Michigan Football vs Michigan State — Looking Back — 1968


The second installment of this year’s series looking back at the football rivalry between Michigan and Michigan State takes us to 1968. With the notable exception of 1964, the Wolverines hadn’t exactly prospered in the ‘60s. Michigan had two players who were named to several All-America squads in 1968. Running back Ron Johnson gained more than 2,500 yards that season, while defensive back Tom Curtis intercepted 10 passes. The Michigan roster was stocked with many talented players, but the more talented team doesn’t always win the Michigan-Michigan State contest.

In fact, Michigan opened the 1968 season with a loss to California, which made coach Bump Elliott’s seat even warmer than it had been. Going into the game against Michigan State, the Wolverines had a 1-2 record, and they had lost the previous three games against the Spartans. For Johnson, in particular, this game would be his last hope for victory against Michigan State. If the Wolverines didn’t win this one, Johnson, and the other seniors on the Michigan squad, would be haunted by the result for the rest of their lives.

Johnson didn’t take long to make his presence felt, scoring on a 38-yard run to give Michigan the early lead. But in the fourth quarter, Michigan State quarterback Charlie Wedemeyer found receiver Frank Foreman in the end zone, and after the two-point conversion, Michigan State led, 14-13. Facing yet another potential defeat by their rivals, the Wolverines leaned heavily on Johnson, and he delivered. Johnson carried the ball 19 times in the game, gaining 152 yards, and touchdowns by future All-America tight end Jim Mandich and Montclair, New Jersey native Garvie Craw led the Wolverines to a 28-14, giving the outgoing seniors their shining moment in the in-state rivalry.

After college, many members of the 1968 team went on to prominent careers. After prospering in a blue jersey in college, Johnson wore blue with the New York Football Giants, where he became the first player in franchise history to gain at least 1,000 yards in a season. Curtis, too, wore blue in the NFL, where he won Super Bowl V in the 1970 season with the Baltimore Colts. Mandich went on to win two Super Bowls with the Miami Dolphins, and served as the de facto spokesperson for the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins for many years after his retirement. Sadly, both Johnson and Mandich passed away in recent years.

Thanks to YouTube, the University of Michigan, and YouTube poster WolverineHistorian for the following video clip. As always, I do not profit in any way from this blog post and video, which are presented strictly for the enjoyment of blog 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.