2019 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the greatest upsets in college football history. There are some striking parallels between Michigan's 24-12 upset of Ohio State's "Team of the Century" and the way this year's game is shaping up. UM's legendary running back Billy Taylor was there. He and Michigan's legendary sports information director, Bruce Madej, stopped by 89.1 WEMU to reflect and look ahead to this Saturday's rivalry showdown in Ann Arbor.
A 12th ranked, two-loss Michigan team with a first year coach hosted defending national champion, undefeated, and top-ranked Ohio State in 1969. At the end of the afternoon, the players in Maize and Blue hoisted Bo Schembechler on their shoulders to celebrate an unlikey 24-12 win over "Woody's boys." Unlikely, that is, unless you were in the Michigan locker room.
Bruce Madej was a 17-year old kid from Dearborn. His dad scored him a single ticket to the game. He, too, had a sense of what was to come, or at least a grand hope. Every time the Buckeyes scored, the Wolverines responded. And when Ohio State's scoring dried up, Michigan's did not. Bruce's spirits soared, and the reaction in the stands was near hysteria.
Billy Taylor tells WEMU there was a confidence in the locker room before the game. And, with a 24-12 lead at halftime, they knew Michigan was going to win. The 2nd half was a defensive struggle. In the end, the Wolverines' defense turned out, forcing seven Ohio State turnovers on the day. The Michigan offense kept eating clock.
As the final seconds ticked off, Michigan knew it had shocked the world.
Two years later, in 1971. Billy Taylor would run around end and score the touchdown that lifted Michigan to a 10-7 win over Ohio State preserving an unbeaten regular season. He says that was his greatest individual moment. But, Taylor told WEMU getting that win over the Buckeyes in 1969 was singularly the greatest experience in his football career.
With the final score reading Michigan-24, Ohio State-12, the players lifted first-year head coach Bo Schembechler high above ground in fervored celebration.
The University of Michigan faithful rushed the field and did away with the goalposts.
The win would begin, what is famously referred to as, "The Ten-Year War" between Bo and his old mentor, Woody Hayes. In the 10 years they coached against each other, Bo would best Woody, 5-4-1. After that first edition of their annual showdown, Coach Hayes told Schembechler, "Damn you, Bo! You'll never win a bigger game."
Schembechler would continue coaching at Michigan until 1989, achieving legendary status along the way. Before and after every game, he would insist to his players that the next game was the most important game. After retiring, though, there was some time for thought and refelction. And, in their telling of their later-year encounters with Schembechler, both Bruce Madej and Billy Taylor recall he may have had a change of heart.
Taylor quotes Bo as saying, "I think the old S.O.B. may have been right!" With a hearty chuckle, Madej nods in agreement.
There are some striking similarities to that historic game 50 years ago and the one about to be played on Saturday in Ann Arbor. Ohio State enters the contest undefeated and vying for a national championship, just as it did in 1969. Michigan has two losses but is playing its best football now, just as it did all those years ago. The media is about unanimous in its certainty that the Buckeyes will win, perhaps in blowout fashion. Taylor and Madej won't make formal predictions but each says they are feeling pretty good about Saturday's game.
Just like in 1969, if you ask the young men populating the Michigan locker room, they are confident. Despite the fact they weren't yet a twinkle in their parents' eyes, they know what 24-12 means. They know this is the 50th anniversary of that upset. They know they, too, can live forever in Wolverines lore by repeating the success of their 1969 Michigan forefathers. Will they? We'll all find out together Saturday afternoon.
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