The Woody Hayes Archive | Comeback against Michigan is 'greatest game' (1975)
Editor's Note: This is original coverage of an event in the life of legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, taken from the archives of The Columbus Dispatch newspaper. These stories, photos and clippings in the Woody Hayes Archive predate the Internet era and are being presented in digital form for the first time.
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(Originally published on November 23, 1975)
'Greatest Comeback, … Greatest Game' - Hayes
By Paul Hornung
Dispatch Sports Editor
ANN ARBOR, Mich. – "I'd have to say this is our greatest comeback, so this has got to be the greatest game I've ever coached," said Woody Hayes.
That summed up the sentiment of Ohio State's 62-year-old coach and undoubtedly Buckeyes in Michigan Stadium and everywhere across the land Saturday, after Hayes' indomitable squad fought back from a 7-14 deficit in the fourth quarter to capture its 11th Big 10 championship (seventh outright) and eighth Rose Bowl trip.
"I couldn't believe it," grinned Archie Griffin's kid brother, Ray, after intercepting a pass by Michigan's Rick Leach and returning it to the 2-yard line to set up the climactic touchdown in an epic 21-14 victory.
It was Ray Griffin's first interception in his first year at defensive safety, after he unselfishly volunteered to switch from offensive tailback.
"I've been waiting so long," he said, shaking his head, "but I got it at the right time."
"I couldn't be happier," said Archie, although held to only 46 yards by the sticky Wolverine defense, thereby ending his NCAA string of 100-yard consecutive game at 31. "We won the game and that's the most important thing. I feel great. The streak had to end sometime and as long as we won, man, that's all that counts."
Brian Baschnagel, the undersung wingback, came up with the biggest pass of his career to keep alive the Buckeyes' 80-yard drive that resulted in a tying touchdown and he credited an announcement on the Michigan Stadium loudspeaker.
"They announced that Oklahoma was leading Nebraska, 7-3," he said, "and I said to myself, 'Hey, Michigan can win the national championship that we wanted so bad' and that inspired me.
"That was when we were behind 14-7 and we were on the 80-yard drive. I thought, 'This could be for everything.' After I saw Corney scramble, I just tried to get open and I did."
Greene, also balked by the Michigan defense for more than 45 minutes, said a prayer in the huddle when the Buckeyes got possession of the ball on their own 20 with 7:11 of the fourth quarter remaining, "not to win the game, but for us to stick in there and give us strength."
From there, Greene completed three big passes and ran for 12 yards to get the Buckeyes first down on the Michigan 8-yard line, after Archie had gone 11 on the previous play.
Big Pete Johnson took it in for TD No. 24 on the year – and he obliged with 2:19 remaining, after Ray Griffin's runback, for a touchdown – his 25th – that produced a result that will ring through history.
Tackle Scott Dannelley, who helped to bulldoze holes open in the defense for Johnson, climbed on a bench in the wild Ohio State locker room afterwards to make the most popular speech of the celebration.
"I'd like to make a motion," he said to Coach Hayes, "that the game balls go to Coach (George) Hill and to yourself." Later, he said, "I guess I got a second to my motion."
There was a thunderous "Aye."
Out in the stands, Ohio fans were shouting, "We're No. 1," but inside the locker room, the chorus had to be even louder, per capita. The Buckeye players jumped up and down in unison to booming "We're No. 1" chants, until Hayes called for order and an inspiring post-game speech and prayer.
Those were some of the sounds and saying in the wake of another Big 10 championship showdown between the intense neighboring-state rivals – the seventh in the last eight years where the title and the Rose Bowl junket have been on the line.
Needless to say, the mood on the other side of the Michigan Stadium tunnel was totally a contrast.
Hayes made several abortive tries to exit the dressing room door for a press conference, but the police had little luck in pushing back the crowd jammed against the door. Once, when the coach seemed likely to go out, tackle Nick Buonamici grabbed him protectively and said, "Coach, don't go out there."
Soaked after his trip to the showers (Hill and equipment men John Bozick and Phil Bennett also took unexpected dunkings), Hayes finally was ushered to a dark tunnel under another part of the stadium and leaned against a golf cart to more calmly discuss one of the high points – if not the high point – of an 180-victory (at OSU) career.
"We had a first drive," he said – a 63-yard march on their first possession for a TD, "but couldn't move the ball at all. They outplayed us the rest of the first half and the third quarter.
"Then they scored and after that it was amazing how the game turned around. That was a big play when Brian came out of there with that third-down pass. He knocked himself out doing it."
Baschnagel had to be attended by Buckeye trainers, but eventually jumped up and ran off the field – for one play. It was third and 10 on the Ohio 20 at the time, but it meant a first down on the 37.
Hayes pointed out that the game plan called for more passing.
