Michigan vs Ohio State Football – Looking Back – 1973

The third installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan takes us back 45 years, to 1973, and one of the most intriguing games in the history of the series. 1973 was an interesting year on many fronts. There were still many elements of the 1960s present. The public watched nightly for information about the Watergate break-in. In January, President Nixon announced that an agreement had been reached to end the war in Vietnam and bring “peace with honor.” In July, a massive throng descended upon Watkins Glen, N.Y., to attend the Summer Jam, a concert featuring the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead, and The Band. And drivers across the nation dealt with gas rationing, and long, long lines at gas stations. 

On the gridiron, Michigan and Ohio State were on a collision course since the beginning of the season. The two teams entered “The Game” with spotless records. Tensions were high at the very beginning, with Ohio State players tearing down the “Go Blue” banner that Michigan players traditionally ran under to enter the stadium. Ohio State dominated the scoring in the first half, though Michigan had a great return by Gil Chapman nullified by a penalty. In the second half, the momentum put a blue jersey, and Michigan tied the score when quarterback Dennis Franklin scored on a 10-yard run on option play in the fourth quarter, and the Wolverines were on fire.

Next, the Michigan defense stood tall, and forced a punt. On the ensuing possession, Franklin was hit hard by Ohio State defensive lineman Van DeCree, breaking Franklin’s collarbone. Michigan maneuvered into position for a 58-yard field goal attempt, but Mike Lantry’s kick sailed wide, and the Buckeyes took over with a little more than a minute remaining.

Needing points to win, Ohio State coach Woody Hayes sent in passing quarterback Greg Hare to jumpstart the Buckeye attack. Hare promptly threw an interception which Michigan junior DB Tom Drake returned to the Ohio State 33 yard line. Once again, Lantry trotted on for a field goal attempt, this one from 44 yards. Once again, the kick had the distance, but this time it was wide to the other side of the goalposts, and the game remained tied. Ohio State took over with one final chance for victory, and Hare threw three long incompletions, the last one landing far out of bounds, a rather anticlimactic conclusion to one of the most memorable games in the history of the sport.

The game ended in a tie, but the intrigue did not end. With Michigan having solidly outperformed Ohio State statistically, Michigan had gained 303 yards to 234 for Ohio State, and had earned 16 first downs to Ohio State’s nine. Virtually everyone expected the Big Ten Conference to send Michigan to represent the conference in the Rose Bowl, but in a controversial secret ballot, Ohio State was sent to the Rose Bowl, with Michigan fans claiming that Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke influenced the vote. Could athletic directors have been influenced by the fact that Franklin’s broken collarbone would prevent him from playing in the Rose Bowl? Could this Michigan team, finally built to beat a tough USC squad, beat the Trojans in the Rose Bowl? it was a definite possibility, but we’ll never know. Could Michigan have prevailed if coach Bo Schembechler had let Franklin throw more often to tight end Paul Seal, a matchup nightmare for any defense? Again, it’s very likely, but we’ll never know. 

Michigan finished the season with a record of 10-0-1, the same record as Ohio State, which defeated USC in the Rose Bowl but played fewer games in the regular season. The 1973 Michigan team remains one of the most underrated teams in school history, as the Wolverines dominated every opponent except Ohio State, and had tremendous talent in all three phases of the game. From a football standpoint, this game had a lot to offer, but it had plenty to offer outside of football, as well. Both teams started African-American quarterbacks in 1973, Cornelius Greene for Ohio State and Dennis Franklin for Michigan. This marked the first time in the history of the series that each team started a black quarterback. Placekicker Mike Lantry, such an integral part of the game, had served three tours of duty with the 82nd Airborne in Vietnam before enrolling at Michigan, which changed his perspective on the game, to say the least. 

Thanks to the Big Ten Network for the re-broadcast of the game in the link below. As always, we do not claim ownership of any kind and do not profit from this blog post in any way. This content is posted strictly for the enjoyment of readers. 

About Jeff Cummins

Jeff Cummins has written about football since 1998, including nine years with The Record of Hackensack, N.J. He frequently contributes feature stories to Touchdown Illustrated, an insert in the national college football game program, published by University Sports Publications, and he has also written the official pregame stories for the game programs of the Rose Bowl, the Cotton Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Gator Bowl, and the BCS National Championship game. He has written the preview story for the official program for the NHL Winter Classic at MIchigan Stadium, and numerous college basketball feature stories for College Hoops Illustrated, another game program insert published by University Sports Publications. In addition, he has written stories about theater, music, physical therapy, and newsletter marketing. He’s an avid Michigan football fan and long-time New York Jets season ticket holder, and he can be reached at jeffcummins@optonline.net.