If there was ever any doubt about it, the preternatural goings on in Columbus, Ohio last week proved once and for all that Woody Hayes is indeed a soothsayer in baggy pants. Invoking such household deities as Abraham Lincoln, Robert Redford, General Patton, Jonas Salk, Little Orphan Annie and Archie Griffin, the Olentangy Oracle prophesied that the clash between Ohio State and Michigan would be an athletic Armageddon, a holy war waged in behalf of God, country and well-groomed men everywhere.
"I feel sometimes that the Man upstairs sort of likes us," Woody said on the eve of the big showdown. "Maybe we deserved the thing that happened to us—notice I didn't say 'defeat'—at Michigan State two weeks ago. Maybe He was testing us, saying, 'Let's see what kind of people are at Ohio State...Do they take defeat lightly? Can they come back from adversity?' "
Well, no and yes. No, the Buckeyes' controversial 16-13 loss to the Spartans was not taken lightly, especially by a coach who still seems ready to backhand the first man who suggests that it was anything but "questionable." And yes, Ohio State can not only come back, but, as Michigan learned last week, do it with a vengeance. But throwing adversity for a loss, something of a Hayes specialty, did not in itself make this "the greatest thrill-packed game this country has to offer." What does qualify him for clairvoyant-of-the-year honors is the new and startling way his Buckeyes triumphed.
It was not easy considering the long and storied history of what Hayes calls "the greatest rivalry in any sport." All season long, in fact, the only real question has been what could Ohio State and Michigan possibly do for an encore?
Anything, it was hoped, but a repeat of the frustration of last year, when No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan, both undefeated, struggled to a 10-10 tie that required a vote by the Big Ten athletic directors to determine who would go to the Rose Bowl. Indeed, the 6-4 decision in favor of Ohio State so outraged Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler that he was slapped with a two-year probation for accusing Big Ten Commissioner Wayne Duke of "engineering" the vote.
Hayes and his Buckeyes did their best to conjure up something different last week. Like winning 12-10 while only once penetrating beyond the Michigan 25. Like bringing in an ailing defensive back from the hospital to make a critical interception before being carried from the field. And like setting a Buckeye record with four field goals by a walk-on Czech refugee who gets kicking tips from his younger sister.
But by winning, Ohio State forced another vote by the athletic directors and, because of the narrow margin of victory, it seemed possible that Michigan would go to Pasadena. The 10 directors met in Chicago on Sunday and their meeting was long and vocal, but when they emerged Ohio State was again told to start packing for California while for Michigan it was another chorus of "no place like home for the holidays."
Despite the postgame haggling, the weekend was one of those rare instances in which the event was worthy of the buildup. That is no small achievement considering all the drumbeating that Hayes was doing last week. "By comparison," he kept telling anyone who would listen, "the Super Bowl and the World Series don't even compare with our rivalry. USC versus UCLA? Ho hum." At other moments he would turn historian. "How did our great rivalry get started? Well, the real fight started back in 1836 when Andrew Jackson, that wily old cuss, took Toledo away from that state up north and gave it to us."
As for Schembechler, he was disinclined to rehash the events of a century ago—or even last year. "I don't want to talk about it," he said. "This is football, not politics. Nothing that happened last year matters this year."
Bo apparently has not been frequenting the Michigan dorms lately. Linebacker Steve Strinko, for one, said before the game, "You're never going to see a team as high as Michigan in Columbus. It went to a vote last year and they shafted us. So we're not going to let them shaft us this time. The other day some of us were sitting around watching TV and one of the guys said, 'If you gave me an elbow pad before the Ohio State game I'd be ready to eat it.' " The Banks brothers, Harry and Larry, promised to be even more demonstrative. Larry, a defensive end, aware that Ohio State's Archie Griffin was going for his 22nd consecutive game of rushing for 100 or more yards, said, "The only way Griffin will get 100 yards is if I die." Harry, a defensive back, added, "If we lose, I hope to exhale my last breath on the field."
Dennis Franklin, Michigan's slick faking quarterback, who has been troubled with a sprained ankle, drew comparisons with another battle of titans. "When Ali fought Foreman he could have taken it easy because he'd already been champ. What did he have to win for? He had to win because he had so much pride to regain after all the inequities he had to go through. That's what it's like for us."
