Winning Like It's 1968

By Kyle Rowland on November 20, 2013 at 9:15a
The 1968 Michigan game came right in the middle of the streak. [Photo: Ohio State Library]

Pressure was starting to get to Woody Hayes. The year was 1967. Ohio State was 2-3 after a 17-13 loss to Illinois and locals were beginning to question the coach who had already accumulated two national championships and two Rose Bowl victories. Following the 1957 national title, the Buckeyes enjoyed one Big Ten championship – the controversial 1961 “no” vote to the Rose Bowl – mixed with years of mediocrity.

When Ohio State lost three of its first five games to begin the 1967 season, many thought Hayes could be on his way out of town. But what transpired over the next 22 games would not be seen again in Ohio’s capital city for four decades.

The Buckeyes won at Michigan State on Nov. 4, 1967, and would not lose another game until being upset at Michigan more than two years later. In between, they won a national title, beat Michigan twice and ushered in modern-day prominence for Ohio State football.

“It would be wrong for me to say I’m not proud of us winning 22 games in row,” former quarterback Rex Kern told Eleven Warriors, “but I’d also be quick to add that I’m extremely disappointed we didn’t win three national championship and win 29 games in my class. To win that many games in a row, though, and be thought of that highly is humbling and a wonderful tribute to a group of guys who worked awfully darn hard and did some spectacular things.”

College football, like the world, has changed significantly since 1967. Just how much? For one, linemen weighed 200 pounds in the late ’60s, only one Big Ten team went to a bowl game and the crush of media was imaginary. The week of the 1969 Michigan game, Kern couldn’t even name how many consecutive wins Ohio State recorded over the previous three seasons. Today, not a week goes by without questions of the streak.

The 24/7 media cycle existed in 2002 and 2003 when the Buckeyes won the only national championship since 1968 and rattled off 19 consecutive wins. Still, the subject wasn’t spoken of amongst teammates or inside the locker room, a la a pitcher throwing a no-hitter in baseball. Only when the media asked questions did players talk openly about piling up wins.

“You come to Ohio State to play against the best teams in the country. You don’t get excited to play the MAC schools and FCS teams,” said Craig Krenzel, who quarterbacked the ’02 and ’03 Buckeyes. “But you also come with the expectation that you’re going to win every game. That is your mindset. We should, not only could, we’re Ohio State – we should win every football game. We have the talent, we have the coaches, we have the facilities. We literally have no excuses. Whether it’s one in a row, three in a row, 19 in a row, 22 in a row, it doesn’t matter. You expect to win every single football game.”

What hasn’t changed the past half-century is the intense scrutiny Ohio State’s head coach is under. The Buckeyes finished 4-5 in 1966, their first losing season in seven years. Combined with the slow start in 1967 and no conference championships in six years, Hayes’ seat was warming quickly. But four wins to end the 1967 season gave way to a national title in 1968, though it didn’t come without dramatics.

Ohio State traveled to Champaign in Week 5 of the 1968 season having won eight consecutive games. After staking a 24-0 halftime lead, it appeared win No. 9 would come with little struggle. Then the Illini showed fight and scored 24 unanswered points to tie the game.

With four minutes remaining, the Buckeyes took possession 74 yards from the end zone. Three plays into the drive, Kern was knocked out. In came backup “super sub” Ron Maciejowski needing to engineer a 70-yard drive. He did as Ohio State dispatched an Illinois team that would conclude the season with a 1-9 record.

“We barely won that game,” Kern said. “I think it was a real significant turning point for us. We were on the ropes and we escaped.”

The details might sound familiar because the eighth win in Ohio State’s current 22-game win streak happened under eerily similar circumstances. The Buckeyes needed a miracle finish with the second-string quarterback to hold off a less than average Big Ten foe. Kenny Guiton, like Maciejowski before him, became a hero to fans and respected figure in the locker room.

“Our goal was to win every game every time we put on the scarlet and gray.”

“In order to be that successful and to have a win streak like that you need great players, whether they’re the starters or second-team,” Kern said. “I hate to say they’re second-team players because I never felt Maciejowski was my backup, I felt he was my equal. I see that similarity with Kenny Guiton and Braxton Miller. Kenny has come in and done great. That’s a perfect pair.”

As Ohio State was reeling off win after win, Kern said he and his teammates didn’t realize the significance nor did they discuss it. The objective each week didn’t need to be stated. Everyone knew winning was at the top of the list.

“Our goal was to win every game every time we put on the scarlet and gray,” Kern said. “We did not worry about streaks or those kinds of things, because if you concentrated on your next opponent and did your best and put more points on the scoreboard, all those other things would take care of themselves.”

Forty-four years after the streak ended in equal parts heartbreaking and stunning fashion at Michigan, its value to the football program hasn’t been lessened. Only 12 teams around the country have bettered it, winning 23 or more games. and just one Ohio State team had a realistic opportunity to match or beat it.

Walking on the field with buckeye leaves adorned to your helmet already puts a bull’s eye on your back, not a surname and number. The Ohio States and Alabamas of the world get each opponents’ best shot, making a prolonged winning streak all the more impressive. 

