THE VOTE: 40 years later, what really went down when the Big Ten sent Ohio State to the Rose Bowl over Michigan

A midweek timeout from NFL coverage …

One of the most controversial episodes in the 117-year history of the Big Ten turns 40 years old later this month. That is, the secret 1973 Rose Bowl vote by the league’s athletic directors that surprisingly sent Ohio State to Pasadena over Michigan.

Few disputes in U.S. college football history ever have aroused so much table-pounding anger in one school’s fan base, or caused so much soul-crunching pain for a team’s coaches and players.

This past spring, I wrote a long-form feature about The Vote for Brian Cook’s Hail To The Victors, a Michigan football preview magazine. In it, Michigan’s quarterback in 1973, Dennis Franklin, as well as the lone surviving Big Ten athletic director from that time, Bump Elliott, shed new light on the controversy.

The Big Ten Network debuts a special one-hour documentary, titled Tiebreaker, on the matter this coming Saturday night (Nov. 16, 7 p.m. EST). Franklin and Elliott were among those interviewed.

If you can’t wait until Saturday night, or if you want far more perspective than any TV documentary can provide, read on. This version contains even more background than the magazine piece, written for a Michigan audience. (Contemporary photos of game action and newspaper clippings courtesy of Michigan’s Bentley Historical Library.)

 

*  *  *

IT IS NOT EASY for Dennis Franklin to talk about The Vote.

“We got screwed,” the former Michigan quarterback said disconsolately in an April 2013 telephone interview from West Los Angeles, where at age 59 he works as a Beverly Hills real-estate agent.

Dennis“We all just felt so lousy, and hopeless. And to this day, man … It’s irritating. It’s frustrating. (long pause)

“It’s just frustrating, that’s all.”

The Wolverines’ head coach, Bo Schembechler, was so incensed he launched a series of tirades that almost certainly would get a coach fired today, for he actually questioned the integrity of the commissioner of the Big Ten, Wayne Duke. Schembechler accused Duke of having “engineered” the vote in Ohio State’s favor, and then of “running scared” by covering up results of the vote. “He’s destroyed any prestige the Big Ten has,” Schembechler said.

If you’ve been a devout fan of college football since the 1970s, you might have heard of the great teams Schembechler had at Michigan from 1972-74 — which won 30 games, lost 2 and tied 1 and yet never played in a bowl game.

The full extent to which players on those three Wolverine teams got screwed — by fate as much as anything — deserves a retelling.

 

*   *   *

The early 1970s was the heyday of the Ten Year War, Bo vs. Woody.

BUNKERThat’s when Nixon guttered American politics forever. When gas shortages and over-regulation compelled The Big Three to stupidly poison the American male’s love affair with the muscle car. When Hollywood’s lids on sex and violence came flying off. When no room anywhere smelled like cigarette smoke, because every room everywhere smelled like cigarette smoke. When your dad slapped the chesterfield arm in embarrassed, breath-stealing laughter when a toilet flushed on All in the Family. When hair was never longer on young males. When Fu Manchu mustaches were funkier than Winkerbean. And, praise be, when a rock band’s coolness actually was proportional to the musicianship of its members (hello, Led Zeppelin).

That’s when Michigan football’s sun — burning brighter than at any time since the late 1940s — was eclipsed by a series of evil moons.

For Michigan, the 1973 controversy merely was an extension of 1972’s.

The ’72 Wolverines (10-0) rolled into Columbus ranked No. 3, a road favorite against the No. 9 Bucks (8-1). Franklin, a sophomore in his first year of eligibility, led the Wolverine offense up and down the field all game long. But Hayes’ young, stubborn defense time and again stiffened deep in its own territory. And it did so with some pivotal help, according to both Franklin and “Partial? You better believe I am” Wolverine radio announcer Bob Ufer.

WOODYTrailing 14-11 midway through the fourth quarter, and with a 3rd-and-1 at the Buckeye 2, Wolverine tailback Harry Banks appeared to pierce the goal-line plane for the go-ahead touchdown. Only he didn’t, according to the officials.

“What? Aren’t they gonna raise their hands?! …” Ufer said incredulously on the air.

“Galdarnit, what do you gotta do down here to score a touchdown?! It’s like a plane of glass — all you have to do is be is on, over or above that white line, and yet those officials are so intimidated by Woody Hayes, everybody looked at each other, and nobody had the guts.”

On 4th down, Schembechler eschewed the game-tying field goal that, barring another Buckeye score, would have put Michigan in the Rose Bowl. He called for a QB sneak by Franklin. Officials rushed to the heap of players massed over the goal line.

