The date: November 24, 1973
The matchup: No. 1 Ohio State (9-0) at No. 4 Michigan (10-0)
The stakes: Everything. Bragging rights in college football’s most bitter rivalry of the day. Big Ten title and Rose Bowl bid. National title hopes. The fifth battle of Woody Hayes vs. Bo Schembechler. (After four games, they were tied at 2 wins each.)
Absolutely, positively everything was on the line in this game.
The back story: The point of these pieces is to highlight moments for each given team in 50 Best*. For the most part, I’ve tried to avoid obvious games that people might already know because that takes from the discovery process. Discovery was my favorite part about writing this book, and I hope it helps to keep the reading process exciting, too.
But there was no other game for Michigan in 1973. Go ahead and look at the schedule if you don’t believe me. Ohio State was the only ranked opponent. Navy was the only other team to stay within 14 points, and that was because the Wolverines played like crap. Michigan was too good for everyone in what was increasingly a two-team Big Ten. This was a one-game schedule, and Ohio State was the one game.
It was also amazing.
The game: From 50 Best*, picking up with Ohio State up 10-0 in the third quarter:
Near the end of the third quarter, the Wolverines stuffed Buckeye quarterback Cornelius Greene for just one yard on fourth-and-2 from the UM 34. Shuttlesworth finally started finding some holes. Michigan advanced to the Ohio State 12 before Chapman was stuffed on third down. Mike Lantry booted a 30-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Ohio State 10, Michigan 3.
Shuttlesworth’s rhythm continued after an Ohio State punt, and Dennis Franklin hit Paul Seal for a 27-yard gain to get inside the Ohio State 20. After three Shuttlesworth rushes gained nine yards, everyone in the stadium assumed a fourth run from Easy Ed was coming. Ohio State lined up all 11 defenders in the box. Instead, Michigan ran an option to the left, and Franklin glided untouched for a 10-yard touchdown. Lantry’s extra point made it 10-10.
After another Buckeye punt, Michigan took over and began moving the ball once more. But on a pass to Shuttlesworth near midfield, Franklin was hit hard by end Van DeCree and, upon landing on the unforgiving Michigan Stadium turf, fractured his collarbone. Larry Cipa came in, Michigan ran for three yards, and Lantry trotted out for a massive 58-yard field goal attempt with a minute left. Damned if it didn’t look good when it left his foot. Eventually, it drifted just wide.
With a minute left, Hayes, also struggling to stomach the thought of a tie, sent in his passing quarterback, Greg Hare, to attempt the Buckeyes’ first pass of the day. Michigan’s Tommy Drake, however, picked it off and returned it inside the OSU 35. Schembechler didn’t trust Cipa to throw the ball, so after one Chapman run and a Cipa spike, out came Lantry again with just under 30 seconds left. Despite the shorter distance, he missed badly. Three desperate Hare incompletions later, the game was over. 10-10. Michigan had controlled much of the game and dominated down the stretch, but the Wolverines had to settle for a tie.
The short version:
The long version:
Mike Lantry was an awesome kicker, by the way. 1973 All American. He had easily one of the strongest legs in college football, and he made huge kicks during his career. Hell, he damn near made a 58-yarder to win the biggest game of his life. But he duck-hooked the second field goal attempt, and the game ended tied.
A year later, Lantry “missed” another attempted game-winner against the Buckeyes, and UM fell by one. I use quotes there because...
...if he missed it, it was by inches. Hoo boy, was that close.
The story lines emerging from this one were countless. It’s why it’s one of the most famous college football games ever.
You had the stakes themselves, which were enormous.
You had the greatest on-field entrance of all time.
A dastardly fate, indeed.
You had Michigan’s comeback, which came despite Franklin’s broken collarbone.
And then you had the most famous athletic director vote in the sport’s history.
The Big Ten also had a “no-repeat” rule until 1971. If that had still been in effect in 1973, Michigan would have advanced to the Rose Bowl even if it had lost to Ohio State. But, with the no-repeat rule wiped from the books, the decision as to who would represent the Big Ten in Pasadena was decided on vote by the Big Ten’s athletic directors. The story surrounding the secrecy of that vote as told in “TIEBREAKERS” is fascinating all by itself.
According to Schembechler’s 1989 autobiography, the Big Ten was nervous because the conference had lost the previous four Rose Bowls. Ending that skid may have been difficult if Michigan went and quarterback Franklin couldn’t play because of injury.
So, on the day after the game, the Big Ten took a vote.
And Ohio State was tabbed to play in the Rose Bowl.
And Schembechler was livid.
He said it was “an embarrassment to the Big Ten Conference” and claimed “petty jealousies” were involved. Schembechler eventually demanded that changes be instituted to the Big Ten’s policies regarding bowl play that would allow for more than one league school to take part in a bowl.
Soon thereafter, the Big Ten indeed changed its bowl policy, allowing more than one team to go to the postseason. But Michigan’s perfect 1973 team had to pay the price for progress.
The biggest game of 1973 lived up to expectations and caused lasting repercussions. Schembechler went to his grave angry about it.
The box score:
Archie Griffin came up big, but Michigan controlled the proceedings late and ended up outgaining the Buckeyes, 303-234. (Ohio State had a spectacular goose egg in the passing column.)
The only consolation for the Wolverines was that the game knocked the Buckeyes down in the polls, and despite a Rose Bowl win they ceded the national title to Oklahoma (AP) and USC (UPI).