'm in no mood to be on this show," he said. "I can't tell you how bitter I am. The older you get and the more you win, the more bitter you get with a loss. This was the greatest team we've ever had."
Woody babbled as his audience saw reruns of the last few plays.
"Watch how we can't get up," he said. "Watch 'em hold down our players. Finally, when we do get up—there's about two seconds—we ran the play and went into the end zone. They ruled a touchdown and then they called it back and said it wasn't.... When there's that much of a pileup and near the goal and the clock is running out, it's up to the officials to blow time-out. That's where they blew it!"
The bitter poetry of Wayne Woodrow Hayes, continued:
"The officials say time had run out, but they should have stopped the clock on that pileup. And if there was illegal motion there should have been a flag thrown on it.... Both sides were probably offsides on the last play, it looks like to me.... The thing I resent is that no effort was made to get them to unpile. It's just as grossly unfair as it can be.... I'm just as bitter as the devil.... But if you take something like this lightly, you'll be laughing more than you'll be winning."
In retrospect, Woody might get around to questioning some of his offensive calls, or those of his staff, or of OSU Quarterback Cornelius Greene, far more than the judgment of some officials. A team like the Buckeyes, undefeated, untied and averaging 45 points per game, could not play decently and lose to a collection of scholar-athletes who have been beaten three times, once at the hands of UCLA by 56-14, and tied once. Not without being drugged, overconfident or sabotaged by their own game plan.
Looking back for earlier clues to the upset, we find Ohio State taking its very first possession of the football down on Michigan State's 39-yard line, letting the incomparable Archie Griffin run it quickly to the 13, and then not letting him touch it again. That certainly made wonderful sense. Cornelius Greene takes over. He makes five. Next comes some kind of dumb pass, incomplete. Then Greene calls on Brian Baschnagel, who scored the touchdown that never happened, and he makes three. The Buckeyes have to settle for a field goal.
By halftime, when, astonishingly, the score was 3-3, Archie Griffin had carried only eight times. In fact, Griffin would get over 100 yards from scrimmage for the 19th consecutive time—a continuing national record—primarily on three big carries, one of them a 31-yard draw play on the final drive. The rest of the day Archie was contained, mostly by Woody's game plan.
If there was an occasion when Griffin was most desperately needed, it was in that moment when the Buckeyes were clinging to a 13-9 lead after Michigan State scored on a 44-yard pass from Quarterback Charlie Baggett to Mike Jones. When Ohio State took the kick-off you had to figure the Spartans would never see the football again, not in those last 5½ minutes. Woody would eat up the clock with a little of this, some of that and lots of Archie. But, oops, no Archie. Not in three plays. No first down, either, so the Buckeyes had to punt. But that was not so bad, either, because the ball found its way to the Michigan State 12-yard line. Not bad at all, except for a guy named Levi Jackson.
On the very first play from down there, Jackson shot through the left side of the Ohio State line, curved to his right and ran 88 delirious yards untouched—practically unsneezed at—in something like nine seconds. Expect Jackson to do that sort of thing some more. He is a sophomore, weighs 212 pounds and looks like he can spot a jackrabbit 20 paces and still beat him to the carrot.
The play is called 44-Veer, and Levi Jackson said later that all he thought about when he crossed the goal was: "They was through."
Considerable credit is due the Buckeyes for that last drive, up until their poise went south. There was precisely 3:11 left when Archie Griffin returned the kick-off to his 29. And here is how it went from that point until the Laurel and Hardy conclusion: Greene opened up with a pass that was nearly intercepted by the defensive player of the day, Michigan State Linebacker Terry McClowry. Griffin then skittered his 31 yards to the Spartans' 40. Henson made three yards, then Greene got five and nine and it was first down for Ohio on the Spartans' 23.
After an incompletion at 1:31 Greene hit Split End Dave Hazel for nine yards. Henson hammered his way for three and a first down at the 11. Now there were 55 seconds left. Archie made five on another draw but didn't get out of bounds at the MSU six-yard line, so the Buckeyes took their last time-out with 40 seconds remaining.
Henson shoved his 231 pounds into left tackle and was halted on MSU's one. The clock stopped with 29 seconds to go while the officials measured for a first down. OSU to the line of scrimmage. The clock starts. The call: Henson.
"I was in," said Henson. "I saw the goal line pass under me when I hit."
"It wasn't even close," said Michigan State's McClowry, who was one of Henson's greeters. "No way."
Now the pileup of Woody Hayes' recurring nightmare. Slow-moving outlaws. Those were the Spartans. Why not?
"This guy had my face mask and wouldn't turn loose," said Myers.
"Why should we have hurried?" asked Spartan Tackle Jim Taubert.
One thing is clear. About a millionth of a second after the head linesman throws up his arms signaling a touchdown on the semi-play Ohio State ran, Referee Gene Calhoun is visibly gesturing—waving his arms crossways—that there was no play because the clock said zero before the snap. Other officials made the same gesture.
Commissioner Wayne Duke actually had nothing to do with any sort of official decision. He was merely a liaison between the referee and the press box when his pleasant Saturday afternoon was suddenly interrupted.
"When I called the officials' dressing room," said Duke, "they couldn't believe there was any question about who won the game."
Calhoun, whose decision was final, has a set of credentials that will astonish Woody Hayes. The referee is not a Nazi Communist Palestinian Symbionese Liberal Hippie. He is an attorney in Madison, Wis., a graduate of the University of Wisconsin, a Big Ten official for the past 11 seasons and a man who not only has refereed a Rose Bowl and a Cotton Bowl but one whose abilities are so well thought of that he was placed in charge of last season's Notre Dame-Alabama Sugar Bowl Game of the Hour, Year, Decade and Eternity.
In the end it was fortunate that Woody Hayes did not see one thing out there in the tumult of Spartan Stadium. When the announcement ultimately was made that Coach Denny Stolz' amazing Spartans had, yes, of a certainty, beaten the almighty Buckeyes, just like the scoreboard kept insisting, out came a banner that blatantly proclaimed: "First Nixon, Then Foreman, Now Ohio State."
Woody would have eaten it.