Right from the start, I set a single goal for those men.
Beat Ohio State.
— Bo Schembechler, as told in “Bo,” co-authored by Schembechler and Mitch Albom.
January 11, 2011
Brady Hoke stood at the podium in the Junge Family Center, looking out at a flood of media members and cameras.
It was his first press conference as head coach of the University of Michigan.
“I think that rivalry is special,” said Hoke, an Ohio native, his eyes beaming in the spotlight. “It’s like none other in football. Being engaged in that battle for eight years and growing up in the state, you knew. It is the most important game on that schedule.”
He pounded the podium with each word — The. Pound. Most. Pound. Important. Pound. Game. Pound.
He spoke loudly and confidently. If you walked into the room and just listened without any knowledge of the situation, you may have wondered why the guy at the podium seemed so excited.
But if you knew anything about 1969, you knew why.
In 2009, members of the 1969 Michigan team gathered for a 40-year reunion at a tailgate before the Ohio State game.
Most would figure you’d be lucky to have a few players show up after such a long period of time.
Not this team — not a team led by Bo Schembechler. Former players engulfed the tailgate, sharing memories and laughing as if no time had passed at all.
“This is a special group,” said Dan Dierdorf, a former All American right tackle, in an interview with AnnArbor.com at the tailgate. “We have been close every since we walked out of this campus together. I think it was Bo that really melded us into not just a good football team. We formed a lot of lifelong friendships, and they continue to this day.”
Dick Caldarazzo, a senior left guard on the team, is in charge of emailing the former players and setting up reunions.
“That was the class I believe (Schembechler) was closest to,” Caldarazzo said. “I think it was the fact that he introduced this concept, this way of playing football, way of practicing, that we all bought into.”
It’s a camaraderie that began with Schembechler and was carried out by the seniors on that 1969 team.
And if Michigan does this year what it did in 1969 during Schembechler’s first season at the helm, it’s a camaraderie that can be cemented in the legacy of Brady Hoke.
November 15, 1969
It was one of those days in November when you yearned to have warm summer days back, one of those days where it hits you: “Winter is here.”
Or, for a Michigan football player: “Ohio State week can’t be far off.”
“It snowed like crazy,” recalled Jerry Hanlon, who was an assistant coach under Schembechler from 1969-89. “We had a motel we stayed at, and there was so much space under the door that snow came halfway into my room.”
In those days, there were no snow blowers, no easy ways out. So they innovated.
“They got a helicopter on Saturday morning and just blew all the snow off the field,” Hanlon said. “And then the sun came out, and it was a beautiful day.”
No. 14 Michigan, 6-2 at the time, was playing unranked Iowa, who was 4-4 and in desperate need of a win.
It was the perfect trap game. No. 1 Ohio State — which had been deemed “The Greatest Team in the History of College Football” — loomed a week away. With just one Big Ten loss, the Wolverines were in line for a Rose Bowl berth if they could win their last two games.
But they had to beat the Hawkeyes in Iowa City first.
After 60 minutes of physical, hard-nosed football, Michigan had not only beaten Iowa — it had bulldozed right through the Hawkeyes en route to a 51-6 pounding.
And the Wolverines could sense the Buckeyes all the way from Iowa City.
“We were really happy we won that game, but the next thing, we just wanted Ohio State,” Caldarazzo said. “We would’ve left our clothes on and played Ohio State that afternoon if we could come back on the field.”
November 19, 2011
There were over six minutes left, but already the chants had begun.
No. 20 Michigan led No. 17 Nebraska, 45-17 — the Wolverines had dominated in every facet of the game.
“Beat O-HI-O! Beat O-HI-O!”
The cheer started in a small corner of the student section but grew like wildfire. As the clock wound down to zero, Michigan Stadium echoed the words of former coaches and players alike.
The players heard it.
“I think that as the game winded down and we were kneeling the ball, everyone was thinking that in the back of their head,” said junior safety Jordan Kovacs. “Like all right, that was a big win, but it’s on to the next one.”