“There, they’re calling it!” Ufer announced. “NO SIR! Ohhh, I can’t believe it. Oh, that’s the rottenest deal I’ve ever seen in football. TWICE they’re in over that last white line …”

Franklin, 41 years later, said Michigan players thought he and Banks both had made it over. “Oh yeah,” he said. “But unfortunately, when you play in Columbus you’re not going to get those calls.”

Seriously, Denny?

“Oh absolutely. I mean, that was part of the preparation. We knew we weren’t going to get any favorable calls down there — that if it came down to a judgment, the judgment was going to go against us. That’s just the way it was.”

Reason? Wayne Woodrow Hayes. If you think Big Ten basketball officials were terrified of Bobby Knight in the ’80s or ’90s, you didn’t watch Big Ten football in the ’60s or ’70s, oldtimers say.

Franklin and the Wolverines still had a chance to win in the final minute, having the ball on their own side of the 50. That’s when thousands of OSU fans stormed the field and tore down the west-end goalposts toward which Michigan was marching. The game was interrupted for several minutes until the field finally was cleared. No penalty flag was thrown.

After Franklin’s last-gasp pass had failed, the Bucks ran out the clock.

Ufer was beside himself on air afterward, calling the officiating in Michigan’s 14-11 loss the most slanted he’d seen in 28 years of broadcasting: “No one will ever forget the infamous football game down at Ohio State Stadium on Nov. 25 of 1972.”

 

*   *   *

 

In 1973, Ohio State and Michigan grew into juggernauts. Their greenhorn rosters now grizzled, neither had come close to defeat heading into their season-ending showdown.

Ohio State, a near unanimous No. 1 with a 9-0 record, had smashed all nine previous opponents by the average score of 40 to 4. Michigan, ranked No. 4, had defeated all 10 opponents by the average score of 32 to 6.

InsolentEvery Wolverine fan alive at the time remembers how the Buckeyes entered Michigan Stadium on Nov. 24. Ufer’s radio call: “Here they come: Hare, Middleton and the Buckeyes — AND THEY’RE TEARING DOWN MICHIGAN’S COVETED M-CLUB BANNER!! THEY WILL MEET A DASTARDLY FATE HERE FOR THAT!”

Hayes, of course, had ordered his players to do so. And you wonder why Michigan fans made bumper stickers that read WOODY IS A PECKER and WUCK FOODY.

The game ended in a 10-10 tie. The Wolverines were the better team in the first quarter, and grew more dominant in all phases as the second half progressed. But, much like the year before, the Buckeyes did little on offense outside of two impressive scoring drives — both of which in this game came in the second quarter. With soph QB Cornelius Greene unable to throw because of a severely sprained right thumb, Hayes was content to run superstar tailback Archie Griffin (No. 45, below) over, and over, and over again. Yet it was freshman fullback Pete Johnson who bulled over from five yards out just before halftime to give the Bucks a 10-0 edge.

ArchieLate in the third quarter the Bucks faced a 4th-and-2 at Michigan’s 35. The Wolverines stuffed Greene on an option keeper, and from that point on Michigan owned the Bucks — amassing 158 total yards the rest of the way to OSU’s 42, and 10 first downs to OSU’s 2.

On the second play of the fourth quarter, Mike Lantry nailed a 30-yard field goal. One of the last straight-on ‘toe’ kickers in Michigan history, Lantry was a junior with a powerful leg. He’d graduated high school in 1967, but after a three-year term in the Army — including a stint in Vietnam in 1969, a year when more than 11,000 U.S. servicemen were killed — the now 25-year-old walk-on was married with a young son. Lantry found the time to double as the second best shot putter on the Wolverine varsity track and field team.

His day was not done.

After the fifth Buckeye three-and-out of the day, Franklin coolly again led Michigan down the field. Schembechler had found the right mix of Shuttlesworth smashes and Franklin passes to keep that great OSU defense off-balance. A 27-yard pass to tight end and co-captain Paul Seal set up Michigan at the OSU 19 ½ yard line. Three Shuttlesworth plunges gained nine yards, two feet and 11 inches — one inch short of a first down.

So here was Michigan with another make-or-break 4th-and-microshort against Ohio State. “’Easy’ Ed Shuttlesworth will get the ball now, you can rest assured,” Ufer told his radio audience.

