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Ohio State

’74 Buckeyes still bitter about loss

Top-ranked OSU fell to Spartans after controversial call

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    Pete Cusick, an All American on the 1974 team believes there's no doubt that the wrong team won the game.

  • Ohio-State-University-football


Pete Cusick, an All American on the 1974 team believes there's no doubt that the wrong team won the game.


COLUMBUS — One official raising his arms to signal a touchdown, another ruling no score and the game over.

As former Ohio State All-American defensive end Pete Cusick watched the botched ending to Monday night's game between the Seahawks and Packers from his home in Redondo Beach, Calif., the scene was hauntingly familiar.

There was no doubt: The wrong team had won.

"We've seen this movie before," Cusick said in a phone interview after the Seahawks won on an incorrectly awarded touchdown. "I had that thought watching it on TV."

On a week where the men in stripes have gripped headlines, Ohio State fittingly returns to the site of one of the most controversial finishes in college football history.

It was Nov. 9, 1974, in East Lansing, Mich., and a top-ranked OSU team that had won each of its first four Big Ten games by at least 40 points was expected to keep plodding toward another national title for coach Woody Hayes.

Instead, as chronicled by Dan Jenkins of Sports Illustrated, "perverse fate, a clock or incompetence [depending on your loyalties] knocked off a college football team that was supposed to be mightier than a Divine Presence in a face mask."

The Buckeyes fell 16-13 … only, to this day, no one on that team believes they lost.

In the dying seconds of the eleventh hour, OSU wingback Brian Baschnagel dove into the end zone from the one-yard line. The head linesman raised his arms to signal a touchdown, another official decreed time had expired. Both teams jumped in celebration and a wave of green-clad fans crashed onto the field.

Not until 45 minutes later was the final score official.

Hayes dressed down Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke and loudly wondered why officials could not simply consult a replay of the ABC broadcast — ahead of his time on an innovation that would not come to college football for another 31 years.

"When is football going to come into the 20th century and use the electronic advantages we have?" he asked reporters.

The coach would go to his grave believing the outcome the greatest on-field injustice of his renowned career.

"I'm in no mood to be [here]," he said the night of the game on his weekly television show. "I can't tell you how bitter I am. The older you get and the more you win, the more bitter you get with a loss. This was the greatest team we've ever had."

Nearly four decades later, the cool afternoon still burns in the memory of the actors involved. Michigan State had and would continue to be a team that had a knack for redirecting Buckeyes seasons that appeared headed for glory. But this was different.

"You want to talk about the Michigan State game, huh?" former OSU linebacker and Fremont native Bob Brudzinski said with a laugh.

"That's one you have to live with." Cusick said. "You just can't forget it because [the finish] was so flagrant and so obvious."

At the time, Hayes had already won five national championships — per various polls — and his machine betrayed no signs of slowing. OSU had not lost a game since 1972 and would not drop a regular-season contest the next season, either.

With a roster of All-Americans and running back Archie Griffin in the first of consecutive Heisman-winning seasons, the Buckeyes exhibited little mercy. They were 8-0 and stomping challengers by an average margin of more than five touchdowns.

More of the same was expected against the 4-3-1 Spartans in East Lansing, where an undefeated OSU team had fallen two years earlier. But under second-year coach Denny Stolz, who resigned from MSU a year later because of NCAA violations and went on to spend nine seasons at Bowling Green State University, the hosts were bent on altering history once more.

After Ohio State took a 13-3 lead into the fourth quarter, the Spartans answered with a 44-yard touchdown pass and an 88-yard scoring run by Levi Jackson to push ahead by a field goal with 3:17 left.

The Buckeyes got the ball back at their own 29, with one of two outcomes seemingly in the balance: elation or heartbreak.

They would leave feeling something else altogether.

OSU drove quickly down the field, burning its final timeout on a five-yard run by Griffin on first down to the Spartans' 6 with 40 seconds left. Champ Henson then muscled to the 1 and, after the clock stopped for a measurement, was called upon to finish the job. The 231-pound fullback was ruled inches short — Henson later insisted he scored — which left the Buckeyes scrambling to run a final play.

Problem was, the Buckeyes contended, MSU wouldn't let them run it. Henson was stopped with about 13 seconds remaining, but not until another 10 seconds passed had the last Spartans defender gotten up from the goal-line scrum.

"The thing I resent is that no effort was made to get them to unpile," Hayes said of that night. "It's just as grossly unfair as it can be. I'm just as bitter as the devil. … But if you take something like this lightly, you'll be laughing more than you'll be winning."

While many questioned the Buckeyes' urgency — "Some of them looked as if they thought they had time to browse through a volume or two of The History of Gauze before lining up," Jenkins wrote — Cusick said they were handcuffed.

"Michigan State refused to get up so the officials could set the ball," he said. "Nowadays they would stop the clock."

The final play was a bitter footnote, with the Buckeyes frantically snapping it just before or just after time ran out. (Nobody seemed to agree.) The ball slipped through the legs of quarterback Cornelius Greene and into the clutch of Baschnagel, who dove into the end zone. One official said touchdown, another said no.

The ABC broadcast ended 10 minutes later without the announcers declaring a winner.

When Duke informed OSU of the ruling, Hayes spit fire.

"Wayne Duke came into the locker room, and boy, Woody let him have it," said Brudzinski, who played 13 seasons in the NFL —including nine for the Miami Dolphins —and now owns a chain of sports bars in South Florida. "It wasn't funny at the time, but you look back at it, and it's kind of comical."

Ohio State responded to win the Big Ten title with a 12-10 victory over third-ranked Michigan before falling 18-17 to No. 5 Southern California in the Rose Bowl. But on nights like Monday, players from that team still wonder what might have been.

"That's why you play the game," Cusick said. "You just hope the officials don‘t get in the way."

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