50 Years Ago, Michigan and Bo Schembechler Drew First Blood in the 10-Year War

By Chris Lauderback on July 4, 2019 at 11:05 am
Ticket stub from Ohio State versus Michigan, 1969.
via Bentley Historical Library

Ohio State's rich football history is littered with national championships, conference crowns, Heisman winners, All-Americans, traditions and epic battles with its chief rival, the Michigan Wolverines.

Amid the mountain of highs you'll find notable lows that while tough to digest especially at the time, only add to the magnitude that is Ohio State football and more specifically, The Game itself. 

One such momentous version of The Game occurred 50 years ago as the 1969 Buckeyes traveled to Ann Arbor for the annual clash against the Wolverines. 

Woody Hayes brought an absolute juggernaut to Ann Arbor as his defending national champions sported an 8-0 record outscoring opponents 371-69. The Buckeyes hadn't trailed in a game all season, winning every game by at least 27 points, thanks largely to three eventual top-10 Heisman vote-getters in Rex Kern, Jack Tatum and Jim Otis, among a roster with five total All-Americans. 

In fact, Woody's program came in as a 17-point favorite riding a 22-game winning streak and ranked No. 1 in the nation. A win would assure the Buckeyes of another national championship since Ohio State could not advance to the Rose Bowl due to event's "no repeat" policy in place at the time. 

Kern and others have said in the years since this '69 edition of the The Game that the Buckeyes might've slept-walked leading up to it due to the lack of competition during the season and the fact Michigan, despite a No. 12 ranking in the AP Poll, wasn't considered a big threat to an Ohio State program that had won seven of the last nine battles including a 50-14 thumping in Columbus the season prior. 

That 50-14 blowout however helped set Michigan on a more competitive course as the loss led to head coach Bump Elliott's resignation (and transition to associate athletic director) while ushering in the Bo Schembechler era in Ann Arbor. 

Of course, Schembechler was a former Ohio State assistant coach under Hayes and arrived at Michigan after a six-year stint at his alma mater, guiding Miami University to a 40-17-3 record with a pair of MAC titles. 

Bo understood the rivalry before stepping foot on Michigan's campus thanks to Hayes' mentorship and played up the 50-14 stomping the year prior which included Woody's famous two-point conversion decision in the closing minutes, forcing the scout team to wear jerseys with the number 50. 

Bottom line, Schembechler's team would be ready for Woody's and as it turned out, the epic showdown served as game one of what would eventually be dubbed the Ten Year War. 

Things got off to an inauspicious start as the Buckeyes took the opening kickoff and marched all the way to the Michigan 11 before turning the ball over on downs but on the following possession a 1-yard plunge from Otis gave Ohio State a 6-0 lead before Jan White missed the extra point. 

Michigan answered right back as a 3-yard touchdown run from Garvie Craw capped an 11-play, 56-yard drive making it 7-6 bad guys, marking the first time since the previous season's Rose Bowl that Ohio State trailed. 

The Buckeyes would recapture the lead early in the second quarter however as Kern found White for a 22-yard touchdown and a 12-7 lead. Michigan committed a penalty on the successful extra point try but Woody took the points off the board, opting to go for two, only to see Kern stopped keeping Ohio State up by just five. 

Unbeknownst to Ohio State fans, those 12 points would be all the Buckeyes would muster while another Craw touchdown run put an exclamation point on a 67-yard march giving Michigan a 14-12 lead. 

After a Buckeye three-and-out, Barry Pierson – one of 21 Ohioans on the Wolverines roster – returned a punt 60 yards to the OSU 3 setting up a Dan Moorhead plunge putting Michigan in front 21-12. 

Finally, late in what was a disastrous second quarter for the Buckeyes, Schembechler's squad unleashed a 15-play, 80-yard drive that somehow only resulted in a Ted Killian field goal but the 24-12 halftime lead would be more than enough. 

In fact, Ohio State was now staring down their first halftime deficit since October 28, 1967 in what became a 17-13 loss to Illinois in Ohio Stadium. 

A comeback was simply not in the cards as Ohio State could not get out of its own way even with Michigan missing opportunities. 

1969 MICH 24, OSU 12 OSU/MICH
1970 OSU 20, MICH 9 OSU
1971 MICH 10, OSU 7 MICH
1972 OSU 14, MICH 11 OSU/MICH
1973 OSU 10, MICH 10 OSU/MICH
1974 OSU 12, MICH 10 OSU/MICH
1975 OSU 21, MICH 14 OSU
1976 MICH 22, OSU 0 OSU/MICH
1977 MICH 14, OSU 6 OSU/MICH
1978 MICH 14, OSU 3 MICH/MSU

The Wolverines took possession to start the second half but after Killian missed a 47-yard field goal try, Rex Kern tossed an interception giving Michigan the ball back. Once again, Killian would misfire on a field goal attempt and once again, Kern answered with an interception. 

It was destined to be that kind of afternoon as Michigan's offense, despite failing to put more points on the scoreboard, did enough to burn some clock and came up with two more interceptions, both of which came from the arm of Ron Maciejowski after Hayes was forced to bench Kern after he completed just 6-of-17 passes for 88 yards and four picks.

Maciejowski would go on to complete only 3-of-10 throws with a pair of interceptions and a lost fumble in the final minute of what is still considered to be one of the greatest upsets in the history of The Game. 

As bad as it tasted, there was little to do but lament seven turnovers, tip a cap to Schembechler and prepare for nine more monumental battles between Woody and Bo.

When the dust settled on the Ten Year War, Schembechler would hold a 5-4-1 advantage over his mentor with Woody winning two outright conference crowns and splitting five others while Bo claimed one outright Big Ten title with six shared. 

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