Most times in his 21-year Michigan career, Schembechler would play it just that safe. But perhaps because of what had happened the year before, or perhaps because he expected Ohio State to line up as they would — unbelievably, with all 11 defenders jammed into the box — Schembechler gambled.

He called an option play to the right, figuring the Bucks would all collapse inside to stop Shuttlesworth. The call couldn’t have worked better. Franklin scampered untouched around right end and into the end zone.

Dennis“Oh, look at this!” ABC-TV’s play-by-play veteran Chris Schenkel yelled. “TOUCHDOWN!! Oh my heavens, what a call! Dennis Franklin on one of the great calls!”

Michigan Stadium went as bonkers as any football crowd you’ve seen; judge for yourself starting at 8:00, here.

Lantry’s conversion made it 10-10 with 9:32 left.

With six minutes left, the Bucks punted to the Wolverine 11. Schembechler boldly kept his foot on the pedal, continuing to mix Franklin’s clutch passing with reliable Shuttlesworth gains as the game wound down. Near midfield Franklin dropped, rolled right and finally hit Shuttlesworth in the flat, down to the OSU 49.

Huge problem, though.

1973osu-12Franklin got slammed into the unforgiving Tartan artificial turf by OSU defensive end Van DeCree and couldn’t get up. “He landed on my right shoulder, and it popped,” Franklin recalled. Fractured collarbone. At a time when option quarterbacks seldom completed 50% of their passes, Franklin had gone 6-of-8 in the second half.

Three runs up the gut with backup Larry Cipa at the helm set up Michigan with a 4th-and-2 at the OSU 41. Only 1:06 remained. Schembechler sent out Lantry for a 58-yard field goal attempt.

He crushed it. Distance was not a problem. For more than a second it appeared Lantry had successfully made what, today, still would be regarded as one of the greatest, clutch, long field goals in the history of the sport.

But in the last 10 or 15 yards, the east-to-west breeze finally nudged the ball wide left, by no more than a foot or two.

With 1:01 left, Hayes abandoned his game plan, inserted backup passer Greg Hare, told him to attempt Ohio State’s first passes of the day (seriously). On first down Hare threw off his back foot to Brian Baschnagel on an out, but Michigan cornerback Tommy Drake leaped in front and intercepted it at the OSU 40, returning it seven yards. Bedlam returned to the Big House.

“Michigan has completely dominated this second half,” color commentator Duffy Daugherty told ABC’s viewers.

Michigan had 52 seconds of play clock, the ball on the OSU 33 and no timeouts left, needing a field goal to break the tie. Nowadays? No problem. A well-trained college quarterback can squeeze in 4-7 plays before the kick. But then? Panic city. Two-minute offenses and end-of-game clock management by coaches were as sophisticated as Borat.

Schembechler directed Cipa to call two plays in the huddle: a run, followed by the early-’70s version of spiking the ball. That is, a deliberate throw out of bounds in the close vicinity of a wideout.

Gil Chapman gained six. After the deliberate incompletion, 28 seconds remained. It was only third down. Yet out jogged Lantry. Apparently, reserve Michigan guard Les Miles was furiously taking clock-management notes.

Meantime up in the WPAG radio booth, Ufer, with his unrivalled flair for the dramatics, set it up impeccably:

“The dramatic moment in 1973 Big Ten football. One of the most titanic moments in the history of Michigan football. Seventy-five years ago today Michigan won its first Big Ten championship. Seventy-five years ago today little Louis Elbel wrote The Victors …”

But Lantry missed. This time, off to the right. Not even close. Lantry perhaps over-compensated for the wind-drifted 58-yarder he’d missed left only four minutes and five seconds of real time earlier.

Hare fired three incomplete Hail Marys to end the game.

ABC’s eastern-sideline camera caught players from both teams exiting the field together, some with helmets off — their acid-rock haircuts or puffy afros a jumbled, sweaty mess. All looked stunned and heartbroken, as though they’d just lost their scholarships.

 

*   *   *

 

Ohio State finished the season 9-0-1, Michigan 10-0-1 — both with 7-0-1 marks in league play.

Before signing off, ABC’s Schenkel and Daugherty spelled out exactly how the league’s Rose Bowl representative would be determined. Commissioner Wayne Duke would poll the Conference athletic directors, individually, by phone. The result would be announced Sunday in Chicago at 1 p.m. local time — 2 p.m. in Michigan.

“The biggest point that most people don’t understand, or don’t remember,” Franklin recalled, “is that if five directors had voted for Michigan and five for Ohio State, Michigan would have gone.”

