Posted: 10:11 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014
By Jeanna Thomas
Ohio State's matchup against That Team Up North in 1973 ended in a tie and set off a firestorm of controversy.
Every Buckeyes fan is familiar with the Ten Year War, the decade that saw classic battles between Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. One of the most memorable games from that time period wasn't a win for the Buckeyes – it was a tie.
When the last game of the 1973 season rolled around, Ohio State was the top-ranked team in the nation. That other team wasn't too shabby either, ranked fourth heading into what would become a classic version of The Game. Both teams were unbeaten, and – as was often the case when these teams met in that era – the winner of that matchup would lock up the Big Ten title for that season and represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
The Buckeyes' run-heavy offense put up 10 hard-fought points in the first half – a 31-yard field goal from kicker Blair Conway got the Buckeyes on the board, and a rushing touchdown from fullback Pete Johnson extended Ohio State's lead – but they would be the only points scored by Ohio State in the entire game.
The Buckeyes held That Team Up North scoreless in the first half, but halftime adjustments from Schembechler made a huge difference. That other team outplayed the Buckeyes in the second half and put up 10 points of their own. They were on such a roll, in fact, that only bad luck could have slowed them down.
That Team Up North's quarterback, Dennis Franklin, took a hard hit from Ohio State defensive end Van DeCree and came up with a broken collarbone – a devastating loss for that other team. Still, their second half performance was dominant enough to rattle Woody Hayes.
With just over a minute remaining in the game, Hayes abandoned his game plan – which had essentially been to give the ball to Archie Griffin over and over and over again – and put in a backup quarterback, Greg Hare, to attempt the first pass of the day for the Buckeyes. You know Woody was desperate to resort to this approach, as Hayes was always wary of the pass. He used to say that three things can happen when you pass the ball, and "two of them ain't good." Well, that adage proved true on Hare's first pass attempt, which was intercepted by That Team Up North, giving them 52 seconds to try and win the game.
It was more bad luck – and some weird clock management – that kept That Team Up North from asserting a lead. Michigan's backup quarterback, Larry Cipa, executed a handoff to Gil Chapman on first down for a six-yard gain. On second down, Cipa threw a deliberate incompletion to stop the clock.
On third down, with 28 seconds remaining, Schembechler made the call to go for the field goal. That Team Up North's kicker, Mike Lantry, had missed a field goal earlier in the game, a 58-yard attempt that went just slightly wide. He missed the late-game attempt, a chip shot from the Ohio State 27-yard line, as well.
Hare threw three consecutive hail Mary's for the Buckeyes to finish the game, all of which went incomplete. As time expired with the scored tied 10-10, and both teams effectively locking up an equal share of the conference title, the Big Ten prepared to decide by vote which team would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl.
Everyone – and I mean everyone – assumed it would be That Team Up North. For one thing, Ohio State had gone to the Rose Bowl (and lost badly to USC) the season before. Until 1971, the Big Ten had a rule that a Big Ten team could not go to the Rose Bowl in consecutive years, and had eliminated the rule primarily because it had kept deserving conference champions – including That Team Up North – out of the only bowl the Big Ten was represented in on an annual basis. Had the rule still been in effect, That Team Up North would have gone to the Rose Bowl regardless of the outcome of the game. Instead, the athletic directors around the Big Ten were polled by phone and asked to vote for one team or the other.
But, considering the dominance of That Team Up North in the second half, as well as the tradition established by the longtime adherence to the no repeat rule, it was just generally assumed that That Team Up North would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. Even Woody Hayes remarked, when asked about the injury to that other team's quarterback, Dennis Franklin, "It's a shame he won't be able to play in the Rose Bowl."
In reality, that is the primary reason Ohio State was selected, by a vote of 6-4, to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl following the 1973 season. Yes, Ohio State was ranked more highly than That Team Up North, which is enough reason in and of itself. Yes, the Buckeyes went into the Big House and, while they did not win, they also did not lose to That Team Up North on their home turf – where that team hadn't lost in four seasons – in front of a record crowd of 105,223 people. Those things mattered less than the fact that That Team Up North would have gone into the Rose Bowl with a backup quarterback under center, and that didn't give the Big Ten the best chance to win the Rose Bowl.
Ohio State went on to win the Rose Bowl, exacting revenge on USC, and making the Big Ten proud with a 42-21 victory.