Ohio State had been rolling along with a dream 1964 season as the calendar flipped to November. They were 6-0 and ranked #2 in the country, just behind resurgent Notre Dame, and only two sub-.500 teams- Penn State (still an independent at the time) and Northwestern- stood between OSU and a showdown in the ‘Shoe with TBGUN for the Big 10 title and Rose Bowl trip. For years, fans had bemoaned the fact that Woody Hayes’ teams never seemed to be prepared for non-league foes, and this assertion certainly gained steam on November 7th, 1964 as a 3-4 Penn State squad came to Columbus and shocked the college football world with a 27-0 thumping of the Buckeyes. Hayes’ troops rebounded the next week to edge Northwestern 10-0, breaking a two-year losing streak to the Wildcats, but a week later Michigan blanked the Bucks by that same 10-0 count to win the conference crown and earn their first trip to Pasadena since 1950 when they won the legendary “Snow Bowl” game. It also broke a four-game Scarlet and Gray win streak over the Maize and Blue, and although that string helped boost Woody Hayes’ career mark over UM to 9-5, the 1964 loss was the FOURTH time in those 5 defeats that the Buckeyes had been shutout.
The prospects for 1965 were uncertain. The good news was the entire offensive backfield returned- quarterback Don Unverferth, fullback Will Sander, and halfbacks Tom Barrington and “Bo” Rein- the last player to wear #45 until Archie Griffin donned it in 1972. On the other hand only 2 other ’64 offensive starters- linemen Ted Andrick and Doug Van Horn- were back, and the fact remained that OSU’s offense had only scored 10 total points in the final three games of 1964. Defensively the Bucks had two great linebackers in All-American Dwight “Ike” Kelley and All-Big 10 performer Tom Bugel, but they were 2 of only 5 returning starters. Bob Funk returned to handle the kicking duties, and as the ’65 campaign dawned Funk couldn’t have known how valuable his right foot would be by season’s end. Depth would be a factor too as Ohio State only had 57 players on the roster- the smallest amount of the Woody Hayes era and the lowest number since 1945.
All Big 10 teams went to a 10-game schedule for 1965. All, that is, except Ohio State who would only play 9 games. The Bucks wouldn’t play a 10-game regular season schedule until 1971, which naturally was the first year everyone else in the conference went to an 11-game slate. It doesn’t matter, though, how many games you play; if you don’t win the opener you’re usually not going places. North Carolina invaded Ohio Stadium on September 25, 1965 and dealt the Bucks a 14-3 defeat featuring only 65 rushing yards from OSU. Despite the appearance of yet another non-league letdown, the Buckeyes actually had some positive history on their side. Only twice in the Woody Hayes era had the Scarlet and Gray not won their first game. In 1961 they tied TCU 7-7, but won out and captured the Football Writers’ national title award.
In 1957 they had lost to-who else?- TCU by an 18-14 count, but the next week that squad had traveled to Washington and beat the Huskies to launch a 13-game win streak, 9 of which came in ’57 to produce a UPI national crown. Next up for the ’65 Buckeyes? A trip to Seattle to face Washington.
OSU led the Huskies 20-13 in the third quarter, but Washington scored and converted a 2-point conversion to take the lead 21-20. Bob Funk had missed the extra point after the Buckeyes’ 3rd touchdown, but with only 59 seconds left in the game he redeemed himself with a 27-yard field goal to give Ohio State a dramatic 23-21 win. In the Big 10 opener against Illinois a week later the Buckeye defense held the league’s leading rusher, Jim Grabowski, to only 16 yards in a 28-14 win. The Bucks were then off to East Lansing to face off with unbeaten, #4-ranked Michigan State. The Spartans jumped out to a 7-0 lead on the second play of the game as Clint Jones broke off an 80-yard touchdown run, but the Buckeye defense hung tough and it remained a 7-0 game at the half. But in the third quarter linebacker “Ike” Kelley went out with a knee injury and the floodgates opened. MSU’s defense, led by Bubba Smith and George Webster, would hold Ohio State to –22 yards rushing, the only time a Woody Hayes team had not gained positive rushing yards. Meanwhile coach Duffy Daughtery’s offense piled up 538 yards and the Spartans won going away 32-7.
Ohio State regrouped to double up Wisconsin 20-10 in Madison, then returned to Columbus for homecoming against Minnesota. Bob Funk was the hero once again as his 18-yard field goal with 1:17 to go gave the Bucks an 11-10 victory, which wasn’t sealed until the Gophers missed a 25-yard field goal try of their own with only 17 seconds left on the clock. The dramatics continued the following Saturday as fullback Will Sander scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown to give OSU a 17-10 triumph over Indiana.
