Former Buckeye great Mike Sensibaugh dead at 72

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State safety Mike Sensibaugh (3) defends a pass against SMU on Sept. 28, 1968.

Safety Mike Sensibaugh, a key part of Ohio State’s 1968 national championship team and still the school’s leader in career interceptions, has died.

He passed away Wednesday after a cardiac incident in suburban St. Louis. He was 72.

Sensibaugh was part of the fabled “Super Sophs” class that arrived on campus in 1967. Freshmen weren’t eligible to play then, but the next year that recruiting class led the Buckeyes to a 10-0 record and national title.

Sensibaugh was first team all-Big Ten in 1969 and 1970 and a first team All-American the latter year. He had 22 career interceptions, which is the most in Ohio State history and third-most in Big Ten history.

Ohio State 1968 defensive backs, from left, Tim Anderson, Jack Tatum, Ted Provost, Mike Polaski and Mike Sensibaugh.

Sensibaugh played eight seasons in the NFL, five with the Kansas City Chiefs and three with the St. Louis Cardinals. He had 27 interceptions in the pros.

David Sensibaugh, one of Mike’s four siblings, said that his older brother downplayed his football accomplishments.

“He did not at all want attention drawn to himself,” David Sensibaugh said. “He was not a person that would say, 'Hey, I'm Mike Sensibaugh, Ohio State All-American or professional football player.’ He was very humble in that regard.”

Multitalented Sensibaugh helped OSU win '68 championship

Sensibaugh grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Lockland. He was played quarterback as well as defense in high school and was given the option of playing on either side of the ball at Ohio State. But Rex Kern was also part of his recruiting class, along with fellow quarterback Ron Maciejowski, and Sensibaugh realized defense was the way to go.

As a defensive back, he combined his intelligence, speed and instincts to form an imposing duo with legendary hard-hitting safety Jack Tatum.

"He was like Willie Mays in center field," Kern told The Dispatch.

The 1968 team defeated a Southern California team led by Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson in the Rose Bowl to win an unexpected national title. The 1969 team was even more dominant until it was shocked by Michigan in the season finale. The 1970 team was undefeated until losing to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

Ohio State safety Mike Sensibaugh (3) chases Stanford quarterback Jim Plunkett in the Rose Bowl on Jan. 2, 1971.

“I think he was very proud of what they accomplished,” David Sensibaugh said. “It was this amazing group that stuck together, played together and I think loved each other deeply."

Kern remembered Sensibaugh as a fun-loving prankster.

"Woody always kept us out longer than the defense, and Sensibaugh always had his wonderful humor where he would steal my clothes and hide them from me. It took me half the evening to find where all my clothes were scattered."

Sometimes, Kern couldn't find them and he'd have to walk home only partly dressed.

Kern played with the Baltimore Colts in the NFL. Before one preseason game against Sensibaugh's Chiefs, Kern was fielding kicks in warmups when he kept getting hit in the back with footballs. He looked around for the culprit. Sensibaugh, of course.

"I turned around and said, 'What are you doing?'' Kern recalled. "He just got a sheepish grin."

David Sensibaugh called Mike the role model for him and his brothers, all of whom played sports in college.

“He was just an incredible athlete," he said. "He was fearless. He didn't have a lot of injuries, but when he did, he would certainly play through them.”

Sensibaugh was also the Buckeyes’ punter, setting a Rose Bowl record for punting yardage.

"I know we've had some awesome Buckeye teams recently," said Rudy Hubbard, the OSU running backs coach during Sensibaugh's career, "but for those who aren't old enough to remember, Mike Sensibaugh was a member of arguably one of the greatest teams in Buckeye history. Mike was a great athlete. He could pass, punt and was a defensive wiz."

Buckeye standout had solid NFL career

Sensibaugh was only an eighth-round draft pick by Kansas City, but he was a solid and respected pro.

“He played bigger than his size and he had an eye for the ball,” David Sensibaugh said.

Mike Sensibaugh, here during a game with the Kansas City Chiefs in 1972,  played eight seasons in the NFL.

He said that came partly from his background as a quarterback. He said Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson would often pick Mike’s brain after practice for a defensive back’s point of view of certain plays.

“He was just an incredible student of the game and just incredibly intelligent,” David said.

After Sensibaugh’s pro career ended in 1979, he settled in the St. Louis area. He owned a business servicing and installing swimming pools and was an avid hunter.

Sensibaugh had three children — Doug, Amy and Cara. He and his wife, Dana, were married for 29 years.

Sensibaugh was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997. A few years later, the Touchdown Club of Columbus chose him as part of Ohio State’s All-Century team.

Donations in memory of Sensibaugh may be given to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, 361 Newbury St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02115 or online at concussionfoundation.org.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

@brdispatch.com