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Fond Memories of the ‘Border War’

November 27, 2010


You never forget your first.

It was 1972.

The place: a horseshoe-shaped football stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

It was the first of seven or eight OSU-Michigan games we witnessed from an Ohio Stadium press box view in the century-old rivalry which is one of the most intense in all of sports.

And, like many of the regular season ending showdowns in this Big Ten Conference classic, it was a game to remember.

The Buckeyes-Wolverines rivalry for many of the years decided the Big Ten Conference champion and gave credence to the media label that the league alignment was really the Big Two (OSU and Michigan) and the Little Eight.

And 1972 was no different.

Ohio State needed a victory against the "team up North", as OSU coach WOODY HAYES called Michigan, to earn a share of the Big Ten title and receive a berth in the Rose Bowl against the PAC-10 champion.

The previous year, 1971, host Michigan won the showdown 10-7 to end a 6-4 record season for the Buckeyes, who stayed home for the bowl season.

Revenge was on the minds of the Buckeyes faithful against the unbeaten Wolverines, who were ranked No. 3 in the national polls and favored by six points to earn their third Rose Bowl trip in four years. OSU entered the game ranked ninth in the land and with an 8-1 record, losing only to Michigan State.

Playing before a standing-room-only crowd of 87,040 in the stadium with a listed capacity of 81,667 and in the second year of an Astro-Turf field, the nationally-televised game lived up to the hype.

Michigan's quarterback was a product of Massillon, Ohio - sophomore DENNIS FRANKLIN - and he led the Wolverines into Ohio State territory nine of their 10 possessions but the favored visitors could only muster 11 points as the OSU defense stiffened.

The Buckeyes twice halted serious Michigan scoring threats. Michigan had a first-and-goal at the OSU 1 just before halftime and first-and-goal at the Buckeye five early in the fourth quarter but came away with no points.

A fumble by Franklin on fourth down halted the first bid and All-America OSU linebacker RANDY GRADISHAR stopped Franklin's sneak at the one in the final period.

While the Buckeye defense shined, a freshman tailback gave OSU buffs a glimpse of things to come. ARCHIE GRIFFIN, who the previous year was earning Ohio High School Back of the Year honors at Eastmoor Academy in Columbus, broke loose on the clinching 30-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. Earlier, Griffin had an 18-yard run to set up a 1-yard TD plunge by fullback CHAMP HENSON.

Griffin, of course, went on to become as a junior and senior the only two-time winner of the Heisman Trophy.

The Buckeyes fans were in a frenzy as the game neared its conclusion. They tore down the south goalposts with 13 seconds left while the Wolverines were trying to work into scoring position.

If Michigan had advanced into field goal range, and a possible game-tying kick, Ohio State officials had another set of goal posts placed under the stands and ready to erect.

If the goals were needed by the Wolverines, the officials would have called time to erect the new posts. A field goal would have tied the game and given Michigan an undisputed hold on the Big Ten championship and another trip to the Rose Bowl.

But the victory gave the Buckeyes a trip to the West Coast and another Rose Bowl berth. The opponent - No. 1 ranked Southern California.

The Trojans rolled to a 42-17 romp against the Buckeyes and sealed the national championship.

It's one of several seasons where the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan showdown went on to lose in the Rose Bowl.

Maybe the OSU-Michigan rivalry is a bigger deal than any bowl game to the Buckeyes and Wolverines?

Just a thought from a jock journalist who will never forget his first.

Enjoy the weekend.

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