"We knew we could pass on them," he said, "and we intended to pass, but we weren't getting protection (for the passer). When we started getting protection, Corny (Greene) started putting it on the money.
"He can pass; he can throw the ball. We made some changes in our pass protection. We waited too long to do it. We have good passing. We tried to go to it earlier, but we didn't have the protection.
"We've had good passing all season, but we don't want to win on it, then you try to do it the easy way."
A voice from the army of writers jammed around him wondered if this had been the greatest comeback by an Ohio State team.
"I think it is," Hayes said, "although the one in 1954 was pretty big, too. We had to take the ball 99 yards and two feet to score, but that time we weren't behind, like we were today."
Was this the sweetest victory in this classic series?
"I'd say it's the sweetest one, maybe because it's the last one," he replied and the scribes grew more eager than ever.
"The last one?" someone queried. "Coach, did you mean the latest in the series or the last one for you?"
Hayes looked almost disgusted, snorted an earthy expression that, translated, meant it was a silly question and "no."
The writer quickly explained that there had been rumors (as always) that Hayes might retire if he won it all.
"I wouldn't give you that information if I knew it," the coach said, "and I don't know it. If I gave you any insinuation about it, I'd be wrong.
"But when we come back up here against 105,00 people and that team is playing good ball, and we're not moving the ball and we come back, bang-bang, I wouldn't believe we'd get back down there that fast and the way our defense came back.
"It breaks one sort of deadlock."
The home team has won all of the last seven Michigan-Ohio State games, except for the 10-10 tie here in 1973.
Hayes injected a word for the defense, which he considered great – although stipulating that it was a great job by both the offense and defense that sends the Buckeyes to another holiday season in Pasadena.
"The defense had the ability to make the big play," he said. "We've got speed in there – (Craig) Cassady, Ray Griffin and Tim Fox.
"And punting was a big factor; our punting is always a big factor. (Tom) Skladany punted an unusual number of times; eight for a 44.6-yard average."
Someone asked if this was his greatest team and Woody said, "For the first three quarters, no. For the last 10 minutes, yes, this was a great team. We started well and finished great."
He assured there had been no thought of going for two points when the Buckeyes scored to pull within one at 13-14.
"We knew we were going for the extra point with that much time on the clock. I felt we had about a 98 percent chance of getting one and tying it up."
When the Buckeyes stopped Michigan's offense on the next possession, Hayes felt sure "we could get in close enough to kick a field goal, but I didn't figure Ray Griffin would intercept and take it to the 2-yard line."
Someone asked if Ray hadn't been a running back and Hayes said, "He was and maybe he will be again."
Did he think his team deserved to be No. 1?
"Yes, I think we should be No. 1," he said. "We beat the No. 4 team."
He said of Michigan, "they coordinate their defense wonderfully well. Arch didn't get his yardage. They obviously stacked their defense to stop him, but they opened up some pass routes."
How did he feel about Archie's string of 100-yard-plus games being broken?
"I don't think Arch is any more worried about that than I am," he said. "I've never seen a more unselfish team player. I've never seen one like him."
In the dressing room later, Griffin confirmed his coach's prediction. "I couldn't feel better if I'd got the 100," he declared. Actually, he seemed more pleased about his brother Ray's interception – and the fact he'd drawn a big crowd of writers.
"Michigan played great ball," Hayes said, which magnified the Ohio State victory as it should have been. The Buckeyes beat a great opponent on one of its best days of the season.
Rose Bowl preparations will begin immediately for Buckeye coaches, but the players will have to devote full time to final exams and then they will probably have a short vacation.
After what happened here Saturday, it's going to take a special effort to keep the Rose Bowl from being anticlimactic. The saving grace is the fact these Ohio State players have had national championship on their minds for a year and they won't let anything dissuade them from their cherished goal.
They proved that in the last 10 minutes Saturday.
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The Woody Hayes Archive:
>> Ohio State hires a new coach (1951)
>> Rose Bowl win caps perfect season for Ohio State (1955)
>> Another national title, another Rose Bowl victory for Ohio State (1958)
>> Ohio State students protest as faculty bans Rose Bowl trip (1961)
>> Thrilling comeback win at Michigan makes Ohio State's season (1965)
>> Ohio State coach visits troops in Vietnam (1966)
>> Wearing short sleeves in the snow on the Ohio State sideline (1967)
>> Ohio State's Woody Hayes joins rally with Richard Nixon (1968)
>> O.J. visits Ohio State locker room after Rose Bowl win (1969)
>> Ohio State win over Michigan called 'our greatest victory' (1970)
>> No. 1 Ohio State loses at Michigan State in controversial finish (1974)
>> Hayes starts his 25th season as Ohio State coach (1975)
>> Ohio State comeback against Michigan is 'greatest game' (1975)
>> Ohio State coach sponsors a Vietnamese refugee family (1975)
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