Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Ohio State Football All-1960's Squad

Ohio State football in the 1960’s was marked by two episodes which make the decade stand out from the rest. Both figure prominently in Buckeye lore, one for the worse and the other, which served as a sort of corrective to the first, for the better. The former episode was the vote by the university to prevent the football team from playing in the Rose Bowl. Undefeated with one tie, the 1961 Buckeyes, featuring what was possibly the greatest backfield in Ohio State history, were ranked at #1 and #2 in the two polls and, with a Rose Bowl win over UCLA – something that Minnesota, the replacement team, easily accomplished – would likely have claimed a share of the national title. Instead they finished second in both polls. This blow reverberated for years to come and cost Ohio State in its recruiting battles, the consequences of which were felt by the dearth of Big Ten titles for the next six seasons.

Having arrived as head coach in 1951, Woody Hayes soon established a pattern of excellence, winning a national title every three or four years, and each title team was coupled with another only slightly less powerful team either the preceding or following year. In his fourth season, in 1954, Hayes’ Buckeyes went 10-0 through a brutal schedule and followed it with a very solid 1955 campaign which also brought home a Big Ten title. The 1957 team posted a 9-1 record, won the national title and was followed by a 6-1-2 team the following year. The 1961 team, which should have played for yet another national title, was preceded by a 7-2 squad that shut out three of nine opponents and held three others to a single touchdown.

But after the denial of the Rose Bowl, the Buckeye fortunes soured. The next assembly of talent to make a run for a championship were the 1964 and 1965 squads. This time, however, after posting records of 7-2, neither one was able to win the national title nor even a Big Ten title. There certainly was talent there – the 1964 Buckeyes had three All-Americans and two others who would be so named in the coming years – but it fell shy of the champions of previous years. The 1964 team, the better of the two, started 6-0 and in mid-season spent two weeks ranked #1. But a lackluster sixth win followed by an inexplicable 27-0 home loss to a Penn State team that would finish 5-4 dashed their title hopes. When Michigan shut them out two weeks later, they lost the Rose Bowl as well. The companion team of 1965, though posting the same record, struggled mightily to eek out desperate wins that better Hayes-coached teams would have rolled through. The years ’66-’67 were, by Buckeye standards, truly terrible. The former lost more than it won, and the latter, one of the weakest three-loss teams in Buckeye history, started 2-3 before putting together some victories over middling competition.

With his career on the line, Wayne Woodrow Hayes went on to engineer the second episode, the resurgence. He put together a class of talent that would come to be known as the Super Sophomores, four of whom would be first round draft picks, eight of whom would make at least one All-America list. A Lombardi and Outland award winner played on the defensive line and the nation’s defensive MVP in 1970, a converted fullback, played in the backfield. The Buckeyes would win the national championship in 1968 and in the following years put some of the greatest football teams ever assembled onto the gridiron. In the decade when football modernized, Ohio State’s fortunes swung like a pendulum, but by the end of the decade Hayes had secured his place in history. Never again, not even during down periods, would Buckeye football be seriously questioned.

The common memory of the 1960’s, as established through Buckeye lore, is the modestly accurate but nevertheless slightly distorted view one gets from looking through the rosy haze of fond memories, and a few things could bear some clearing up. The 1968 team, for instance, is commonly held to be the greatest Buckeye team in history. ‘Tis no such matter. The 1968 team was very young, with sophomores, then the youngest eligible players, starting up and down the unit, including at quarterback. They posted an impressive shutout win over #1 Purdue early on, but through the middle of the season they struggled. Inconsistency plagued them, as it will young teams, and they recorded three one-score victories over unimpressive competition, including a 31-24 win over an Illinois team that would finish 1-8. It was not until the end of the season that they turned into the great team that their talent promised. In defeating #4 Michigan 50-14 and then rolling over #2 USC 27-16 in a game that was not as close as the final score would seem to indicate, the Buckeyes gave us a glimpse of what they would become the following season. They finished very strong indeed, but taken as a whole the 1968 team was not as powerful as a score of other Buckeye teams who, had they met on the field with all differences in size and era accounted for, would probably have beaten or even thumped the Super Sophomores in that first year. Even if one uses a different yardstick, giving more weight to the final record rather than the impressiveness of the performance, the 1954 team, with the same 10-0 record, was surely stronger if the entire season is considered.

It was the 1969 team that proved itself the most formidable force of the decade. Now experienced veterans, the Super Sophomores, well supplemented by talent from the other two classes, steamrolled their competition and soon established themselves as the most powerful team at that point in Buckeye history. But maybe the wins came too easy, and when Bo Schembechler, Woody’s protégé, led a Michigan team that finally stood up to Ohio State and punched them right in the mouth, the Buckeyes, hampered by an injured quarterback who, in light of the talent on the bench behind him, never should have started, fell to the Wolverines in what is probably the bitterest defeat Buckeye fans have ever tasted. As if the decade had not provided entertainment enough, it also saw the beginning of the Ten Year War between Woody and Bo.

