To The Victors Go The Spoilings, Sometimes
By Tony Gerdeman
The first time it happened was 1906. Teddy Roosevelt was in his second term as U.S. President. The world's first feature film would be released two months later.
It was in October of 1906 that Michigan first spoiled a perfect season for Ohio State. They've done it six more times since.
The 1906 Buckeyes didn't actually finish the season with Michigan, as the Wolverines weren't the traditional final game of the season until 1935. This loss occurred in the fourth week of the season, but it was the only loss the 8-1 Buckeyes would suffer.
That Ohio State team outscored opponents 153-14 on the season, yet Michigan beat them 6-0 in Columbus. Only two opponents scored against the Buckeyes that year.
The next time darkness fell on Ohio State's perfection came 20 years later, and also in Columbus. The Buckeyes were 6-0, and had only given up 20 points on the season. Michigan came in at 5-1 and handed Ohio State a 17-16 loss.
"No more desperately fought battle ever was waged on a western conference gridiron." That's how Henry P. Edwards described it in the Cleveland Plain Dealer following the game.
The Buckeyes started the game with a 10-0 lead (becoming the first Western Conference team to score a touchdown on the Wolverines since 1924), but Michigan tied it up late in the first half when Bennie Friedman connected on a field goal that was kicked from the 42-yard line, and only about 10 yards from the sideline.
Ohio State's star halfback Elmer Marek, playing with a broken hand, fumbled a punt at his own five-yard line, which led to a Michigan touchdown and a 17-10 lead.
Then, with three minutes to play, Marek's replacement Byron Eby found the endzone for the Buckeyes, making it 17-16. The crowd erupted.
This is how Edwards described the scene: "And, as Eby downed the ball, 60,000 or 70,000 of those 90,000 spectators went crazy. Score cards were thrown into the air. Newspapers followed score cards; souvenir programs followed newspapers; and hats followed programs."
"I have seen many a World Series crowd pass into a frenzy of enthusiasm but never until today did I see anything that quite equaled the demonstration staged by Ohio football enthusiasts."
That celebration came too early however as quarterback Myers Clark missed the game-tying extra point, and Michigan soon left the field as Victors once again.
Clark was in tears, and Marek was "prostrate in the sawdust in front of the Ohio benches."
And that was only the second time Michigan had ruined a perfect season for the Buckeyes.
In 1933, Sam Willaman brought his 2-0 Buckeyes into Ann Arbor following wins over Virginia (75-0) and Vanderbilt (20-0). However, they clearly weren't ready for what Michigan had in store for them.
"Ohio State's challenge for a place in the national gridiron spotlight today ended in saddening, crushing defeat."
"Outwitted, outrun, outfought by a great Michigan team, fed on 'raw beef' all week, the Scarlet Buckeyes were routed and battered by a Maize and Blue tornado, 13 to 0."
"What the Wolverines had today was something entirely new for stupefied, dumbfounded Ohioans to gaze at." That's how John Dietrich described it in the Plain Dealer.
Michigan won it 13-0 in front of a then-Big Ten record crowd of 93,508.
With the decision to make The Game the season finale starting in 1935, the two schools ensured that any spoiled perfect seasons would sting a great deal more than they already would have.
Since 1935, the Buckeyes have entered into The Game undefeated 12 times, and are 8-3-1 in that span.
But it's always the losses that stick out more.
Most notably among those losses was in 1969, when the #1-ranked Buckeyes went into Ann Arbor and came out with a 24-12 defeat.
We don't need to talk about that loss anymore than we already have. It's still too sensitive a topic for some.
Four years later, another #1-ranked 9-0 Ohio State team walked into Michigan Stadium, ready to battle a 10-0 Wolverine team, only to be denied a victory yet again, in the form of a 10-10 tie.
While not a loss, a tie wasn't any better.
"I can't consider a tie satisfactory," coach Woody Hayes said after the game.
Following the game, the conference's athletic directors voted on which team to send to the Rose Bowl, but didn't announce that decision until the following day.
"The identity of the conference's entry in the Rose Bowl Game on Jan. 1 won't be known officially until today, but undoubtedly Michigan will be the choice," wrote the Plain Dealer's Ed Chay.
Chay wasn't the only person expecting the Wolverines to get the nod. Even Hayes acknowledged which way he thought the verdict would lean. Upon learning that Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin had broken his collarbone, Hayes said after the game, "It's a shame he won't be able to play in the Rose Bowl."
Or maybe that comment had nothing to do with Franklin's injury, and Hayes knew that the athletic directors would vote the Buckeyes' way, as they did, and there would in fact be no Wolverines playing in the Rose Bowl that year.
Ohio State would travel to Ann Arbor as an undefeated team in both 1975 and 1979, both times coming away with victories, and both times capping their seasons with Rose Bowl losses.
It wouldn't be until 1995 that an undefeated Buckeye team would again face Michigan. At 11-0, Ohio State went into Michigan Stadium with a #2 ranking, and left it with a 313-yard prison tattoo inked by Tshimanga Biakabatuka.
The following year, again ranked second in the nation, as a 17-point favorite, the Buckeyes found yet another way to lose to the Wolverines, this time by a score of 13-9.
Since then, the Buckeyes have played in The Game as an undefeated team just twice, in 2002 and 2006, and both times they came away with close victories.
How 2012 will play out is anybody's guess, and as history has shown, it doesn't really matter how many losses a team goes into the game with.
Rather, what only matters is how many losses they come out with.
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