When college football experts and historians list the game’s most intense rivalries, Ohio State vs. Michigan is definitely near the top of anyone’s list.
The neighboring states have had a stormy relationship since a border dispute in 1835 called “The Toledo War,” nearly broke into a shooting war. But, not even the threat of bloodshed could match the “Ten Year War” from 1969-1978 between Ohio State coach Woody Hayes and his former assistant, Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.
The rivalry’s beginnings trace back a year earlier to 1968, when top-ranked Ohio State met fourth-ranked Michigan for the Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. The score was tied at 14 late in the second quarter but the Buckeyes exploded in the second half, scoring 29 unanswered points to win 50-14. On their final touchdown OSU attempted a two-point conversion. After the game Hayes was asked, “why would you go for two points when leading by 36 points?” His reply: “Because they would not let me go for three.”
After the 1968 season, Michigan replaced coach Bump Elliott with Schembechler, who was then head coach of Miami (OH). Schembechler played for Hayes at Miami and was an assistant on Hayes’ staff at Ohio State. Their first meeting matched an improving 7-2 Michigan team against Ohio State’s defending national championship team. The Bucks were once again the nation’s top-ranked team, outscoring the opposition by more than 37 points per game, and in the midst of a 22-game win streak. The inspired Wolverines staged a 24-12 upset of what many consider to be Hayes’ best team.
The 1970 season was about revenge as the Ohio State players walked into their locker room over a carpet emblazoned with the 1969 score. The undefeated Buckeyes beat the undefeated Wolverines 20-9 to earn a trip to the Rose Bowl.
The remainder of the Ten Year War would witness many other notable events such as the ’71 contest, when Hayes tore up a yard marker on a no-call of a Michigan pass-interference. The following year OSU stopped six Michigan plays from the OSU one-yard line in a 14-11 win. The ’73 game again featured two unbeaten teams in a 10-10 tie that resulted in an Ohio State Rose Bowl bid on a vote of the conference Athletic Directors.
The final tally in the war had Michigan on top 5-4-1. Over the ten years, the two teams entered the game with a collective 173-14-4 record, and a .907 winning percentage. In those ten years, the game saw the two teams ranked No. 1 three times, and in the top-20 18 of a possible 20 times.
Kent Stephens is the curator and historian at the College Football Hall of Fame and Chick-fil-A Fan Experience. Kent has been a part of the Hall staff since 1990 when it was located in Kings Island, Ohio. He relocated with the Hall to South Bend, Ind., and moved to Atlanta in 2013, becoming the only member of the staff to serve at all three locations.