The cheers only grew louder as the clock hit zero and the players ran to the student section to sing the fight song with their peers, like they do after every home win.
Senior defensive tackle Mike Martin led the charge, jumping into the front row of the student section, holding his winged helmet high in the air, singing the fight song.
But Martin’s work wasn’t done.
“We know we’re getting better, but the season is far from over,” he said after the game. “(Ohio State) is a huge game for our legacy as a team, for this senior group, for Team 132, and we just gotta make sure we finish this season out the way we want to, and the way we envisioned the whole season.”
It was a vision started in the early 1900s by Michigan’s Fielding H. Yost, a vision carried out by coaches like Harry Kipke, Fritz Crisler, Bennie Oosterbaan. It was a vision restored by Schembechler.
And now, it’s in the hands of Hoke.
Bo Schembechler, an Ohio native, came to Michigan in 1969 after serving as head coach at Miami University, his alma mater, from 1963-1968.
In six seasons with the Redskins (now the RedHawks), Schembechler won two conference titles and finished second three times.
At Michigan, he took over for the retired Bump Elliot, who, in 10 years as head coach, posted a mediocre 51-42-2 record.
Schembechler’s mission was simple: get Michigan back into national prominence.
And his first ingredient was simple, too.
“Coach Schembechler said it in the first meeting,” said Jim Brandstatter, a sophomore offensive tackle and now Michigan’s radio color commentator. “The seniors have to have their best year of football. He puts that responsibility right on their shoulders, and every one of them took it to heart. When practice got too hard, when Bo was on us too much, those guys stood there and took it. Those guys made everybody aware that this is what it takes to win.”
From there, the rest of Schembechler’s formula fell into place. Toughness. Discipline. Respect.
“Seldom can you have a successful season unless your seniors are having their greatest year,” Schembechler said on Nov. 25, 1969. “That’s an especially important factor in transition because they’re the hardest guys to sell. They’re the nucleus.”
From 2003 to 2008, Brady Hoke served as head coach at his alma mater, Ball State.
In 2008, he led the Cardinals to a perfect 12-0 season before losing to Buffalo in the MAC Championship. The season propelled him into the national spotlight for the first time.
The next season, he took the head-coaching job at San Diego State, and in 2010, he turned a sputtering program into a competitor, finishing the season 9-4.
In January 2011, Hoke took over at Michigan for the departed Rich Rodriguez. And at his opening press conference, he had a message.
“We’re gonna coach for our seniors,” Hoke said. “Because seniors have been through those struggles. We’re always gonna play and coach for our seniors in this program.”
It seemed almost cliché at the time. Every new coach has to say that. But as is clear now, Brady Hoke isn’t your average new coach.
“The thing about him is that he is what he is,” said Hanlon, who went to school with Hoke’s father and has known Brady for years. “There’s not a phony bone in his body. What you see is what you get, and I think that goes a long way for kids to believe in somebody.”
Hoke has stuck to his word.
“This is a group of (seniors) who have been through a lot,” Hoke said on Monday. “They’ve hung together well and they’ve done a nice job of preparing weekly.
“There are seniors that have done a tremendous job of understanding you start with the fundamentals, you start with the technique, you start with discipline.”
November 18, 1969
It was the start of Ohio State week, and if you didn’t know it, you either lived in a box or didn’t care about sports.
Everybody was talking about it.
In Columbus, an abundance of “pro-Michigan” newspapers flooded the city two weeks before the matchup, and Michigan students invaded the Ohio State campus, painting Michigan slogans and fight songs throughout.
The Buckeyes had won 22 straight games and were one win away from completing their second consecutive undefeated season.
Michigan was the only roadblock left.
But in Ann Arbor, confidence never faltered. Ohio State had beaten the Wolverines 50-14 the previous year on its way to a national title. Coach Woody Hayes elected to go for two with his team already up by 36 points and the game well out of reach for Michigan.
Asked after the game why he went for two, Hayes reportedly said, “Because I couldn’t go for three!”
