Great Moments in Michigan Stadium History: Earle Goes Out on Top

By Jason Priestas on November 26, 2013 at 10:45a
Dress fly, coach fly.

The year is 1987. Earle Bruce and his Buckeyes, fresh off a 10-3 season that ended with a Cotton Bowl win against Texas A&M, entered the season No. 4 in the AP Poll.

Ohio State took care of West Virginia in the home opener, then Oregon a week later, before a trip to Baton Rouge to take on undefeated and 4th-ranked LSU (the Buckeyes had fallen to No. 7 in the AP Poll due to a lack of style points – sound familiar?). The two teams would end up settling for a 13-13 tie, but the Buckeyes quickly rebounded with a win against Illinois the following week to move to 3-0-1.

Then Indiana came to town.

The Hoosiers broke through a halftime tie to score three times in the second half, putting away Ohio State 31-10. It was the first time Indiana had beaten the Buckeyes since 1951. Bruce's postgame press conference lasted all of two minutes and 22 seconds, with the coach saying, “Since I became a freshman at Ohio State in 1949, it's gotta be the darkest day I've seen in Ohio State football.”

Losing to Indiana will cause you to say things like that.

Ohio State bounced back with two wins, over Purdue and Minnesota, to move to move to 5-1-1. That would be as good as things got.

On Halloween, Michigan State held the Buckeyes to just two yards rushing in Ohio Stadium, leaving with a 13-7 win. Ohio State lost a game by two points in Madison the following week and then dropped another two-point game, this time to Iowa at home, the week after that. A team that had started the season No. 4 in the AP Poll, now found itself 5-4-1, and the head coach was in trouble.

On the Monday following the loss to Iowa, university president Edward Jennings informed athletic director Rick Bay that Bruce's contract was being terminated and to ready an announcement for sometime after that week's game with Michigan. Bay, who had persuaded Bruce to turn down the Arizona job 10 months earlier, called a 4 p.m. press conference to announce his resignation, informing the media of Jennings' machinations.

Fans were outraged and Jennings compounded when he issued a statement saying the matter was "a personnel issue and we cannot discuss personnel."

Bruce's players quickly rallied behind their coach, entering Michigan Stadium wearing "Earle" headbands, while Bruce rocked a suit and fedora, dap as ever.

The Wolverines jumped out to a 13-0 second quarter lead, but thanks to the heroics of Chris Spielman, Tom Tupa, and Carlos Snow, they scored 20 unanswered points to storm to a lead. Michigan would tie the game late in the third quarter, but Ohio State answered with a 77-yard drive resulting in a field goal and a 23-20 lead. On the ensuing drive, linebacker Eric Kumerow recovered a Leroy Hoard fumble and Ohio State was able to bleed all but the final eight seconds off the clock, leaving Michigan with a desperation heave that went nowhere.

After the final whistle sounded, Bruce's team hoisted the coach up on their shoulders and a jubilant coach cracked a rare smile.

Bruce concluded his Ohio State career with an 81-26-1 record, including a 5-4 record against the hated Wolverines.

Following the game, Michigan coach Bo Schembechler summed things up best when he said, “I always mind losing to Ohio State but I didn't mind so much today.”


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Hoody Wayes's picture

Ohio State defeating Michigan is a great day in American history.'s picture

i was out on the field that day singing "Duke of Earle" with the crowd and dancing on the "_". _y Fourth ti_e in AA. It was glorious.

JeffCoBuck's picture

I was in the tenth grade when this Game occurred, and I didn't have my hopes up.  I was still devastated from the year before when Harbaugh guaranteed the win and then actually got it, IN Ohio Stadium of all places.  Combine that with the crap taco most of the '87 season had been, culminating in Bruce's departure, and I was not optimistic.  Seeing those guys standing on the sidelines in their "EARLE" headbands was just awesome.  Then we fell behind 13-0 and it was playing out just like I thought.  So glad the Buckeyes came back and stuffed those Weasels in their own house.  Oddly enough, that was the last Buckeye win in the Big (Out)House until some guy named Tressel was the coach in '01. 

lax20's picture

I always felt Bruce was a good coach, but a not so great recruiter.  As for Bo Schembechler, nothing but a class coach even though he became a Michigan man.  I truly miss the Woody/Bo days of football.  Two of the most honorable coaches.

Seattle Linga's picture

Agreed I do not know if we will ever see that type of rivalry again. 


I've always thought that the during Earle's last season we were 1-2 breaks away from being MUCH better than 6-4-1. To go into LSU and tie and almost beat them was impressive, even back then. Even Tress had his own version of Indiana. Crap happens. I was in high school when they carried Earle off. It brought a tear to my eye.

