The fourth installment of this year’s series looking back at the Michigan-Michigan State football series takes us to 1968. The 1960s were a period of change for America, and Michigan was no exception. Gone were the days when the Maize & Blue would run roughshod over opponents just by showing up. In the 1960s, students in Ann Arbor were more likely to be interested in protests than in football, and other than 1964 and 1969, there wasn’t really a lot of great football for them to watch in Michigan Stadium.
But few Wolverine fans and alums remember much about 1968. By the ’68 season, coach Bump Elliott had amassed a roster that included running back Ron Johnson, offensive tackle Dan Dierdorf, defensive back Tom Curtis and tight end Jim Mandich, all future NFL stars, as well as Tom Goss, who went on to become Michigan’s athletic director in the late 1990s. After losing the opener to California, the Wolverines rallied for victories over Duke and Navy, setting the scene for their Big Ten opener against the Spartans, who had won the last three times they had met the Wolverines.
In front of 102,785 people at Michigan Stadium, the young Wolverines weren’t about to lose to the Spartans for a fourth consecutive year. With weapons like Johnson and Mandich, the Wolverines could do more than just trade blows with the Spartans. The Wolverines gained 420 yards in the game, with Johnson carrying the ball 19 times for 152 yards and a 38-yard touchdown run.
But by the fourth quarter, Michigan State had taken the lead, and that’s when Johnson did his most important work, grinding through the Spartan defense for short but critical gains, drawing the Spartans’ attention away from the pass and allowing Mandich to get open for a touchdown pass of more than 50 yards from quarterback Dennis Brown. Fullback Garvie Craw finished off the score when he ran for a 25-yard touchdown, and the Wolverines captured the bragging rights with a 28-14 win. The season ended with a loss to Ohio State, but Elliott had led Michigan to an 8-2 record in his final season. As the years have gone by, many Michigan fans have developed a new appreciation for Elliott, a loyal Wolverine who left Bo Schembechler a roster stocked with talented football players, much as Brady Hoke did for Jim Harbaugh. In time, maybe people will have a greater appreciation for Hoke, who loved Michigan every bit as much as Elliott did.
Many thanks to the producers of “Hail to the Victors”, which was released in 1995, and to Youtube poster WolverineHistorian. As always, I own nothing related to this content, and I’m sharing the video below strictly for the enjoyment of Michigan fans.