Indeed, a tie vote would have given the Rose Bowl berth to Michigan, because, by league rule, Ohio State would be eliminated for having gone to Pasadena more recently (the year before).

“I would think the sentiment would be for Michigan,” Daugherty said before ABC switched to the later game, “because Ohio State went last year (even though) this is not the rule (anymore).”

Indeed, partly at Michigan’s urging, the Big Ten just the year before had dropped its “no-repeat” rule, which had prevented deserving conference champions such as Michigan in 1948 and Michigan State in 1966 from going to back-to-back Rose Bowls.

“But the fact that Michigan came back and dominated the game the entire second half … I would think that in the minds of most people that this would make them the sentimental favorite to go to the Rose Bowl,” Daugherty said.

 

*   *   *

 

Statistically, Michigan was the better team. The Wolverines amassed almost twice as many first downs as Ohio (16-9), 99 more passing yards (99-0), and 69 more total yards (303-234). The Bucks led in rushing, 234-204.

Griffin was superb, gaining 163 yards on 30 carries. Shuttlesworth countered with 116 yards on 27 tough rushes for Michigan. Franklin finished 7-of-11 for 99 yards.

How well coached were these teams? Neither was whistled for a single procedure, motion or formation infraction all day, nor an offsides penalty. The Buckeyes, in fact, weren’t penalized once.

Afterward, Schembechler told reporters he wasn’t “predicting anything” but Michigan “deserved” to get the Rose Bowl nod.

Why?, he was asked.
“If you have to ask that question, you didn’t see the game,” he huffily shot back.

OSU offensive line coach Ed Ferkany told author Joel Pennington for his book The Ten Year War: Ten Classic Games Between Bo and Woody that the Buckeyes left town believing Michigan was going to go to Pasadena. “We assumed our season was over,” Ferkany said.

On the field after the game DeCree told his old friend from Ohio, Michigan middle guard Tim Davis, to “have fun at the Rose Bowl.”

Hayes himself “looked and sounded” dejected at his post-game news conference, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. In a voice barely audible, he was more diplomatic than Schembechler … but coy.

“I have no opinion on the Rose Bowl,” Hayes said. “As long as I have coached in this league, I have nothing to say about it. You leave that to others … If we’re selected, we’ll go.”

Ah, but then Hayes reached deep into his bag of grenades he always had at the ready for That School Up North, and lobbed this not-so-subtle vote-swayer after mentioning that Michigan’s Franklin had suffered a broken collarbone:

“It’s a shame he won’t be able to play in the Rose Bowl.”

No such determination had yet been made by the Wolverine medical staff, let alone announced. But Woody made sure to get that comment out, before Duke could poll his ADs.

 

*  *  *

 

The Sunday morning papers were even more emphatic than Daugherty or Schembechler, re the Rose Bowl vote.

“It has to be Michigan,” Joe Falls of the Detroit Free Press wrote. “Any other vote by the Big Ten athletic directors would be an injustice.” Added Ed Chay of the Cleveland Plain Dealer:  “Undoubtedly Michigan will be the choice.” Even the Columbus Dispatch was resigned to that fate.

BOSchembechler was so confident his Wolverines would get the nod, he headed as planned into Detroit about an hour before the announcement, to tape his weekly TV show at NBC affiliate WWJ. Will Perry, Michigan’s Sports Information Director, drove him. They had the radio off.

“Bo Schembechler was relaxed for the first time in months,” Perry wrote in his 1974 book, The Wolverines. “He talked of recruiting, the future, the Rose Bowl.”

Perry quoted Bo as saying, “You know, I’m going to put those guys on their own when we get to California. They’ll make their own training rules. I’ll let them decide what they want to do. Damn, they’re a great bunch of kids.”

Indeed they were special to Schembechler. In winter 1970, as he slowly recovered from the devastating heart attack that had felled him on the morning of the 1970 Rose Bowl game, he had to convince this stellar class of prep stars that he would recover.

That Michigan’s Big Ten championship in his debut 1969 season was no fluke. And that even greater successes lay ahead.

They believed him and became Wolverines.

Perry parked half a block from WWJ. As he and Schembechler got out and started walking toward the studio, they could see reporters and cameramen awaiting their arrival. According to Perry:

 

Bill Halls, a sportswriter for Detroit News, was the first to reach Schembechler.

“Have you heard the vote,” Halls asked.

“No,” smiled Schembechler, “We were talking and had the radio off. How’d it go?”

“Ohio State,” Halls said softly.

“You’re kidding.”

Schembechler’s face began to tighten.

