Woody Hayes, for all of his bombast, is a man of modest aspirations. All he seems really to want is for his bosom pal, General Lewis Walt, to emerge from retirement and lead a victorious Marine division into Hanoi, for all dope fiends to vanish in a cloud of their own wicked smoke and for his Ohio State football team to beat Michigan every year.
All things considered, Woody came rather closer to fulfillment than he had any right to expect last weekend in cold and damp Columbus. His football team not only beat Michigan in a chiller, 14-11—thereby earning it an invitation to the Rose Bowl and the dubious honor of playing undefeated Southern California—but it did it the Woody way, which is without benefit of the forward pass and by Holding That Line. That line was held, in fact, as it has not been since the salad days of Walter Camp. Furthermore, General Walt, former assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, was there to share the triumph with him and to acclaim Woody as "one of the greatest leaders our country has ever had." Finally, Hayes proved, at least to his own satisfaction, that good old-fashioned locker-room oratory can transport a group of youngsters higher, as he put it, "than any drug can."
"Woody told us before the game that this would be the most important thing we'd ever do in our lives," said Fullback Harold (Champ) Henson, recalling the moment. "And I agreed with him." Thus convinced of the gravity of the occasion, Henson went out and scored a touchdown in the second quarter, his 20th of the season, an Ohio State record.
The fullback was hardly the only Buckeye high on words from Woody. His teammates, led by an arm-waving co-captain, John Hicks, raced onto the field before the kickoff like so many Warner Bros. Apaches. At the 50-yard line they staged a veritable free-for-all of well-wishing that was interrupted only by the announcement of the starting lineups. The game itself must have seemed a peaceful interlude after this riotous display.
Highest of all was the defensive team. It gave ground—or, rather, AstroTurf—between the goal lines: Michigan ran off 83 plays to Ohio State's 44 and gained 344 yards to 192. But when their backs were to the wall the Buckeye defenders were not to be moved.
Three times the Wolverines had first downs on or inside the Ohio State five. Only once did they score. In the closing seconds of the first half Michigan drove to a first down on the OSU one. Chuck Heater, the hard-running tailback, lost a yard on first down. Heater slipped on the rain-soaked artificial turf but gained a yard on second down. Bob Thornbladh made it almost to the goal line on third, but on fourth down Quarterback Dennis Franklin fumbled the center snap and lost two yards. Ohio State's ball.
Midway in the third quarter, after freshman Halfback Archie Griffin had scored Ohio State's second touchdown on a virtually unimpeded 30-yard run to make the score 14-3, the Wolverines moved to another first down on the five. This time they squeezed across on a one-yard plunge by Fullback Ed Shuttles-worth, but it was a bitter and painful four-down journey. Franklin passed for a two-point conversion to conclude the day's scoring, although Michigan was to test the gallant goal-line warriors one more time. Early in the final quarter the Wolverines reached familiar ground again—the Ohio State five-yard line on first down. Three times Tailback Harry Banks hurtled forward. Net gain: four-plus yards. Then on fourth and a foot, maybe two, Franklin tried a sneak. He was stopped short by what appeared to be 11 muggers. By now the 87,000 spectators in Ohio Stadium were convinced they were witnessing a return to primordial football. Either that or a rerun of a Jack Oakie campus potboiler.
Emotional as these triumphs of negativism were, they were as much the result of guile as grit. Hayes is not one to take a goal-line stand lightly. "They shall not pass" is for him both an offensive and a defensive admonition. When the enemy is at the gates, he removes two defensive backs and replaces them with tackles—on Saturday, Jeff Davis and Rich Parsons usually went out and Charlie Beecroft and Pete Cusick went in. With only, as it were, passing attention to the threat of a pass, the re-formed Buckeyes bunch into the equivalent of an 11-man line. This goal-line strategy differs from that employed by other teams only in that the Buckeyes work harder at it and it works. One reason it worked against Michigan was that Cusick, normally a regular tackle, was able to play at all. He had been hospitalized earlier in the week with a virus attack but was on the field with the other zealots on Saturday.
Michigan Coach Bo Schembechler was criticized by some for not attempting a field goal on at least one of his deep penetrations—when he had the ball on fourth and one on the Ohio State 20 early in the fourth quarter. His kicker, Mike Lantry, had hit from 35 yards in the second quarter, and Michigan, which had entered the game undefeated, needed only a tie with once-beaten OSU to win the Rose Bowl invitation. Schembechler tried for a first down instead and, naturally, was stopped.
Hayes was not in the least surprised by his opponent's strategy. There was no reason why he should be, for Schembechler was a Hayes assistant for six years and is so faithful a copy of the original that Big Ten people have taken to calling him "Little Woody," a sobriquet he deplores. Indeed, Michigan and Ohio State normally play the same type of antediluvian football. Neither throws the ball, except in dire emergencies, and both prefer defense to offense.
On this day, however, Schembechler's offense was positively rococo in comparison with the old master's. The Wolverines ran out of a variety of offensive formations, including the so-called pro set, and Franklin, a black quarterback who is as extraordinary a faker as he is an ordinary passer, threw 23 times, completing 13 for 160 yards. That constitutes an aerial circus in the conservative Big Ten these days. Franklin's Ohio State counterpart, Greg Hare, threw but three times, completing one to teammate Griffin and another to Michigan defender Randy Logan. The third was dropped. Hayes, who like Schembechler called every play, admitted that the intercepted pass was a bad choice. The pass just is not Woody; the past is, and, as he advises his young charges, those who ignore it "are condemned to repeat it."
When the game was almost over, the multitudes spilled onto the field, dismantling the "tear-away" goalposts specially erected for the game and milling among the combatants. There in the middle of them, shooing them off the premises, was the portly coach himself. Woody is no one to fool with, so the fans went back where they belonged. All this exertion on behalf of law and order cost Hayes a pulled leg muscle, the only serious injury in the game. What was he doing out there playing cop? Was he afraid someone would get hurt?
"There were six seconds left," he said, rubbing the gimpy leg. "I didn't want there to be any question about this game. I wanted to finish it. I wanted this game."
He managed to get that impression across to his players.
When a simple yard meant victory, Michigan runners could not breach the Great Red Wall.