Edson: Could U-M History Repeat Itself 50 Years Later?
The similarities are eerie.
Nearly 50 years ago – on Nov. 22, 1969 – No. 12 Michigan hosted No. 1 Ohio State at Michigan Stadium before 103,588 partisan Wolverine fans.
The Buckeyes were loaded with All-Americans, had never trailed all year in a game on the way to extending their winning streak to 22 games, and were 17-point favorites going into the contest.
Ohio State was led by legendary coach Woody Hayes while Michigan had a new coach – some guy named Bo Schembechler from Miami of Ohio. Both Hayes and Schembechler came from Miami of Ohio, a college that was called “The Cradle of Coaches.”
So it looked like an easy win again for the Buckeyes. Kind of like what we’re looking at this season after Ohio State dismantled Wisconsin on Saturday. But on Saturday night, Wolverine fans finally got rewarded with a 45-14 win over Notre Dame.
Want another similarity? Michigan lost two early games in 1969, just like this year’s Wolverine team. But back in 1969, the season was already considered a success. Michigan had won only one Big Ten title from 1951 to 1968. And they had become competitive under Schembechler.
Then Nov. 22, 1969 happened. I still have the Detroit Free Press clippings from that game. One Michigan player – Barry Pierson – had the game of his career. Then Pierson went on to have an outstanding coach career at St. Ignace.
But with Pierson intercepting three Rex Kern passes and returning a punt to the Ohio State 3-yard-line to set up a touchdown, Michigan rolled to a 24-12 victory.
How did the Wolverines do it? After all, Ohio State was loaded with Kern at quarterback and future NFL backs John Brockington and Jim Otis behind him. On defense, Jack Tatum was one of a handful of All-Americans.
Schembechler’s strategy was genius. He shut down the Buckeyes running game and forced Kern into passing situations. The first half was a shootout by Big Ten standards in 1969. Michigan led 24-12 as fullback Garvie Craw scored twice and quarterback Don Moorhead once, with Ted Killian kicking a field goal.
Ohio State never recovered from that first-half onslaught. The second half was scoreless and U-M fans stormed the field, hoisting Wolverines captain Jim Mandich and his teammates on their shoulders.
After Saturday’s convincing win over Notre Dame, Michigan has moved up to No. 15 in the rankings.
And the schedule could prove to be favorable to the Wolverines. On Nov. 23, Ohio State hosts Penn State in what looks like will be a battle of unbeatens. The following week, the Buckeyes travel to Ann Arbor.
This could bode well for coach Jim Harbaugh’s team. It could end up being the signature victory that he and his program need right now.
Nick Edson is a retired Hall of Fame columnist and sportswriter. He worked 25 years at the Traverse City Record-Eagle, 18 as sports editor. He is a two-time president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association and a member of the Michigan Basketball Coaches Hall of Fame.