Buckeyes, Wolverines recall controversial parts of series

By Rusty Miller

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Both Ohio State’s Jim Tressel and Michigan’s Lloyd Carr did their first bit of coaching this week.

They instructed their players to not say anything negative about the other team on the eve of 104th meeting of the Buckeyes and Wolverines on Saturday at the Big House.

Idle talk has inflamed The Game in a history of controversies before, after and during the annual grudge match:

The Tie

No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan met in 1973 with both teams unbeaten (the Buckeyes in nine games, the Wolverines in 10). Michigan had outscored its opponents 320-58, Ohio State by a margin of 361-33. After an epic struggle, they ended up in a 10-10 tie.

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In those days, only one Big Ten team got to go to a bowl, and the only bowl was the Rose. Since the teams ended up tied in the league standings, the Big Ten athletic directors met and voted who should represent the conference in Pasadena.

Ohio State had gone the year before, which normally would have favored Michigan. After some deliberation the ADs picked the Buckeyes. Whether it was because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin broke his collarbone in the game, or because the Wolverines failed to win on their home field, Ohio State was the choice. Many Michigan people believed that Michigan State, which the Wolverines had humiliated 31-0 earlier in the season, voted against their in-state rival out of spite. Some also said that two former Michigan men who were ADs in the conference betrayed their alma mater.

The Buckeyes did go on to wallop Southern Cal 42-21 in the Rose Bowl to (somewhat) vindicate the choice.

But on Nov. 13, 2006, just four days before dying of a heart attack, Michigan’s coach in 1973, Bo Schembechler, was still angry about it.

“(The tie) was the greatest disappointment of my career. Everybody, including (Ohio State coach) Woody Hayes, congratulated me after the game and said, ‘Oh, you’ll do a great job in the Rose Bowl’ and all that,” he said. “It was strictly a political thing. The whole thing upset me to no end. I think that team, that 1973 team, is the reason that we’re (the Big Ten) playing in other bowls today.”

Harbaugh’s prediction

Michigan had just sustained its first loss of the 1986 season the week before against Minnesota, prompting quarterback Jim Harbaugh to say, “I guarantee we will beat Ohio State and go to Pasadena.”

Harbaugh expected Schembechler to be extremely angry.

“The way our leader, Bo Schembechler, handled it was genius,” said Harbaugh, now Stanford’s head coach. “He just came into the team meeting and I’m kind of expecting to get an earful. He said, ‘Well, at least I know our quarterback thinks we can win. Rally around him. Let’s go to Columbus and beat the Buckeyes.”‘

And they did, 26-24, to earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.

Earle’s exit

On Monday before the 1987 game, Ohio State president Ed Jennings fired coach Earle Bruce, a successful coach who was devoted to his alma mater but had never been truly embraced by the Buckeyes faithfully.

The untimely firing shifted sentiment to Bruce, and Jennings was vilified for the decision.

In Ann Arbor that Saturday, Bruce was standing on the sidelines when he turned to say something to an assistant and noticed out of the corner of his eye his players were all wearing headbands.

“I was going to tell them to get those headbands off,” Bruce recalled. “When I looked at them, I saw that they said ‘EARLE’ and then I thought I can’t very well tell them to take them off.”

The Buckeyes won 23-20 and after the game Bruce went to the Michigan locker room to say goodbye to his friend and peer, Schembechler.

Schembechler looked up and said, “You know how I don’t like losing. But, somehow, today I don’t mind.”

Fire Cooper!

Michigan captain Walter Smith, a wide receiver who had not played all season because of an injury, was asked several days before the 1994 meeting with Ohio State why he wanted to win the game.

“We want to get Cooper fired,” Smith said. “That’s what I want to do. We want to keep on beating them and beating them until he’s not there.”

Cooper was 0-5-1 against Michigan to that point and was close to being run out of Columbus on a rail.

The No. 22 Buckeyes responded with a 22-6 win over the 15th-ranked Wolverines.