In the home finale on November 13th, not only were the fans treated to a 38-0 win over Iowa in the year’s biggest offensive outburst, but they were witness to the debut of Ohio State’s new “Buckeye” mascot. The fiberglass head was first worn by David Hoy of New Carlisle, Ohio, and according to the Columbus Dispatch it could “(produce) four expressions- crafty, happy, sad and angry”. The big win over the Hawkeyes no doubt made the mascot “happy”, but Hoy told the paper that there was one problem- “(The) fans found a new pastime- pelting the head with paper, box tops and ice”. The old Union Department Store held a “Name The Buckeye” contest to name the new mascot, and in the week leading up to the Michigan game, 21-year old Kerry Reed, a student from Princeton, West Virginia, earned himself a $50 Union gift certificate by suggesting the winning moniker of “Brutus”.
The dawn of Brutus coincided with the birth of another great Buckeye tradition in 1965. On October 2nd, as Ohio State faced Washington, the Dayton, Ohio-based band The McCoys, led by Rick “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo” Derringer, were sitting atop the Billboard Hot 100 chart with “Hang On Sloopy”. Ohio State’s marching band incorporated “Sloopy” into its repertoire and the rest is history.
And on October 9th, the past had met the present as William Dougherty, who had written “Across The Field” as an OSU student in 1915, returned to his alma mater and played the song on a piano that had been set up at the 50-yard line during halftime of the Illinois game. It had been 50 years prior, at the Ohio State-Illinois game in 1915, that the band had first performed what has become a TBDBITL staple.
As November 20th rolled around and OSU and TBGUN prepared to square off for the 62nd time, Michigan State had already clinched the Big Ten championship and Rose Bowl trip with a 7-0 league record and a 9-0 mark overall. The Spartans were heading into South Bend to face #4 Notre Dame, whose record was 7-1. Although the buildup for the MSU-Irish clash wasn’t as frenzied as it would be a year later (the famous 10-10 tie), it was still enough that NBC, who had agreed prior to the season to telecast the OSU/UM game, tried to get out of the deal and show Notre Dame/Michigan State instead. The NCAA turned down the request and the Buckeye/Wolverine clash would indeed kick off on NBC at 1:30. To “get even”, NBC announced that the game would not be shown “in living color”, forcing the poor “suits” at the NCAA with color TV sets to “suffer” through Ohio State/Michigan in black-and-white. But it really wouldn’t matter; television was the same in 1965 as it is now as it relates to sporting events- the networks LOVE games that go to the wire, and the Bucks and Wolves wouldn’t disappoint.
Ohio State drew first blood on their second possession. From his 29, quarterback Don Unverferth converted a 3rd-and-5 situation with a 7-yard completion to Billy Ray Anders, a Sabina native who hadn’t played high school football and who had walked on at OSU and become a starter. Tom Barrington broke over the right side for 12 more and the Bucks had a first down at their own 48. Barrington then got the needed yard when a 3rd-and-1 play came up from the UM 43. Unverferth dialed up halfback Bo Rein for 13 to the TBGUN 29, and moments later found Anders again for 7 on a 3rd-and-6 play to move the chains to the Wolves’ 18. After Barrington gained 5, it was Unverferth-to-Anders for another 7 and a 1st-and-goal at the Michigan 6. Fullback Will Sander blasted for 2, then once more it was Unverferth pitching to Anders for a 4-yard touchdown. Unverferth had gone 6 of 7 passing on the drive for 45 of the needed 74 yards, with Anders hauling in 5 of the 6 completions. With 5:10 to go in the first quarter it was 6-0, Bucks, and it stayed that way as Bob Funk’s conversion attempt was low.
On their next series, the Buckeyes went back to work. An 11-yard reception by Rein gave Ohio State a first down at midfield, then on 2nd-and-5 Rein hauled in an 8-yard aerial from Unverferth to put the ball at Michigan’s 37. When a 4th-and-6 situation arose from the Maize-and-Blue 33, Woody gambled and won as Unverferth found his “money man” Billy Ray Anders for 6 and a first down at the UM 26. The Wolverine defense forced the Buckeyes back to their 34, and Funk’s 51-yard field goal try was short.
Michigan got their offense revved up following Funk’s miss. Dave Fisher and Rick Sygar gained first downs on the ground as the Wolves moved to OSU’s 25. Four straight carries by Fisher netted 13 and another first down at the 12, but moments later coach “Bump” Elliott faced a 4th-and-4 call at the Buckeye 6. Passing up a field goal, TBGUN went for it but Buckeye defender John McCoy dropped quarterback Wally Gabler for a loss of 5 to fend off the threat.
OSU picked up one first down to their 22, but from there an Unverferth pass towards Anders was picked off by Michigan safety Mike Bass, who returned it to Ohio State’s 15-yard line. From there it was all fullback Dave Fisher who pounded for 7, 2, 4 and finally 2 yards for the touchdown. Rick Sygar added the point-after and with 3:15 left in the half the Wolverines led 7-6.