“It was one of the most humiliating experiences of my life,” Caldarazzo said. “I have yet to return to Horse Shoe Stadium. I’ve never been treated so rudely by fans and everybody else.”
Michigan didn’t forget.
On the walls in the locker room, Schembechler put signs that read, “Ohio State 50, Michigan 14.” He even taped pictures of Ohio State players to each of his players’ lockers.
In practice, the number “50” was plastered on each scout team member’s jersey.
And it wasn’t just on the jerseys.
“It was everywhere,” Caldarazzo said. “It was on everybody’s locker, it was on the shower curtains — the shower had a ‘50’ that was about six feet tall. It was just everywhere.
“Bo told us, ‘Woody put 50 on you guys last year, and I’m not gonna let you forget it.’ ”
Added Brandstatter: “Believe me, we took notice, and the intensity ratcheted up from Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday to Friday, ‘til we were ready to go on Saturday.
“Ohio State was not gonna get that victory.”
Anybody who saw a practice that week could tell something special was happening in Ann Arbor.
“The practices were insane,” Caldarazzo said. “We were just hitting and knocking people out. The poor demonstration team, they were carrying these guys off because we were drilling them.
“We were blocking and tackling like it was game day, and the hits that were going on were enormous.”
Hanlon recalled telling Schembechler that they should slow down a little bit so that the players don’t peak too soon.
“And Bo said, ‘You let ‘em go. You can’t peak too soon for this team,’ ” Hanlon said. “So we just kinda let them go.”
And on game day, they were ready.
There was an electricity that I have never felt in any football game since. It was as if all the energy from a season’s worth of tackles and body-slams had just been released.
—Schembechler, from “Bo.”
December 1, 1969. No. 12 Michigan vs. No. 1 Ohio State.
Ohio State featured three All Americans, including running back Jim Otis, and five All-Big Ten selections.
The Buckeyes were world-beaters. They hadn’t played in a close game in almost two years. No one gave Michigan a chance.
No one except Michigan, that is.
“The papers were saying the day of the game that Michigan had two chances of winning: slim and none,” said running back Billy Taylor. “And Bo said, ‘Bull shit.’ And we said the same thing. We knew we were gonna beat them.”
Inside the locker room before the game, the players were excited — but not too excited.
“It was an intense room, but it was mostly internal,” Caldarazzo said. “I don’t really recall a lot of guys shouting and screaming. We had waited that entire week of practice, we had waited a season, we couldn’t wait to get this thing done and go out there and kick their ass.
“It was the perfect storm waiting to explode.”
Taylor recalled a short speech given by Schembechler in the locker room.
“He said, ‘Men, we’ve had a great week of practice. I’m not gonna talk much, but I’m gonna tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna kick their ass,’ ” Taylor recalled.
Schembechler hit the chalkboard with his fist, and everybody exploded.
“It was so loud and thunderous in the locker room, and everybody was hittin’ and pushin’ out the door,” Taylor said. “That’s what he said, and that’s what we did.”
Added quarterback Don Moorhead: “Going down the tunnel, it was so much more intense than going down the tunnel any other game day. You could sense it.
“We were like a thoroughbred that they just put in the gate. Everybody wanted to go.”
After three rushing touchdowns — two by fullback Garnie Craw, one by Moorhead — and a field goal, Michigan went into halftime leading 24-12.
No other team had scored more than 21 points on the Buckeyes all year.
“Ohio State was stunned,” Schembechler recalled in ‘Bo.’ “The crowd was going crazy. You absolutely could not hear yourself think! We left the field to an ovation that was still ringing in our ears when we poured into the locker room.”
In the locker room, the Wolverines could taste victory.
Defensive coordinator Jim Young’s voice stood out above the rest.
“You guys (the offense) gave us the lead, and they will not score,” he said. “I guarantee, THEY WILL. NOT. SCORE!”
And they didn’t.
The Wolverines held the Buckeyes scoreless in the second half and forced a total of seven turnovers en route to the 24-12 victory.
As the final gun sounded, fans rushed the field.