Three-year starting defensive tackle Paul Schmidlin, a member of the Super Sophs, never thought he’d see his classes mark equaled or surpassed. In a sport dominated by parity, Schmidlin believed a lengthy run of supremacy was too demanding.

“When we have the University of Toledo beating Michigan, that tells me there’s been a tremendous leveling of the field,” he said. “The chances of a streak like this are almost miraculous. It will be heartbreak when their streak finally ends. I'd love to see 50 games [in a row].”

It was despair, grief and anguish for Buckeye Nation in late-November 1969 after Michigan upended Ohio State 24-12 to snap what was then one of the most noteworthy accomplishments in college football history.

According to Schmidlin, the coaches may have actually done the team a disservice while trying to avoid a letdown. The Buckeyes played 10th-ranked Purdue the week before the Michigan game. In an attempt to not overlook the Boilermakers, coaches hyped up Purdue running back Leroy Keyes and Co.

“Boy, the coaches were terrified they were going to knock us off,” Schmidlin said. “So they pumped us full of excitement and enthusiasm. They said, ‘If you think Michigan might be tough, this Purdue team is a whole lot tougher.’ So when we literally destroyed Purdue, [the Michigan game] was kind of anticlimactic. The Rose bowl wasn’t an option. It was just a matter of finishing the season and sitting back on accolades.”

As one mammoth achievement is bested, another is born. On Saturday, Ohio State is set to win its 23rd consecutive game and establish a new gold standard. But the disappearance of records doesn’t perturb Kern. It allows him to peer down memory lane and recall one of the finest chapters in program history.

“You say, ‘My goodness,’” Kern said. “It wasn’t until 2002 that we had another national championship team. The older one gets, it becomes something that you didn’t recognize at that moment in time that we were writing history.

“Of course, you never know what history is until you have an opportunity to look back. I guess that was pretty difficult.”

Photo: The Ohio State University Library


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FROMTHE18's picture

Great story/write up

jdagrava.1's picture

Wow, great read

"It takes a little something special to be a great player.  What you got in you, we're going to find out.  And if there's a touch of greatness in there, how cool would that be?"

-Urban F. Meyer

osu_chris's picture

Cool story. When I saw the part about "super sub" Ron Maciejowski, I couldn't help but think of my favorite '80s poster:

Haybucks's picture

“When we have the University of Toledo beating Michigan, that tells me there’s been a tremendous leveling of the field,” he said.

There was a time long, long ago that the MAC was respected. Then, they weren't allowed a high profile bowl anymore.
Tangerine Bowl 1968 - 1975
1975 Miami Ohio 20, South Carolina 7
1974 Miami Ohio 21, Georgia 10
1973 Miami Ohio 16, Florida 7
1972 Tampa 21, Kent 18
1971 Toledo 28, Richmond 3
1970 Toledo 40, William & Mary 12
1969 Toledo 56, Davidson 33
1968 Richmond 49, Ohio 42

If the world comes to an end, I want to be in Cincinnati. Everything comes there ten years later. -  Mark Twain


gunni070's picture

I love seeing old color game pics like this one and imagining what it would have been like to be there.

Yankeetowner's picture

1968 was my freshman year...what a team.  There was a starting offensive guard on that National Championship Team who, if memory serves me, was listed as 218 pounds.  Purdue, I seem to remember was ranked #1 until we beat them that year.  Things have certainly changed.  I also remember, at least I have foggy/3.2 beer impaired memories, of kids carrying goal posts down High Street to the Capital building.


73buckeye's picture

Up vote to you sir. I was a freshman in 68 also. I think the goal post drag to the Capitol building was in 1970 after the Bucks got their revenge on TTUN. I still can't believe we got that goal post and hunk of concrete out of the ground and dragged that thing all the way downtown on High Street. The police blocked the streets and it was the closest thing I have ever seen to an impromptu parade.
Jan White was the tight end and Dave Cheney was left tackle. I can remember playing intramural basketball against their team. They seemed so huge. White was 6'2 and about 215 and Cheney was 6'3 and 225.


Yankeetowner's picture

I seem to remember Stan White, a linebacker, who either in 68 or 69 ended up being the place kicker after a team tryout.  Jack Tatum was awesome then as well, although with the new rules, I wonder if his hits would be allowable today.  Alan Jack was the starting offensive guard who was about 218 pounds and had been a fullback at Wintersville (Ohio) High School.  Rex Kern was unbelievable at the fake hand off...TV cameramen often followed the wrong guy.  The other thing that is wild was that there were only 9 games and then the Rose Bowl.  The band was also all male and all "brass", although I never knew what that meant.


Jeeves's picture

That's awesome, too bad nowadays the police would have responded with tear gas and rubber bullets instead of the escort downtown.

Seattle Linga's picture

I only saw Woody on TV never old enough to see him in person but I would have loved to see him TCB in the locker room. Especially on some of the stories that have been told by his team in years gone by.