Halls said nothing. Schembechler did not wait. He walked past the reporters into the studio. His face reddened, his hands shook…

 

Schembechler stormed to the nearest phone and called his boss, Michigan athletic director Don Canham, who confirmed the disastrous news. The vote was 6-4 in Ohio State’s favor, Canham told him — one measly vote short for Michigan.

Gut-punched, Schembechler told his TV show host Don Kremer there was no way he could tape the show that day. Then the enraged coach unloaded to the assembled press corps.

“I’m very bitter about it. I resent it,” he said, unable to hold back tears. “It’s a tragic thing for Big Ten football. This is the lowest day of my athletic career either as a player or coach. I think petty jealousies and politics were involved.

“The athletic directors used poor Denny as a scapegoat. It’s ridiculous. Just ridiculous … My team has earned the right to go.”

On the drive back to Ann Arbor, Schembechler was at a loss as to how he’d explain the decision to his players. Many of them found out while watching the first Sunday NFL game on TV.

Schembechler called a team meeting. When he finally walked in, 100 players gave him a standing ovation. Then the coach lost it. He broke down and bawled, right in front of them all.

“He really was lost for words, because there was no reason for us not to have gone,” Franklin remembered. “It was very difficult for him to have to explain to us why we weren’t going. And he knew it wasn’t our fault, it wasn’t his fault. It was the system’s fault. We got screwed.”

1973osu-6Meantime, Hayes predictably gloated down in Columbus. A UPI photographer snapped him with fist raised, and wearing — as he would have lisped it — an enormuth thmile.

The next day, Schembechler’s anger turned to blind rage. Consequences be damned, he skewered commissioner Duke.

“If he didn’t engineer (the vote result), he at least influenced it by pointing out the injury to Franklin,” Schembechler charged. “I want him to come and tell my team it isn’t good enough. I want him to tell Dennis Franklin that in his medical opinion, he cannot play. I want him to tell Larry Cipa — look him right in the eye — and tell him he’s not good enough to quarterback my team in the Rose Bowl.

“If quarterback is so important, why is a team going which admittedly doesn’t have a passing attack?

“Duke’s running scared. He wants to win the Rose Bowl to help his own personal prestige. And don’t believe he’s thinking of the kids either — he’s destroyed any prestige the Big Ten has.”

Wolverine players, perhaps taking the lead from their coach, lashed out as well.

“It’s nothing but goddamn politics,” defensive end Don Coleman told the Michigan Daily. “The athletic directors were playing with us and we really got screwed in the end. I hope Southern Cal beats the shit out of Ohio State.”

Said defensive tackle Doug Troszak: “We got gypped. It’s a damn shame.”

Wingback Larry Gustafson: “They cheated us.”

Co-captain TE Paul Seal, like 29 other Michigan seniors, had a hard time coming to grips with the fact his Wolverine career suddenly was over: “For some reason, nobody likes Michigan. I knew it as a freshman and it’s continuing now. They just don’t want us to go.”

 

*    *    *

 

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For a few days in the Midwest, the story dominated sports pages. Duke, probably unwittingly, intensified the feeding frenzy by announcing that the vote result would not be disclosed, nor would any director reveal how he voted.

Yeah, right. Newspaper, TV and radio reporters across the Midwest immediately launched an all-out witch hunt to get to the bottom of it. Many ADs acquiesced. By Monday afternoon, the secret was out.

The four athletic directors who voted for Michigan:

*    Don Canham, Michigan

*    Bump Elliott, Iowa

*    Bill Orwig, Indiana

*    Paul Giel, Minnesota

 

The six who backed Ohio State:

*    Ed Weaver, Ohio State

*    Cecil Coleman, Illinois

*    Tippy Dye, Northwestern

*    George King, Purdue

*    Elroy Hirsch, Wisconsin

*    Burt Smith, Michigan State

On Monday, Duke immediately and emphatically denied Schembechler’s charge that he’d engineered or influenced the vote. All he did, he said, was poll each AD — between Saturday night and Sunday morning, it was later revealed — to determine which team to send to Pasadena.

“It was very simple,” Duke said in a May 2013 telephone interview for this story, from his home in Barrington, Ill. “I took the votes and it came out in favor of Ohio State.

“All of the trauma was concocted by Bo’s reaction.”

Only one of the athletic directors remained alive by May 2013: Iowa’s Bump Elliott, the former All-American Wolverine wingback, and Schembechler’s predecessor as Michigan head football coach.

