Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Best Game I Ever Saw

"He just kept getting closer and closer!"  Levi Jackson goes 88 yards for the score as Michigan State pulls off one of the biggest upsets in college football history, defeating #1 Ohio State 16-13 on November 9, 1974.  Photo:

We are half an hour away from the Spartans and the Buckeyes here in East Lansing, and if we can squeeze enough out of this one to make it last until midnight, we will be at the anniversary--40 years to the day--of the greatest game I ever saw: MSU 16, Ohio State 13 on November 9, 1974.  

I was all Green and White in those days.  It was my sophomore year at MSU and we were really doing our part in the student section in the South End Zone.  We were hammered (totes legal as the drinking age was 18 back then) and we were loud.  But after MSU took an Ohio State punt and had it first and 10 at their own 12, way, way down at the other end of the field, we also figured we were done for.  There was only a little more than 3 minutes left in the game and we were down 4, 13-9, and it looked like it was a case of a nice try but nothing else.

And it had been a nice try.  State, in a game on national TV against an unbeaten and untied and ranked #1 in the Nation Woody Hayes team, had given the Buckeyes all they could handle.  Sparty was tied 3-3 with the Bucks at the half thanks to what my memory tells me was about the longest field goal ever on the last play of the half but which the printed record says was a 39-yarder by Hans Neilson, the first in what would be a long line of great MSU placekickers.  

Michigan State was still hanging in there in the 4th quarter as Ohio State got a field goal in the third to break the tie and what turned out to be their only touchdown of the day in the 4th to move ahead 13-3.  The Spartans got a 44-yard TD pass from Charlie Baggett (the MSU quarterback was in my Advertising class and to his credit showed up for every lecture) to Mike Jones as the Spartans ran for the second time in the game a play which had been wide open for a sure score in the first half but which was dropped by a wide-open Jones.  MSU went for two and failed and it was 13-9, Ohio State.

Which brings us to the moment.  MSU way down there at the other end of the field and time running out.

And then it was Levi Jackson running away.  It was just a little quick-hitter off right guard--a play designed you'd think to pick up 2 or 3 yards at best.  But this time it went for 88.  Jackson popped through the line, swerved to his right and was off to the races down the west sideline.  None of us could believe what we were seeing.  He just kept getting closer and closer and then he was in the end zone right in front of us and we were going crazy with the screaming and the jumping up and down and the kissing of the girls who totally were not your girlfriend.  I wound up a section over and half a dozen rows up from where I had been when the ball was snapped.  With the PAT MSU led 16-13 and there was 3:12 left on the clock and we weren't even close to being done. 

Ohio State took the ensuing kickoff and, after the refs blew a call on an MSU interception on the Buckeyes first down play, drove all the way down to the Spartan 1.  Archie Griffin, (Remember him?  The only guy to win the Heisman twice?) got free and picked up about 50 yards on a play in which he faked himself out of his own shoe and Ohio State was a snap away from pulling it out.  Except Woody never gave it to Griffin again and when Ohio State failed to set themselves for one second as they snapped the ball with the clock ticking over to "0:00", it didn't matter that Brian Baschnagel had picked it up and run it in,  Except we didn't know that.  Nobody in the house did.  One official signaled touchdown and another waved the play off.  Both teams left the field celebrating.  We stormed the field, a happy mob.  The scoreboard still read: Michigan State 16, Ohio State 13.  But that one ref had raised both arms in the air on that last play.  Who had won?  Who knew?  This remains the one and only occasion in my entire football-watching life that a game was over and the winning team was not known.

After over half an hour of occupying the Spartan Stadium field the announcement was made over the PA system that the scoreboard was correct, that MSU had indeed held on to win.  What a day.

And what a game we have going on here right now.  Jeremy Langford has just gone around the left end for 33 and a score after the Spartans recovered a fumbled Ohio State punt return attempt and it's State 14, Ohio State 7 with 6:14 left in the first quarter.  Maybe this one will be a classic too.  We'll let you know.