UM 17 - - OSU 16
Columbus, Nov. 12, 1926
The Ohio Game
Driven by the toe of a scarlet-jerseyed Ohio halfback, a football rose from the turn of the vast Columbus stadium, wobbled uncertainly through the air while a crowd of more than 90,000 people forgot to breathe, then passed squarely between the uprights of the Michigan goal, but a full two feet below the crossbar -- and by just the measure of that small tragedy, Michigan had beaten Ohio 17 to 16 in the epic and unforgettable battle of November 13.
Seemingly crushed at the end of the first quarter by a combination of misfortunes and a tide of red thrusts which could not be stemmed, Michigan trailed her foe by a score of 0 to 10, the invading thousands in the west curve of the gigantic horseshoe were silent, and the issue seemed hopeless. But against that red tide there rose a blue wave just as irresistible, and when the teams left the field at the end of the half the scoreboard showed Michigan 10, Ohio 10.
There had been enough feverish excitement, enough quick, unlooked for veerings of the winds of chance in that first half to serve for a dozen games, yet they were no more than a beginning. The third quarter was all Michigan, and it ended with the ball so close to the gray and scarlet goal that there could be no stopping the blue drive. The fourth quarter saw that drive first checked by sheer Ohio desperation and grit, then carried to completion by a brilliant forward pass on fourth down. With a lead of 17 to 10 and only ten minutes to go, Michigan seemed out of danger. But Ohio had kept on leash a young human thunderbolt named Eby. They hurled him into the game during those closing minutes, and he appeared as Achilles struggling among commonplace mortals long enough to lead a last red rush across the blue goal. Then came the pitiful denouement of the missed goal after touchdown, and Michigan was left with that single point to mark her as victor in a combat where conqueror and conquered were so near absolute equality that victory seemed almost out of place.
So close was the fight, so desperate and thrilling the fashion in which it was waged, so overpowering the setting and the sheer bulk of the multitude that watched and showed, that it is difficult to write of it in the commonplace terms of a game between vigorous young undergraduates, the temptation is to employ Homeric verse or at least the more virile terminology of the war-correspondent. When two evenly-matched teams are pitted against each other in a game as inherently exciting as football and the spectacle is staged in a structure whose proportions suggest the looming bulks of ancient Thebes, and which holds a howling, shrieking human mass thrice as large as the entire population of Ann Arbor, the affair assumes epic proportions, and one who witnessed it and who suffered the agonies and the ecstasies of those nerve-twisting hours is tempted to write in language born of his emotions.
If the gods of battle had been the tiniest bit biased, they would have let hapless young Clark kick that final goal after touchdown, for it is hard for even an ardent Michigan partisan to say that Ohio did not deserve a tie. But the presiding deities preserved a strict impartiality, and Ohio lost because, faced with exactly the same number of possibilities for scoring, they failed on one of them.
By turns each team was matchless. The dice fell Ohio's way first -- and for a few dreadful seconds those dice were loaded! The first quarter was still very young when Bell, punting for Ohio with a snapping breeze at his back, lifted a towering kick which traveled fifty-three yards. Captain Friedman, unwilling to risk trying to catch such a mighty twisting spiral with the Ohio ends tearing down on him, signaled for a fair catch only to have the ball twist away from him and roll dead a scant eleven yards from the Michigan goal. Michigan elected to rush the ball before punting it out of danger, and was instantly undone by the very disaster which makes kicking on first down the rule in such cases -- Gilbert dropped the ball and Bell fell on it. Michigan stemmed three Ohio attacks, but on fourth down Clark drop-kicked a field goal from the 15 yard line and Ohio had a three point lead after but six minutes of play.
Michigan fought back, but only for a flash. Receiving the ball after the next kick-off, Gilbert passed to Friedman on first down, and when Karow interfered with the catch, the officials ruled it completed and it went for a 25-yard gain. But the next four plays failed by inches to make first down and Ohio took the ball. On the first play Grim shot eighteen yards, then Bell flung a rifle bullet pass to Clark, who moved like a wraith through the blue jerseys which sought to screen him, and the ball was only a foot from the Michigan goal. From there Captain Karow smashed it across on the next play. Ten to nothing and the game which was to have been all-even only twelve minutes old! The Ohio stands were a seething mass while the tiers of Michigan adherents were under a pall of stunned silence.
If the 1926 Michigan team had accomplished no other achievements than what it did in the next twenty minutes, it would still deserve a pedestal in the hall of the immortals. They were apparently an overmatched and beaten team. All seemed lost save honor, and their only hope a stubborn defense against a team rendered momentarily invincible by an inspiring promise of a victory to be won more quickly and easily than they had dared hope. Yet Michigan maintained the defensive only long enough to force an Ohio punt. Then they made history!
It was not enough for them to stiffen their backs and set their teeth; they went in to get what they had lost, and got it! To do this, they had to play the best offensive game they knew in the teeth of a defense so fierce that it was almost a counter-attack. They unlimbered their heaviest gun - the pass - and used it with deadly effect. A Gilbert-to-Friedman shot made twenty-six yards. A perfectly executed fake with Oosterbaan carrying the ball added ten more and the Ohio goal was close. But the red jerseys fought fiercely, Friedman was forced to try a placekick; the shot went wild and the chance seemed lost. Instantly, however, the blue army was sweeping back, for against this inspired Michigan team Ohio could not gain. Another Gilbert-to-Friedman made seventeen yards. Friedman passed to Oosterbaan, and the rangy end went down with the 12-yard chalk-mark beneath him. Again Ohio braced desperately, with the black shadows of the goal posts across the backs of their jerseys, and three pile-driving thrusts. Again Gilbert and Friedman dropped back, and the former fell on one knee as though to hold the ball for another place-kick. Instead he leapt aside when the ball was passed, Friedman caught it, stepped back a pace and shot a swift, flat pass to Oosterbaan who was free behind the Ohio goal-posts. Six of those lost ten points won back, and then Friedman's toe made it seven.
