COLUMBUS — Back in the heart of Ohio State’s most celebrated football era, Paul Schmidlin appreciated what his team achieved when it won a school-record 22 straight games from 1967-69.
It was the second-longest streak in the Big Ten since 1905, behind Michigan’s 25 consecutive wins in the late 1940s. The Buckeyes and their "super sophs" were the talk of the country.
But for Schmidlin, a three-year starter on the defensive line, the stature of the feat only hit him with the passage of time. Ohio State’s 19 straight victories in 2002 and 2003 was the closest any league school came to matching the run.
"I recognized the tremendous parity today," said Schmidlin, a Rogers graduate now serving as the pastor at King of Glory Lutheran Church in Sylvania. "When we have the University of Toledo beating Michigan, that tells me there's been a tremendous leveling of the field. The chances of a streak like that are almost miraculous."
Schmidlin, though, will gladly root for the record to fall Saturday. When No. 4 OSU hosts Indiana, the Buckeyes can win their 23rd straight game dating to coach Urban Meyer’s debut last season.
"Records are meant to be broken," Schmidlin said. "It will be heartbreak when their streak finally ends. I'd love to see 50 games [in a row]."
For now, the streak just keeps growing, with players from Woody Hayes’ greatest teams seeing a little bit of themselves in these Buckeyes.
It is, of course, dangerous to compare eras, and the late-’60s OSU teams had a more robust resume. The Buckeyes in 1968 shut out No. 1 Purdue, thumped No. 4 Michigan 50-14, and beat Southern California in the Rose Bowl, and a year later took down No. 10 Purdue the week before their stunning 24-12 loss at UM. Today’s OSU streakers — denied a bowl bid because of NCAA sanctions last year — have faced five ranked teams but none in the top 15.
Yet the parallels run deep, from the losing seasons that inspired both runs to the close calls to the super sub who saved the Buckeyes when their star quarterback went down.
Like Ohio State’s rise from scandal and a 6-7 season in 2011, the Buckeyes in 1967 had endured a steep fall. It had been six years since their last Big Ten title, and after a 4-5 season in 1966 gave way to a 2-3 start the next year, some in Columbus were ready to run Hayes out of town.
And then, with little warning, the Buckeyes couldn’t lose. They won the final four games of 1967 before welcoming a blue-chip sophomore class led by quarterback Rex Kern. The 1968 Buckeyes — which also included late All-American offensive lineman and Macomber graduate Rufus Mayes — were alternately dominant and clutch en route to their first national title since 1957. (Rogers grad Jerry Ehrsam, Maumee’s Jim Coburn, and Fostoria’s Arthur Burton were also on the team.)
Take their October trip to Illinois. The Illini tore back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to tie it at 24, then knocked Kern out cold on a late sack. But backup Ron Maciejowski, much like Kenny Guiton last year against Purdue, drove the Buckeyes 70 yards for a touchdown with 1:30 left in a 31-24 win.
Hayes considered the ’69 team his greatest. The Buckeyes won their first eight games by a total of 371-69, including a 42-14 home win over quarterback Mike Phipps’ Boilermakers that coaches billed as the team’s stiffest test of the season. Unless the gray November sky fell, a trip to two-loss Michigan would punctuate a second straight national title. (Big Ten rules kept teams from playing in back-to-back Rose Bowls.)
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"Boy the coaches were terrified [Purdue] was going to knock us off," Schmidlin said. "So they pumped us full of excitement and enthusiasm. They said, 'If you think Michigan might be tough, this Purdue team is a whole lot tougher.' So when we literally destroyed Purdue, [the Michigan game] was kind of anticlimactic. It was just a matter of finishing the season and sitting back on accolades."
Instead, first-year coach Bo Schembechler’s Wolverines took down OSU in what was called the upset of the century.
No longer invincible, the magnitude of the 22-game streak came into focus the next year when the Buckeyes shredded through the regular season, only to fall to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.
"It would be wrong for me to say I’m not proud of us winning 22 games in row," Kern said. "But I’d also be quick to add that I’m extremely disappointed we didn’t win three national championship and win 29 games in my class. To win that many games in a row, though, and be thought that highly of is humbling and a wonderful tribute to a group of guys who worked awfully darn hard and did some spectacular things."
Meyer, meanwhile, has barely addressed the 2013 Buckeyes’ place in history alongside their 1960s forbearers.
The reason is simple.
"To have our name even in that breath is almost overwhelming," he said.