“First of all, let me tell you I voted for Michigan,” Elliott, 88, said proudly and lucidly in a telephone interview from his Iowa City home.

What’s more, Elliott emphatically backed Duke’s version of events.

“Wayne Duke did NOT influence that. He had nothing to do with that except to receive the votes. And I can guarantee that. Wayne Duke did not orchestrate anything … It was as honest a vote as it could be. Wayne Duke was just impeccable in it.

“He did not say a thing to me about Michigan or Ohio State — either one. He just asked, ‘Who do you vote for to go to the Rose Bowl?’ And that was it. If you wanted to talk to him about it, you could. But I didn’t. I had no reason to talk to him about it. My vote was easy.”

But Elliott reveals that he did have telephone conversations with other athletic directors. And the subject of Franklin’s injury did indeed come up.

“It was a factor in the vote, I do know that,” Elliott said, “because several of them did call me.”

Elliott said he doesn’t know whether these ADs talked among themselves, too, either late Saturday or early Sunday. But clearly they did. Dye of Northwestern, Hirsch of Wisconsin and Coleman of Illinois all but admitted as much.

“I talked to a lot of people,” Hirsch said. “I talked to our coach, John Jardine. I didn’t cast my vote lightly. Obviously, the injury to Franklin had to influence a lot of the directors.”

Dye: “In my way of thinking it had to be in the minds of the directors whether Franklin could play.”

Coleman: “I voted for Ohio State. I was going to vote for Michigan until I found out about Franklin.”

How the hell did they find out anything about Franklin? Were they going only on what Woody had said after the game?

In another revelation, Elliott said he was certain several of the ADs called Michigan team doctor Gerald O’Connor before voting. That is at complete odds with with what O’Connor himself said unequivocally in a press interview two days after the game: that no AD had bothered to call him.

“Those guys voted supposedly on the basis of a collarbone fracture,” O’Connor told the Detroit News. “They didn’t see the X-rays. I’m the only guy who knows.

“The most irritating thing to me is they made the judgment without knowing any medical facts. The injury is not real serious. There is a possibility (Franklin) could have played (in the Rose Bowl).”

When told of O’Connor’s quote, 40 years later, Elliott stood firm.

“I do know that several of the directors did call the doctor at Michigan to check on the condition of Franklin, (and) in light of that, some of them made their decisions that way.

“I did not talk to the doctor, but several of them did … or at least they told me they did, and I trust them.”

The vote that most galled Schembechler, Canham, Wolverine players, Michigan politicians and M fans alike was Burt Smith’s. Appointed as MSU athletic director only recently, after longtime AD Biggie Munn had suffered a serious stroke, Smith voted for Ohio State.

If Smith had sided with his cross-state rival, the 5-5 result would have sent the Wolverines to Pasadena. That’s why Franklin won’t ever forgive “the asshole up at Michigan State, Burt Smith.”

“And he was a Michigan alum,” I informed Franklin in our interview.

“No, you mean he was a Michigan STATE alum,” Franklin countered.

“No, Denny. He was a Michigan alumnus.”

“You’re KIDDING me. That’s EVEN WORSE! Ohhh, man, that’s just incredible. I never knew that … (pauses) You know … (pauses) … I’m kind of upset.”

1973osu-7Smith refused to publicly confirm that he’d voted for the Bucks, but told the Detroit News: “The conference told me I had a job to perform. I did it and I’m going to stand on that. I know I’ve been called a lot of names but I’ve been called names before.”

Canham said Smith’s decision had “put more than a strain” on the UM-MSU relationship: “It’s ruptured it.”

Michigan officials speculated that Smith’s vote was a payback, of sorts, for the fact that two decades earlier UM had been the only Big Ten school to vote against the admission of Michigan State College (its name then) into the league.

Furthermore, some speculated that Northwestern’s vote for OSU was payback because Canham had scotched the Wildcats’ desire to play a game at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Or maybe it was because Canham — a brash, cocky, powerful, self-made millionaire who always was advocating paradigm-altering ideas — had rubbed many of the old-guard ADs the wrong way.

That might have been a factor, for some. If any political backlash against Michigan had contributed to the vote, though, more likely it was an after-the-fact screw-you to Fritz Crisler, than to Don Canham.