A field-general less great than Friedman might have let that first half close with Michigan still three points behind. It was Friedman's judgment plus his skill which tied the score, for the conception of that marvelous field goal was no less a feat than its execution. Only four minutes of the half remained to be played after Michigan's touchdown was scored, and some of those precious seconds were lost while Ohio had possession of the ball. Then the scarlet was forced to punt, and the kick, high and short, went out of bounds in midfield. A tremendous pass from Oosterbaan, which traveled nearly half the length of the field, was incomplete, but another from the tall end -- shrewdly fired over the center of the line while the Ohio defense was concentrated on the flanks -- was gathered in by Friedman for a gain of nearly twenty yards.
Then came Friedman's moment of sheer genius. A glance at the scoreboard showed him only a minute left to play, and the Ohio goal was more than thirty yards distant. A minute was not enough for a rushing attack, a pass might be intercepted, and there was still that three point disparity in the scores. He and Gilbert dropped back, Gilbert, on his knees, plucked the grass from a spot forty-three yards distant from the Ohio goal-posts and well toward the west side of the field. Probably eighty-five of the ninety thousand people who waited thought it was a fake; perhaps the crouched men in the red jerseys thought so.
But Friedman had picked the one quickest and surest way of getting those three points, and taken the whole burden of responsibility on himself. And it was no small burden! If he had failed, sharp criticisms of his judgment would have been the kindest things said of him. But he didn't fail; he sent the ball to its mark as straight as though it had followed an invisible channel through the air, the greatest single exploit of his career was accomplished and those three precious points were ours!
It was a thoroughly raddled crowd which clenched its cold hands and felt of its burning cheeks as the second half began, for the strain of those terrific thirty minutes had been no small matter. Only for a few minutes did the tension relax. There was sharp bickering back and forth without much advantage either way but with the blue team appearing a shade more dangerous. Then came the blunder that cost Ohio the day. Gilbert had intercepted an Ohio pass on his own 45-yard line, and with the wind to help him, kicked at once. The ball bounded past Marek, Ohio back, who lost his head for an instant and attempted to pick up the ball instead of letting it roll dead, it slipped from his fingers and Dewey, who was playing a great game, fell on it for Michigan. The quarter ended before Michigan could turn this slip to profit, but with the opening of the final period they did it. Smashing could not break Ohio's desperate resistance, but again a pass on fourth down turned the trick, Hoffman catching the ball which Captain Benny spun through the air to him and falling over the line. And for the third time the Captain's toe added to the Michigan total.
Michigan heroes must draw aside during the last act, for the boards belong exclusively to Eby of Ohio. Why he was held back so long is known only to Coach Wilce and his board of strategy. Perhaps such flaming spirit, speed and dash as made him seem a superman during those closing minutes burns out quickly; otherwise the keeping leashed of such a dog of war is simply inexplicable. For some minutes he had been racing up and down the sidelines while the Ohio rooters bellowed his name with all their might. With Marek's tragic fumble came Eby's chance. Dr. Wilce crooked his finger and Eby went in like a meteor. And like something just as irresistible as a meteor, he began to play. He began by returning Gilbert's kick-off forty yards. Then, momentarily checked in his mad rush, he punted sixty yards over the Michigan goal. Then he began passing, and Michigan retreated. One pass drove the blue to its 46, the next to its 38, a third -- which Friedman just touched but could not deflect -- to its 17 yard line. Short stabs gained nine more yards, Michigan's last ditch stand piled up two red thrusts, then Eby slipped the ball under his arm, sped to his left behind a moving bulwark of red-clad figures, and crossed the blue goal.
After this came only that missed goal, which meant to much to Michigan, and must have hurt so cruelly the boy who did it, then the blessed pistol-shot that tended a struggle which had made gridiron history and filled that vast amphitheater with ninety-odd thousand utterly spent and exhausted humans.
Figures and statistics on such a battle are all out of place. Ohio had a sense of the fitness of things, for when the struggle was ended and the great throng filing out, there climbed on each of the flat towers that top the lofty stadium the tiny figure of a uniformed cadet, in each hand a blazing torch -- yellow and blue on one tower, scarlet on the next - and there, motionless as so many statues, they stood with outstretched arms, silhouetted against the paling sky as the crowd dissolved, the blaring of the bands died away and the great horse-shoe lay empty save for tiny, scampering figures furling the flags of battle.
|Roll of heroes and what they did:|
|Scores by quarters:|
Touchdowns- Oosterbaan, Hoffmanm, Karow, Eby. Fieldgoals-Friedman, Clark. Points after touchdown-Friedman two by placekicks, Clark one by drop-kick
Substitutions- Michigan: Hoffman for Molenda, Molenda for Hoffman, Hoffman for Molenda, Palmeroli for Dewey, Grinnel for Gabel, Squier for Grinnell. Ohio State: MacKay for Meyers, Hunt for Kruskamp, Kruskamp for Hunt, Marek for Grim, Eby for Marek
Referee- Masker, Northwestern. Umpire-Haines, Yale. Field judge-Moloney, North Dakota. Head linesman-Wyatt, Missouri