“It was mayhem,” Caldarazzo said. “We couldn’t wait to celebrate. I remember running over to the sidelines, and we began to carry (Schembechler) off the field. And there was just a rush that came from behind with the student section and the band.
“Bo goes up, and then at midfield, he just goes down, because we were just pushed over. We weren’t angry at all. We just got up, dusted ourselves off and got right back in there. It was one of those times where you didn’t want to leave the field.”
That magical day did finally end, but its legacy didn’t.
As Schembechler wrote, “Michigan was back as a national football powerhouse.”
It was Schembechler who started the return back to prominence in 1969.
Now, it’s Hoke’s turn.
November 21, 2011
You can see it in the weight room and scattered about Schembechler Hall. You can hear it at the end of each team meeting. And you can sense it in each and every player.
This team is salivating in anticipation of noon on Saturday.
In the weight room, a huge sign on the wall rings loud and clear: “Beat Ohio.”
Throughout Schembechler Hall, there are two special clocks: One counts down the time until kickoff against the Buckeyes, and the other reads the number of days it’s been since Michigan’s last victory over its biggest rival.
“It’s a reminder every time you walk in the building,” said senior tight end Kevin Koger. “You can’t miss it.”
But Hoke does more than just visually remind his players about Ohio.
Since his first-ever team meeting, Hoke began his address with those same two words: “Beat Ohio.”
“He explained that this is what I do every meeting, and this is what you need to say,” Koger recalled. “And after that, we caught on.”
On Saturday, the clock will say “2,926.”
But the four days leading up to Saturday will decide what the clock says on Sunday.
On Monday, Hoke and a few Michigan players were met by the biggest contingent of media members since Hoke’s opening press conference.
They were bombarded with questions about the rivalry for more than an hour — questions about what this rivalry meant, how this year could be different, what this game will do for their legacy.
The players remained poised.
Koger remembered the feeling of losing in Columbus last year in an embarrassing 37-7 drumming — and in Ann Arbor the year before, and in Columbus again the year before that.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Koger said of losing to Ohio State. “It’s a lot of motivation. It’s definitely a driving force.”
Martin, one of the co-captains along with Koger, put it plainly.
“This week has to be one of our best weeks of preparation, period,” Martin said. “That’s what it needs to be.”
If you granted me just one more week as Michigan’s head coach, I wouldn’t hesitate. I know exactly what I’d want…Give me one more week of coaching in preparation of the Ohio State game. And make it against the great Wayne Woodrow Hayes.
The game would be icing for me, because if you’re a real coach, a real leader, the preparation is the thing.
Then on Friday night, when I’ve finished handing out the hot chocolate and cookies during the bed check with all my players, and I knew we were ready—and I mean ready—I’d return to my room, I’d sit on the corner of the bed and I’d just go, ‘Ahhhhh.’ And I’d be satisfied.
—Schembechler, as told in John U. Bacon’s “Bo’s Lasting Lessons.”
Looking back on that 1969 game, Brandstatter recalled how he and his teammates prepared.
“We understood that when you practice on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, that’s when you’re preparing for the football games on Saturday,” Brandsatter said. “You get ready by taking care of the details, by practicing with great intensity, by focusing on what you have to do so there’s no mental mistakes, no missed assignments.”
The preparation started in January when Hoke was first hired. But no three days are more important than the Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday before the Ohio State game.
The Michigan players know that.
“There’s definitely gonna be some differences in this week,” Koger said. “I expect practice to be very intense.”
With Hoke at the helm, there’s no question Michigan will be ready to play on Saturday.
“The last Saturday in November, at 12 o’clock, that ball being kicked off, there’s nothing like it,” Hoke said in his opening press conference. “If you play at Michigan and you wear that maize and blue, that’s gotta be personal.”
It was personal in 1969.
But now, after seven straight losses to the Buckeyes and with a possible BCS berth on the line, it’s as personal as ever.
“When Brady gets them up to win this game, everybody will say he’s the next Bo Schembechler,” Taylor said.
“He’ll be the next Bo Schembechler if he wins this game.”