Remembering Earle Bruce's Best Games, Moments At Ohio State

By 11W Staff on April 20, 2018 at 11:05 am
Earle Bruce
Greg Bartram-USA TODAY Sports

Ohio State lost a legend Friday as former head coach Earle Bruce passed away at the age of 87 after a battle with Alzheimers. 

Bruce compiled an 81-26-1 record with four Big Ten titles in nine years at the helm of the Ohio State football program, including a 5-4 record against Michigan. His impact was made across Ohio before and after his coaching career with the Buckeyes, as he led Massillon Washington High School to back-to-back undefeated seasons before returning to his alma mater as an assistant coach from 1966-71. He is the only coach in Massillon's storied history to never lose a game as head coach. 

His coaching tree is as impressive as any, as 11 of the last 16 national championships have been won by former Bruce assistants. Nick Saban was an assistant on Bruce's staff from 1980-81, Pete Carroll coached the secondary in 1979, Jim Tressel coached quarterbacks and wide receivers from 1983-85 and Urban Meyer served two years as a graduate assistant in 1986-87. Other coaches that once served on Bruce's staff at OSU include Mark Dantonio (GA, 1983-84), Dom Capers (DBs 1982-83) and Glen Mason (OC, 1979-85). 

Bruce had a number of iconic moments wearing the scarlet and gray, so it is impossible to put a stamp on all of them. However, we tried to compile a list of a few that stood out.

The Games

Bruce's First Game, Victory Against Michigan in 1979

Ohio State's first year since 1951 without Woody Hayes on the sideline was a successful one for the Buckeyes, in what was Bruce's first year as head coach. The regular season culminated with a thrilling 18-15 victory over the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.

The victory capped a perfect regular season for Ohio State in Bruce's first year, sending the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl, which they lost 17-16 to USC. The 11-1 record in 1979 resulted in Bruce being named the Big Ten Coach of the Year, the last Ohio State coach to ever win the award. 

Bruce's inaugural season as Ohio State's coach was his best, as the Buckeyes racked up six straight 9-3 seasons from 1980-85. 

1983 Victory Over No. 2 Oklahoma in Norman

Perhaps one of the bigger regular season non-conference wins in Ohio State memory, Bruce's Buckeyes picked up a 24-14 win over No. 2 ranked Oklahoma in Norman in the second game of the 1983 season. 

Despite fasting for the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur, Ohio State tight end John Frank caught seven passes for 108 yards and a pair of touchdowns from quarterback Mike Tomczak, as the Buckeyes racked up 412 yards of total offense while keeping the Sooners off the scoreboard in the fourth quarter. Bruce said after that game it was the best overall performance the Buckeyes had put together in his time as head coach. 

"All of our hard work—our two-a-days in the hot weather—really paid off," Bruce said. "By far this was the best overall team game, both offensively and defensively, that we've played since I've been here."

The game was played in scorching conditions, as the game time temperature was listed at 93 degrees at kickoff in Norman.

1985 Victory Over No. 1 Iowa At Ohio Stadium

Ohio State's 1985 season was highlighted by one of the more memorable upsets in Buckeye history, when OSU took down No. 1 ranked Iowa 22-13 behind an inspired performance by the Buckeye defense. 

Bruce's defense intercepted star Hawkeye quarterback Chuck Long four times on a rainy afternoon in Columbus, and blocked a punt out of the south end zone for a safety, sending Ohio Stadium into a frenzy. 

A 57-yard touchdown scamper from John Wooldridge after Long's second interception of the afternoon gave the Buckeyes a 12-0 lead. The Buckeyes added a 4-yard touchdown from Vince Workman and another Spangler field goal to send the Hawkeyes packing. 

Ohio State concluded the 1985 campaign with a 10-7 victory over BYU in the Citrus Bowl. 

1987 Cotton Bowl Victory Over Texas A&M 

In what would end up being Bruce's final bowl game as Ohio State's head coach, the Buckeyes rolled to a 28-12 victory over Texas A&M in its home state, in OSU's first ever Cotton Bowl appearance. 

The game was supposed to serve as a springboard to what was expected to be a dominant 1987. While that didn't end up being the case, the game was perhaps Bruce's finest final moment in scarlet and gray until our next moment on this list, which is perhaps the most iconic of them all. 

Bruce's Final Game: 1987 Victory Over Michigan in Ann Arbor

As previously mentioned, Ohio State entered the 1987 season with high expectations that were never met. Star receiver Cris Carter was deemed ineligible after accepting money from a sports agent before the season began. Then, the Buckeyes' season began to derail after a 31-10 loss to Indiana at home, a day Bruce infamously called "the darkest day in Ohio State football."

After three straight losses that culminated with a heartbreaking Senior Day loss to Iowa, Bruce was unceremoniously fired the following Monday by school president Ed Jennings, resulting in the resignation of athletic director Rick Bay. 

Bruce's final game served as a celebration of his Ohio State coaching career. Players wore matching headbands that simply read 'EARLE' as the Buckeyes upset Michigan, 23-20, in Ann Arbor. 

Wearing a suit and signature fedora, Bruce was carried off the field by his players following the win. 

The victory gave Bruce a winning record over the Wolverines at 5-4, and is recognized to this day as one of the most memorable games and moments for Ohio State in The Game. 

The Moments

Beat Michigan Tailgates

Outside of his games, Bruce had plenty of memorable moments at Ohio State once his coaching days were over. 

Bruce learned his respect (and/or hatred) of Michigan from his mentor Woody Hayes, and it is clear where Urban Meyer learned it from. A graduate assistant for Bruce in 1986-87, Meyer coached two years in Columbus before finally returning in 2012 to take over the reigns as the head coach. 

At Bruce's annual "Beat Michigan" tailgate the night before Meyer's first game as head coach against the Wolverines, Meyer got up to speak to the fans in attendance and was clearly emotional as he took the podium. Bruce got up to stand at Meyer's side as the head coach regained his composure before concluding his speech with, "let's beat the shit out of Michigan."

The Buckeyes went on to win The Game the next day, 26-21 to cap a perfect 2012 season. 

Dotting the 'i' in Script Ohio

Dotting the 'i' in Script Ohio for the Ohio State University Marching Band is an honor that not many outside of the sousaphone players in the band have earned. 

Bruce is one of the select few. 

The former head coach dotted the 'i' prior to Ohio State's 2016 contest against Rutgers, the last non-band member to do so. He donned his classic suit-and-tie look with his fedora, much like he did during his final game with the Buckeyes. 

After pummeling Rutgers 58-0 that day, Meyer made it a point to mention Bruce's honor in his opening statement to the media following the game.

"What I learned from him was you do right. There's no gray area, and following the rules also about the premium placed on education and toughness. That's what I take from Earle Bruce, and I'd like to think that maybe some day somebody looks back at our program and says they must have learned that from Coach Bruce," Meyer said. 

"So I'm very appreciative of Buckeye Nation and Gene Smith for allowing that to happen and President Drake. Because I know that's a unique deal. I think it's the seventh guy that's ever done it. And that's a hell of an honor."

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