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Earle's picture

Also, just wanted to point out that I've changed the icon in honor of this week and that historic victory (I can recall when we used to call it an avatar in the pre-Bucksfan days).  This is the icon I used for TTUN week last year, and it worked out okay, so why test fate?  The "Victory Earle" Icon is undefeated against the wolverines.

Snarkies gonna snark. 

Jason Gruber's picture

That would be quite the gauntlet of a schedule these days

"You win with people." Woody Hayes

"If winning isn't everything, why do we keep score?" Vince Lombardi

"¯\_(ツ)_/¯" Joey Bosa


Yeah it's ironic that in 1987 the Buckeyes open with WVU, Oregon and LSU and are penalized in the AP Poll because of "style points."

"Sherman ran an option play right through the south" - Greatest Civil War analogy EVER.

Doc's picture

Great series for this week.  Earle was/is a class act.

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Hovenaut's picture

If there were ever a coach deserving to ride off into the sunset on the shoulders of his players it was Earle Bruce.
It's dusty in here.

jmw's picture

Does anyone know why Bruce pursued the Arizona job before the 1987 season? Money? Family? I'm old enough to remember the end of the Bruce era and I don't ever remember Arizona being a hot (excuse the pun) destination for coaches. 


buckeyeEddie27's picture

F _ichigan.   But I really like that quote from Bo.   Exemplifies the rivalry well.

I know there's a game Saturday, and my ass will be there.

Seattle Linga's picture

Even though we love to beat the snot out of ttun Bo was very classy in defeat

SteveyWonder's picture

Thats because he was taught class at tOSU before making that mistake up north

The Ohio State University Knowlton School of Architecture 2011

Arizona_Buckeye's picture

I was at that game in the front row end zone seats that I always had - Speilman was a f#@$ing beast that day and I'm surprised he didn't kill anybody!!!
We stormed the field after the game and it was a Buckeye party with fans and the team.  The stadium announcer asked that the Buckeye fans please clear the field so the band could perform its post game show - well, about 10,000 middle fingers rose in unison to respond... what a day, what a day!!!

The best thing about Pastafarianism? It is not only acceptable, but advisable, to be heavily sauced

ABrown07's picture

Earle Bruce was screwed over, he never should've been fired. John "lucky buckeye in my pocket because i cant coach" Cooper never should've happened. With that said, the 1990's should've been so much better than they were. Earle was a great coach, I can't help but think about what could've/should've been.

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

-Woody Hayes

81Alum's picture

I always liked and respected Coach Bruce. He was the one that followed Woody with that glorious (but unexpected) undefeated regular season in 1979 (almost had a national championship that Charles White ruined in the 4th quarter at the Rose Bowl).
The masses were restless that 1987 season with ol' "9-3' Earle, but I was shocked and saddened by the way he was fired. Jennings lost my respect that day, while I thought Rick Bay did the right thing.
It gladdened my heart to see the "Earle" headbands the players wore, Coach Bruce looked spiffy in that suit and Fedora (he'd never done that before) and I cried when I saw coach being lifted off the field by the players. It was a great day, and in my mind, a fitting end to the "old school" Woody era.

CowCat's picture

Urban Meyer was a GA at that time, and followed Earle to Colorado State, if I'm not mistaken.
I'm sure he remembers it.

"We get paid to score touchdowns, not kick field goals"
-- Urban Meyer

Michael Citro's picture

My roommate and I made the trip up to that game with Block O. After the game we rushed the field in celebration. I danced on the 'M' at midfield before heading back to the bus. None of us were happy with the overall results, but Earle was so darn likeable that it just felt wrong to fire him.

Bucks43201's picture

2005 game was just replayed on ESPN Classic.
Great game.
I remember assuming OSU would kick the chip shot FG with less than 30 seconds left to win 22-21...but Tress had Pittman run it in for the 25-21 victory.
side note: I had a lot of $ on the Bucks covering the -4, so that TD made it all the better. I'll take a Buckeye victory no matter what, especially over TTUN, but that they covered in that fashion left me no choice but to run outside around the house with my shirt off. Neighbors looked on in a very WTF-gaze.

"You win with people." - Woody Hayes

Kurt's picture

That was an epic game.  Though I'm 100% certain Tress was trying the center the ball with Pittman, not score a TD.  

buckskin's picture

Urban called Bruce and told him he wasn't going to take the BG job.  Bruce told him he was stupid and to take it.  Now look at us.  Earle Bruce; the man who keeps on giving.  Without him, no 23 game winning streak today.

gumtape's picture

I still remember the headlines from the dispatch
"Bruce fired, Bay resigns"
I was nine years old.

No mention of the red shoes?

High and tight boo boo