AndyVance's picture

Kern's comment is telling: "I’m extremely disappointed we didn’t win three national championship and win 29 games in my class." That team could have pulled that off, and the class led by Archie Griffin and Cornelius Greene a few years later could have done the same... When you read about the accomplishments of that team and its talent, it's amazing that they didn't bring home two or three national titles.
Coach Hayes had some really, really great teams that were right on the cusp of creating that mythical dynasty. Pretty amazing to read about the history. And yes, like Schmidlin, I'd love to see 50 in a row :)

andretolstoy's picture

I'm in awe of those '68 uniforms. Bring those back!

Dougger's picture

Great read. 
Is that Jim Otis next to Rex Kern? He looks like a top heavy bowling ball!
My girlfiend's old man played for Bo at Miami in the 60's. He always says how crazy it is that guys the size of offensive linemen in his day are running 4.4s now (I'm looking at you RDS)

I like football

ABrown07's picture

My dad always tells me about the 1968 team and how great they were. It's hard to imagine anything pre-Archie with everything he accomplished but that does say a lot about Ohio State's rich football history.

I don't like nice people. I like tough, honest people.

-Woody Hayes

jeremytwoface's picture

Great article and great photo!!

And when we win the game, we'll buy a keg of boooooooooze!! And we'll drink to old Ohio 'till we wobble in our shoes.

O-H-I-Owe-U's picture

These kinds of articles are why I'm an 11W addict. An incredible history lesson and yet one more reason to not overlook The Game this season. Great piece, Kyle.

Whoa Nellie's picture

Thanks for the trip down memory lane!  Remember it well.  Loved the Super Sophs.  Can still remember watching that Rose Bowl (BTW, you can still watch that whole game, called by Curt Gowdy and Kyle Rote, on YouTube).  #1 v. #2, both undefeated (USC had a tie).  Woody v. McKay.  USC with OJ.  2 Buckeye starters came from my hometown, C John Muhlbach and DE Dave Whitfield.  Earle Bruce was the O-line coach, having left Massillon after head coaching there for only 2 seasons, both undefeated and untied.  Lou Holtz was D-Backs coach.
Glory days.  And, we're living through a new era of glory.  Enjoy this.  You'll remember this streak the rest of your life - ESPN be damned.

“Don’t fear criticism. The stands are full of critics. They play no ball. They fight no fights. They make no mistakes because they attempt nothing. Down on the field are the doers, they make mistakes because they attempt many things.”

okiebuck's picture

Nice story Kyle. I know and have worked with a number of guys from that 68" team and one thing that comes through when you talk to these guys is the reverence that they speak about Coach Hayes with. They really loved "the old man".

"Fate has cards that it don't want to show"

brylee's picture

Outstanding write up...

In came backup “super sub” Ron Maciejowski needing to engineer a 70-yard drive.

Now we have super-sub Kenny Guiton, i.e., Coach Kenny!!!

Jonnferrell's picture

Wow, that one took me back.  Great story.  Thanks!  Perfect time for it!

"I miss Brady Hoke."

Run_Fido_Run's picture

Ohio State traveled to Champaign in Week 5 of the 1968 season having won eight consecutive games. After staking a 24-0 halftime lead, it appeared win No. 9 would come with little struggle. Then the Illini showed fight and scored 24 unanswered points to tie the game.

I think you got this wrong, Kyle. Gil Brandt explained that such comebacks were virtually impossible in the 1960s, so long before Air Baylor came along:

Speed and quickness are the biggest reasons for success in today's college game of spread offenses. If a team got ahead [pre-Air Baylor] , 20-7, like Texas Tech did Saturday night, it was lights out.

Jdadams01's picture

Great write-up, Kyle, thanks.

Hovenaut's picture

Quotes from Rex Kern and Craig Krenzel in the same article?

Yes please.

Was before my time, but the '68 team and those Super Sophs fueled the fires of my elders in their passing down the Buckeye torch to a wee Hovenaut.

The mass sports media will never put a damper on just how special the past couple seasons have truly been.

nm_buck's picture

I was early teens during those years.  Old enough to enjoy the ride, and feel the pain of 24-12.  I still remember that game like it was yesterday.  I also remember the Rose Bowl and Rex Kern's bootleg.  Man o man is this program rich in history.
A 'wee hovenaut'.  Would that be like a Juvenaut?  :)

"The future is bright at Ohio State."  - Urban Meyer 1/1/15

hetuck's picture

Note the red penalty flag. It changed to yellow the following season because of red soles on artificial turf shoes.

Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing.

Vince Lombardi

The Buck Guy's picture

I remember the seasons of the Super Sophs so well. A really magical time for The Ohio State University (until that turncoat went to the skunk weasels and somehow got the biggest upset in modern football history).
Woody was an idol to me; so I would get incredibly mad when hearing "fans" bad-mouth him.
Anyway, it was much easier to go undefeated back then; as proved by how many teams had undefeated seasons then compared to the past 40 years. So I do think that it isn't as likely as many believe that this team can finish undefeated for a consecutive season this year. But if they do manage to do it, that will be the greatest accomplishment in the modern / BCS football era.

~ The Buck Guy
Go Bucks!!!!