The 1961 group is often called The Forgotten Buckeyes, but it must be admitted that, when every Buckeye fan with a modicum of knowledge of Ohio State history knows them as such and can tell you why they are so called, they have ceased to be forgotten. The Cheated Buckeyes, The Might-Have-Beens-Through-No-Fault-Of-Their-Own Buckeyes, but surely not The Forgotten Buckeyes. The true forgotten team of the 1960’s was the 1964 squad. They raced to #1 behind a line that must rank as one of Woody’s greatest and two future pro running backs. Two All-Americans anchored the defense along side three others who would claim All Big Ten honors before their careers were finished. Powerful teams fell before them, including #2 Illinois, which failed to score. Just when they seemed perched to claim Woody’s third or fourth national title, depending on how one is keeping score, they stumbled and fell in the most spectacular and mystifying fashion. Over the last thirteen quarters of their season they scored only one touchdown, and twice in their last two games they lost and failed to score, both times at home. They are not celebrated; they are not talked about; they are not even agonized over anymore. If ever there was a forgotten team, but not forgotten because it was mediocre, it was they.

Such was the 1960’s for Buckeye football, a drama with all the fascinating facets of a fine story: abysmal lows, sudden heartbreaks, backstabbing and controversy, and shining triumphs. With its fine start derailed by treachery, its sojourn through the wilderness and ultimate victory, the good reader could be forgiven for mistaking it for an epic concocted by ancient Greeks, of confusing Woody with Odysseus. And of all the fine warriors that the hero commanded, which were the greatest? There are many to choose from and good arguments for multiple candidates. Alas, only twenty two positions do we have to fill, and these are the humble blogger’s choices:


QB Tom Matte – A controversial choice, Matte, a Vince Young prototype, completed a very high percentage of his passes at a time when most passes fell incomplete. He would go on to play many years in the pros… as a running back. Started in 1959 and 1960, we’ll put him in the 1960’s list as the 1959 team was forgettable.

FB Bob Ferguson – As good as Jim Otis was, Woody was quite clear on who was his best fullback. Mr. Ferguson labored for the 1961 group.

TB Thomas Barrington – There were no iconic tailbacks/halfbacks from the 1960’s but there were several good ones. We prefer the one with the best kick return stats in Buckeye history. From the 1964 team.


WR Paul Warfield – More of a halfback/wingback and underutilized, he still was twice named All Big Ten. His pro career, as a true wide receiver, is legend. Along with Matt Snell and Bob Ferguson, formed what was probably the best backfield in Buckeye history.

SE/TE Bruce Jankowski – Call him a fast tight end or a strong receiver, Jankowski was a frequent target of Mr. Rex Kern in the late sixties.

TE Jan White – An All-American as a senior, along with Jankowski one of the Super Sophs.


OL Jim Davidson – Possibly Woody’s greatest lineman from this decade, a first round draft pick and All-American who cleared the way for Barrington.

OL Doug Van Horn – All-American guard who played with Davidson, his pro career was long and successful.

OL Ray Pryor – All-American center from the mid-sixties.

OL Dave Foley – All-American tackle was a senior on the ’68 champions, a first round draft pick and All-Pro.

OL Bob Vogel – Hard to argue against a first round draft pick and six-time All-Pro.


DT Jim Stillwagon – Indisputable, possibly the greatest DT in Buckeye history. All-American, Lombardi and Outland award winner and one of the most super of the Super Sophs.

DT Dick Himes – OT his senior year, two time All Big Ten honoree whose career left him between the 1964 and 1968 teams. A true forgotten Buckeye

DE Matt Snell – Better known as a running back, Mr. Snell spent his junior year of 1962 on the defensive line and went on to a stellar pro career.

DE Mark Debevc – Lesser known Super Soph was twice named All Big Ten.


LB Dwight Kelley – Two-time All-American, anchored a stingy 1964 defense.

LB Tom Bugel – All Big Ten selection, played alongside Kelley.

LB Mike Ingram – One of the best defenders on a 1961 defense without many big names. All Big Ten selection.


DB Jack Tatum – Indisputable, perhaps the greatest player in Ohio State history. Two-time All-American, 1970 defensive MVP, first round draft pick, Super Sophomore… called The Assassin for his debilitating hits.

DB Mike Sensibaugh – Free safety still holds the all time Buckeye interception record. Another Super Soph.

DB Tim Anderson – All American cornerback. First round draft pick. Super Soph.

DB Arnold Chonko – All-American on the 1964 team, played what would today be called free safety.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The 1961 team couldn't "have played for another national title" in those days the title was decided before the bowls, Ohio State finished #2 in both UPI (coaches) and AP polls at the end of the regular season.