COLUMBUS - In a wide historical context, 1968 was a volatile year. Johnny Cash was live at Folsom Prison, the Tet Offensive took place in Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Richard Nixon beat Hubert Humphrey in the presidential race and the Beatles released the White Album.
In the Ohio State-Michigan football rivalry, the 1968 season produced an anomaly - a 50-14 win by the Buckeyes that is one of the most lopsided scores that this, the Big Ten's version of the Hundred Years' War, has seen.
They don't often take one another out behind the woodshed for a good, old-fashioned whuppin' like that.
Legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, who displayed his hatred for Michigan out on the front porch for all to see, called the rout that took place 40 years ago "the best victory we ever had."
Hayes went on to say that his team came very close to being flawless on that November day in Ohio Stadium.
"We said that if they ever put it together [offense and defense] ... and both played well the same day ... then we would have something. This was it," Hayes said.
The Buckeyes had a couple of All-Americans leading the way up front on the offensive line with David Foley and Toledoan Rufus Mayes, so Hayes was able to have his team do what he liked best - run the ball down the opponent's throat. Although Ohio State trailed 7-0 early in the game, and led only 21-14 at the half, the Buckeyes buried their rivals with a 29-point second half.
Quarterback Rex Kern directed the offense, and fullback Jim Otis scored four touchdowns as the Buckeyes rushed for 421 yards. The defense was led by a couple of sophomore stars in the making in Jack Tatum and Jim Stillwagon.
"Ohio State just exploded in the second half, and created a lot of breaks. For those two quarters, they probably played as close to perfection as you're going to see," OSU football historian and author Jack Park said.
"Jack Tatum made a big play in the second half, and everything seemed to be going Ohio State's way. The second half of that game was about as good a half as Ohio State has ever played."
The 50 points scored by the Buckeyes tied the amount they scored in the 1961 game against Michigan - the most an Ohio State team has posted in the long series. But Woody had other ideas, and an important piece of the Hayes folklore was born that day in front of 85,371 - what was then the largest crowd Ohio Stadium had seen.
After Ohio State scored its final touchdown, Hayes had his team line up and try for a two-point conversion. The attempt failed, but it became the most remembered play of the game.
"There are so many different versions out there about what happened," Park said.
"Some say he just wanted to rub it in, and beat Michigan as badly as he could. Other people said that the Buckeyes had struggled so much with their place-kicking that year, and Hayes was mad and didn't want to see another missed extra point. There's probably some truth and fiction in all of it, but it probably doesn't matter much now - it's just another great Woody story."
The dominant version of the legend has Hayes being questioned following the game as to why, with such a huge lead, did he elect to go for two points.
"Because I couldn't go for three," Hayes reportedly said.
"I don't know if Woody really said it that way, or not, but the story has been told a thousand times," Park said. "If Ohio State hadn't been playing Michigan when that took place, I don't think it would still be in the discussion. But little things that happen in Ohio State-Michigan games have a way of becoming big things."
The current Buckeyes, who have won the last four games against their rivals, consider the 1968 game one of the rare times that one of the two teams was able to dominate the annual meeting.
"When you look at the history of the rivalry and go through the scores, there aren't very many times where it wasn't a real close, competitive game," Ohio State senior James Laurinaitis said.
"These games are usually wars, so you very rarely see one side win by that big a margin. With all the history and tradition at Ohio State, I know that '68 group is one that stands out, especially since they brought home a national championship. But I'm sure that big a win over Michigan was a great moment for them."
Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who owns a 6-1 record against Michigan, said that he expected the rivalry was just as important 40 years ago as it is today, and that any win over Michigan is a big win for Ohio State, regardless of the score.
"Everybody that's had the privilege of being a part of this rivalry, which I consider the greatest rivalry in sports, has great memories of the battles between these two Big Ten schools," Tressel said. "That 1968 team has an important and prominent place in the history of the rivalry, that's for certain."
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