NOBODY HAD TO CONVINCE US THAT WE WERE UNDERDOGS GOING INTO OUR game against the Buckeyes my junior year, not after what had happened the year before in Columbus, losing 50--14. We did not need to pick up a newspaper or listen to a radio program to realize that we were underdogs, and deservedly so.
Bo Schembechler said that everything started the week before the game. We beat Iowa 51--6, and in the locker room we were just going crazy, and it had nothing to do with the Iowa game. We were chanting, "Ohio State! Ohio State!" It had been 51 weeks since they put it on us down in Columbus. And I remember Bo always told me that one of his assistants came to him and said, "Don't you think we should stop this? They're going to peak too early." And Bo said, "Let 'em go. They can't peak high enough for this."
What was really unique about our rivalry was that a large portion of our roster was from the state of Ohio—including me, from Canton. There was a tremendous knowledge of Ohio State football. All of us had been recruited by Ohio State in one way or another, although some of us, like me, weren't offered a scholarship by Ohio State. I went there on a recruiting trip, but Woody Hayes didn't think I was good enough to play there. He and I spoke of it many years later when I was playing in the NFL, and he was really good-natured about it. He said, "Man, I really blew that one."
It's interesting what I knew after the fact versus what I knew when I was playing. Bo certainly gave us the confidence that we could beat Ohio State. He told us that we were good enough to do it. Over the years I was really fortunate in that I got to spend a lot of time with Bo. We would take vacations together. I had dinner with him 10 days before he died, in 2006. He told me, "You didn't realize it, but there was something in every practice that was geared toward Ohio State." Bo had a confidence that we were prepared to play this Buckeyes team.
And we weren't just a bunch of bums off the street. There were four future college Hall of Famers on the team that beat Ohio State in 1969. We were better than people thought. We were better than we thought.
I'm an offensive player. I'd love to say that we won that game because we just offensively overwhelmed Ohio State, but that just wasn't the case. Our defense was phenomenal. Our special teams were phenomenal. Remember Barry Pierson and his punt return to the three-yard line that set up a touchdown? We got the ball into the end zone when we were given the opportunity, but our defense handled their offense.
I played 13 years in the National Football League, and that was the best game I ever played in. The 1969 win over Ohio State changed everything. From that day forward there was never an empty seat at Michigan Stadium. All of us on that 1969 team take some pride in the fact that we were instrumental in starting the modern era of Michigan football.
I remember at the end of the game seeing Jim Mandich, our captain, being carried off the field. I was 20 years old and had never been involved in anything remotely resembling that level of euphoria and excitement. It's almost an out-of-body experience to be involved in something like that. It was all kind of hazy, almost like having a great dream from which you didn't want to wake up. That's how important it was.