Things continued to go downhill for Ohio State as fullback Will Sander, after catching an Unverferth pass, fumbled right into the hands of Michigan corner Rick Volk at the OSU 41. Gabler swept for 22 to give UM a first down at the 17, but Buckeye “D”-linemen Bill Ridder and Gary Miller later dropped him for losses of 6 and 7, respectively, to short-circuit the drive. The half ended with the Wolves holding the 7-6 lead, and although Unverferth had gone 12 of 22 for 96 yards through the air, the two turnovers had been costly and Michigan had rang up a 121-41 rushing yardage edge.
On Michigan’s second series of the third period, halfback Carl Ward broke loose over left tackle for 55 yards before Bill Riddle could run him down at the OSU 17. On 3rd-and-5 from the 12, Dave Fisher fumbled but Carl Ward recovered for a gain of 4 yards. On 4th-and-1 Fisher plowed for 2 and a 1st-and-goal at the Buckeye 6. Three plays later, the Maize and Blue were still on the 6, and Sygar then missed a 23-yard field goal. Ohio State could do nothing on their ensuing drive and punted to the UM 18. With sophomore quarterback Dick Vidmer coming into the game to replace Gabler, the Wolverines kept the ball on the ground and in eight plays moved to OSU’s 49. Vidmer finally passed to Jack Clancy for 12, and then kept for 11 more and Michigan was in business at the Bucks’ 26 as the third quarter ended.
The Buckeye defense rose to the challenge and forced a 4th-and-2 at the 18. Rick Sygar was sent in for a 35-yard field goal try but missed again. Ohio State took over at their 20 and moved out to their 39. On 2nd-and-6 from there, Unverferth fell down for a loss of 11, but redeemed himself on the next play by dialing up Bo Rein for a big 24-yard pickup to Michigan’s 48. However, the air went right out of the balloon two plays later as Michigan DB Dick Wells stole a completed pass right out of Bo Rein’s arms at the UM 37. It was again up to the Ohio State defense, and after giving up one first down they forced the Wolves to punt. John Fill returned the boot to the OSU 9, and the Bucks had 7:25 left to salvage the game. The heat got turned up even more as Hayes and his squad faced a 4th-and-2 call at their own 17. Will Sander got the call and hammered off left tackle for the vital two yards, and despite Michigan’s protest for a measurement, the Buckeyes had a first down at their own 19. From a wingback spot, Bo Rein was handed the ball on a reverse and stormed for 20 to OSU’s 39. Sander came right back for 11 more up the middle and suddenly the Scarlet and Gray were at midfield. Two more Sander runs gained another first down at Michigan’s 40, then on 3rd-and-2 from the UM 31 Unverferth rolled right for 3 and a first down at the Maize-and-Blue 29. When Sander thundered through the middle for 16, the Buckeyes were now sitting at UM’s 13.
Woody continued to pound Sander into the center of the Michigan defense, but the Wolves were able to hold the big fullback to 5 yards on 3 plunges, and with a 4th-and-5 from the UM 11, Bob Funk was sent in. His missed extra point after the Buckeyes’ only touchdown in the first quarter had loomed larger and larger as the game dragged on, but now he had a golden opportunity to atone. With backup quarterback Arnold Fontes holding, the snap was a bit high, but Fontes got it down and Funk drilled it through from 28 yards out to give the Bucks a 9-7 lead with 1:15 to go.
The Maize and Blue weren’t done yet. Starting from the Michigan 27, Wally Gabler returned to the game and connected with Jack Clancy for receptions of 13, 9 and 18 to quickly advance the ball to the Ohio State 33. Just like that, however, Gabler went cold and his next three pass attempts for Clancy were all incomplete. The Wolverines’ kickoff specialist, Paul D’Eramo, was sent in to try a 50-yard field goal but the kick landed in the endzone, and all that was left was for Unverferth to take a knee for the Bucks to claim a 9-7 win over TBGUN.
Michigan had outgained Ohio State 335-251 and committed no turnovers to OSU’s three, but Bob Funk, for the third time in that 1965 season, had kicked his team to victory. In the jubilant Buckeye locker room after the game, Woody Hayes would say, “I’ve never had a team develop any better. And I never had a team better in the clutch.”
Jimmy Hague’s successful extra point attempt had forged a 7-7 tie with UM in 1949, which was good enough to send the Buckeyes to the Rose Bowl, but this was the first time in Ohio State history that a kicker had decided “The Game”. And it wouldn’t happen again until 1987, courtesy of a young man who, like Brutus Buckeye and “Hang On Sloopy”, was born in 1965.