For the third installment of the series looking back at the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, we go back to 1944. The mood in America was upbeat. In June, the Allies had undertaken Operation Overlord, better known as D-Day, and were on their way to winning World War II. Americans were looking forward to a better economy and a more peaceful world. The end of the war also encouraged people to focus more attention on leisure time activities, and in the Midwest, that meant football. And at the time, college football was still more popular than the National Football League, so The Game was huge. Well, it’s always had a larger-than-life feel to it.
Michigan played valiantly without halfback Gene Derricotte, and the teams traded leads several times. After Bill Culligan’s second touchdown of the game gave the Wolverines a 2-point lead in the fourth quarter, Ohio State was left with a little more than nine minutes to come back. As it turned out, that was plenty of time for the Buckeyes to mount a 52-drive that culminated with Les Horvath diving over the line for a touchdown that made the final score Ohio State 18, Michigan 14. Sadly, Michigan was hampered by the fact that its kickoff went only 12 yards, allowing the Buckeyes to start their critical drive at their own 48-yard line. One final Michigan drive was thwarted by a Dick Flanagan interception, and the Buckeyes held on for the win. Ohio Sate finished the season with a record of nine wins and no losses, and the Buckeyes won the championship of the Big Nine Conference, which preceded the Big Ten. Michigan finished with a record seven wins and two losses. In December, Michigan lost Derricotte when he was drafted into the military, and he joined the Tuskegee Airmen pilot training program. A few years later, he returned to continue his education, and his college football career, at the University of Michigan.
There is some grainy video of this game on youtube, and a box score that’s partially typed and partially handwritten, but both make for difficult viewing, and I didn’t feel that either one was worth including.