The Buckeyes were no less psyched up. "This is going to be college football at its very best," predicted Defensive Back Neal Colzie. "They say that pro ball is not like this. If that's true, I'll be very disappointed."
Colzie sounds like a chip off the old Woody. So did Schembechler when, like Hayes, he closed his practices last week. Slightly paranoid about intruders, he even sent a team of student assistants off to corner a UPI photographer who was trying to get a shot from the roof of a house across the street from the practice field. Actually, Hayes and Schembechler, whose careers are so similar, also are so similar in method that their teams could exchange playbooks and it is doubtful if anyone in the stands would be any wiser.
Indeed, except for a surprise opening pass that came within a knuckle or two of being intercepted, the two teams were almost mirror images of one another last Saturday. Franklin threw more and Cornelius Greene, the Buckeye quarterback, did a lot of scrambling during the afternoon, but the primary tactics were the same: grind it out.
The first two quarters differed sharply. The Wolverines kicked off with the wind, pinned Ohio State inside its 15 and took over near midfield. On their fourth play, Franklin, his injured leg taped like a thoroughbred's, passed over the middle to Gil Chapman, who eluded one tackier and veered off to the corner of the end zone for a 42-yard score. On their second series, Gordon Bell, a bolter who runs at a forward angle that seems to defy gravity, crashed for 43 yards in seven plays to set up a field goal by Mike Lantry. With barely 10 minutes expired, the Wolverines were ahead 10-0. It looked for a moment as if a high-scoring game, if not a rout, might be in the offing.
But only for a moment. With Griffin shifting into overdrive, Ohio State invaded Michigan territory at the end of the quarter. On the first play of the second period, with a 20-mile-an-hour wind behind him, Buckeye Kicker Tom Klaban set up for what was to become a familiar sight. Though the snap was errant, Klaban got off a 47-yard sidewinder that hooked through the uprights.
Griffin kept pounding away to the increasing befuddlement of the Wolverine defense. At one point, when Linebacker Strinko met the powering Griffin head on in a hugger-mugger clasp, Strinko went down and sat there for several long astonished moments watching Archie plow on for five more yards.
More discouraging was the sight of Klaban coming on to register another field goal, a 25-yarder, the second of the quarter. Then, with just seconds remaining in the first half, Greene connected with Split End Dave Hazel for 26 yards to usher Klaban in once again. His third kick was a 43-yarder that cut the Michigan margin to 10-9.
Bell, who rushed for 93 yards in the first half, was held to a mere 16 after the break mainly because of the ferocious play of Linebacker Bruce Elia and Tackle Pete Cusick. With Greene finding his running legs, the Buckeyes penetrated far enough early in the third quarter to again bring in the omnipresent Klaban. His kick, a 45-yard boomer, put Ohio State into the lead for the first time, 12-10.
From there on it was all push and shove with Cusick & Co. getting in most of the hardest licks. During one series the 250-pound Cusick singlehandedly stopped the Wolverines cold three times in succession.
The Ohio State defense, plus a pair of booming punts by Tom Skladany that traveled 63 and 55 yards, and that key interception by Colzie, who had been hospitalized with a throat infection, throttled the Wolverines.
True to the tradition of the rivalry, some last-ditch heroics were in order and Michigan tried to comply when Franklin passed to Jim Smith for 21 yards. Then, in what looked like a replay of last year's fading seconds, Lantry, a 26-year-old Vietnam veteran, came in for a 33-yard field-goal attempt. The kick soared high and long enough but it was off to the left by about one foot—the same margin that denied Michigan a victory in 1973.
While Buckeye fans were dismantling the goalposts, Klaban, the man of the moment, was in the locker room addressing a new circle of admirers. Recalling the day when, as a Czech youth, he braved gunfire by border guards to escape with his family from behind the Iron Curtain, he said that he had "never even seen a football until a few years ago." He is still so unaccustomed to its idiosyncrasies, he said, that before the game he took some tips from his younger sister, because "she is the only one who understands my soccer style."
Later, a $1,000 scholarship was awarded to Ohio State in Klaban's name, honoring him for being the game's outstanding offensive player. Not to be outdone, Hayes, declaring that "this was the greatest kicking game I've ever seen," awarded Klaban the game ball—and a full scholarship. Klaban can use it.
"I've never had a scholarship before," he said. "I'm a walk-on, and at Ohio State walk-ons don't get a scholarship until they've proved themselves."
It seemed the least Woody could do.