NaturalAs I wrote in Natural Enemies, Crisler — Michigan’s AD from 1941-68 — had basically run the Conference from the late ’40s to the late ’60s. He had set up his boys (former players or assistant coaches) as ADs all around the Conference — including Hirsch at Wisconsin, Orwig at Indiana and Forest Evashevski at Iowa. Even Duke’s predecessor as commissioner was Bill Reed (1961-71), a former Michigan football player and publicity director. “Crisler could get done anything in the Big Ten that he wanted done,” Pete Waldmeir of the Detroit News, one of the most plugged-in sports writers in the Midwest in the 1950s and ’60s, told me 20 years ago.

With Crisler having retired in 1968, and Reed having died just two years earlier, some of the old ADs might have thought, boy, it’d sure be nice to finally see Michigan not get its way on a matter of huge importance — for once.

“I don’t believe that at all,” Duke told me. “That never even occurred to me during all of this. No, nothing whatsoever along those lines.”

Elliott agreed.

“No, those things don’t hold any water at all,” Elliott said of the political-conspiracy theories. “Everybody tried to play politics on that, especially at Michigan. But I still believe the directors tried very, very hard to make it both a very honest and knowledgeable vote.

“I was in there as athletic director for 21 years. And I can tell you that those guys were good people, and they were working for the Big Ten, believe me. (Rivalries) were basically between coaches and alumni, or people like that. It wasn’t between athletic directors.”

 

*   *   *

 

In the days and weeks that followed, Bo Schembechler didn’t back down, or tone down, one iota. He even took his tirades on the road. “He was on a talk show in New York City, and he told them there, too,” Hayes said years later. “And what’d I do? I just looked down my chest and laughed!”

The faculty reps who ran the Big Ten investigated Schembechler’s conspiratorial charges about Duke and the ADs, absolved them all, then empowered the commissioner to further investigate the matter — as well as Schembechler’s action. Eventually, the Michigan coach was placed on a year’s probation, as penance for his bile-spewing tirades.

Like he cared.

DennisOn New Year’s Day 1974, Ohio State crushed the Southern Cal Trojans in the Rose Bowl, 42-21. Schembechler wasn’t surprised. Defending national champion USC had lost a ton of great players from 1972, and it was a down year in the Pac-8 to boot.

That same day — in snowy Massillon, Ohio — a newspaper photographer showed up at Franklin’s parents’ home. “He wanted me to go out back and throw,” Franklin recalled. “I could, but I couldn’t throw real hard. But it could have been real close in terms of whether or not I could have played in the actual Rose Bowl game.”

 

*   *   *

 

The following fall, 1974, Franklin and his fellow senior classmates had one last chance to make amends for the season-ending pains they’d suffered as sophomores and juniors.

But you know where this goes.

First, the vindictive Wolverines exacted revenge against Burt Smith by slapping a good Michigan State Spartans team. UM jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and hung on in the rain for a 21-7 win.

The season came down, of course, to the Ohio State game. No. 3 Michigan was 10-0 for the third straight year heading into the finale. The fourth-ranked Buckeyes had been upset only by the Spartans.

In front of a record crowd at Ohio Stadium, Michigan jumped out to a 10-0 lead. But OSU placekicker Tom Klaban nailed four field goals to give the Bucks a 12-10 lead heading in the game’s final minute.

Franklin, hobbling on a bum ankle, passed the Wolverines in range for Lantry after connecting with wideout Jim Smith on a deep look-in. Two runs by sophomore tailback Rob Lytle set up every Wolverine’s dream moment of redemption: a 33-yard field goal try by Lantry, with 18 seconds left.

He hit it solidly. Lantry, holder Tommy Drake, many blockers and dozens of Wolverines on the sideline raised their arms in victory. To them, the ball appeared to pass over the crossbar just inside the left, stubby upright.

Ufer’s call: “It is good! ……… NO GOOD! Oh, nooo, nooo, nooo. Nooooooo, nooooooooo. I can’t believe that we missed that field goal. And I just hurt in every OUNCE of my body.”

ABC’s color commentator that day, Joe Paterno, told a national audience he thought the kick was good. Some Ohio State fans seated in that end zone, in a position to judge, later sent Lantry telegrams informing him that he’d actually made it.

As the Wolverines saw it, they merely got screwed again. “Correct,” Franklin observed in retrospect. “Same old same-old.”

There was yet one more bitter pill to swallow for the Wolverines.

What most people don’t know, or have forgotten, is that the Big Ten’s rules for determining the Rose Bowl rep still remained in 1974: a vote by the ADs still had to be taken. Some Michigan folks held out faint hope. And a vote had to be taken because both UM and OSU finished with 7-1 conference records.

ADs met in person this time for three hours the next morning in Chicago. This time they actually reviewed footage of the Michigan-Ohio State game. Justifiably, they voted for Ohio State, which won the head-to-head game against UM.

Here’s the soul-wrecker for the 1974 Wolverines. Before the vote was announced, some idiot prankster called radio and TV stations in the Detroit area, claiming Michigan had won the vote. Some stations reported it.

“It was very cruel by whoever did it,” Canham said. “Our (players) were watching the damned tube, and for 20 or 30 minutes they thought they were going to the Rose Bowl.”

Author Bill Cromartie pointed out in his book on the M-OSU rivalry, The Big One, that from 1972-74 Alabama’s record was 32-10, Oklahoma’s 31-1-1, USC’s 29-2-2, Ohio State’s 28-2-1 and Penn State’s 29-3-0. Each went to a bowl game all three years.

Michigan went 30-2-1 in the same span and didn’t go to one.

Why? Because the Big Ten still was clinging to its antiquated rule that dated all the way back to 1906, which prevented any team from playing in a game after Thanksgiving — with the sole exception, starting in 1946, of the Conference champion in the Rose Bowl. It was a badge of de-emphasis-soaked honor the league’s faculty fathers had worn proudly for generations.

In the 1970s it was as outdated as their short, Brylcreemed haircuts.

Center Dennis Franks couldn’t hold back when reached by the press on Sunday afternoon: “We’re not supposed to be talking to anybody, but I’ve got to say something … There are some things (Bo) can’t say and we can. We just think there are some screwy rules in the Big Ten, and I’m speaking for all the seniors. It seems nobody cares about us. We’re fed up. We know we can’t do anything about it, but we’ve got nothing.”

Guard Dave Metz: “We’ve got a great coach. He tells us to swallow our pride. I’ve done it for three years, but I can’t do it anymore. Even after losing yesterday we felt we had a chance of going to the Rose Bowl. We feel like we’ve been done dirt the last few years, and we’re very bitter.”

 

*   *   *

 

Forty years later, Franklin’s bitterness hadn’t waned. But what can be done now for him and his dirt-done classmates?

“Maybe the Big Ten one of these years could invite our team out to the Rose Bowl, and let us go through that experience along with a Michigan team,” Franklin suggested. “That’d be a nice gesture, I would think. But nobody ever thinks about stuff like that.”

Failing that pipe dream, Franklin wants to help ensure that no deserving team in the coming College Football Playoff ever gets left out. That’s why he’s lobbying to be included on the selection committee, as an apolitical advocate of sorts for the most deserving. Schembechler, were he still alive, would have called in every favor out there, and pulled every string within reach, to help Franklin in that pursuit. (UPDATE: Franklin was not named to the committee.)

 

*   *   *

 

In 1991, more than a year after retiring as Michigan’s head coach, Schembechler said this about The Infamous Rose Bowl Vote, in a documentary about his M career, The Schembechler Years:

Bo-Schembechler_2006“There were some very weak-character guys in athletic-director positions in the Big Ten. That’s been proven. And everybody thought, well, (I’ll) let it go and forget about it. But I had some great football players and great teams that never got to play in that great classic. And they were some of the best teams in the United States of America. And I never forgot that … I always said to myself, if I ever let up on my bitterness over what happened to that football team in 1973, I’m not being fair to those guys that played. And so I never have, and I’ve been bitter ever since about it, and I’ll never forget it as long as I live. And fortunately, as a result of that situation, we took the determination of the Rose Bowl representative out of the hands of the athletic directors, because they weren’t qualified to handle it, number one. And second of all, because of that Michigan team in 1973, all these other teams in the Big Ten Conference (since 1975) now have an opportunity to play in a post-season bowl game, because that restriction of the ‘Rose Bowl or no bowl’ was as antiquated and stupid as anything the Big Ten’s ever done. And so we did accomplish something, but it was at a hell of an expense.”

Schembechler wasn’t kidding about taking that bitterness to his grave.

Four days before his lion’s heart finally gave out for good in November 2006, a shockingly frail Schembechler held a news conference to talk about the old days.

He was asked about 1973, and if it still ranked as one of the biggest disappointments of his football career.

“Biggest,” he said, his once laser-cutting voice now soft and raspy. But the fire was still there.

“It was the greatest disappointment of my career … That whole thing upset me to no end.

“We had antiquated leadership in the Big Ten Conference (and) they literally screwed us out of the Rose Bowl. And I mean it just exactly the way I just said it.”

#   #   #

1974

 A bumper sticker you could buy in the Detroit area, circa December 1973

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