During what is considered the modern era of Ohio State football, there are three interceptions that stand out as seminal moments in Scarlet and Gray history.
The first occurred more than a half-century ago during the 1954 game against Wisconsin.
The Badgers invaded the Horseshoe on Oct. 23 with the Big Ten’s top-rated defense while the Buckeyes boasted the conference’s top offense. Each team was undefeated in its first four games and both schools were ranked among the nation’s top five – Wisconsin at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 4.
OSU was trailing 7-3 late in the third quarter and Wisconsin was threatening to add to its lead when quarterback Jim Miller faked a handoff to fullback Alan Ameche and targeted one of his receivers breaking open in the left flat. In the seemingly-open area flashed Ohio State defender Howard “Hopalong” Cassady, who cut in front of the receiver and made the interception on the dead run.
Taking the ball at his own 12-yard line, Cassady made two moves – one to his right to elude one would-be tackler and a hip fake that left another Badger grasping at air. By the time the OSU junior had made it to midfield, several teammates provided key blocks to touch off an electrifying 88-yard return for a touchdown.
Cassady’s play also touched off an Ohio State comeback that resulted in a 31-14 win over the Badgers and an eventual 1954 national championship for the Buckeyes. The play remained the longest interception return in the Horseshoe for nearly 50 years until Will Allen took one back 100 yards against San Diego State in 2003.
Thirty-four years after Cassady, another junior defensive back grabbed an important interception that helped fuel a run to the national title.
In the third game of the 1968 season, Ohio State hosted Purdue in the Big Ten season opener for both teams. The Boilermakers were the No. 1-ranked team in the nation at the time, and were installed as solid 13-point favorites coming off a 41-6 shellacking of the Buckeyes the year before.
After a scoreless first half, Purdue took the opening kickoff of the third quarter determined to score some points. On the third play of the second half, QB Mike Phipps tried to get the ball to a receiver on a short crossing pattern and nearly had the pass picked off by OSU defensive back Jack Tatum.
On the next play, when Phipps saw Tatum retreating to cover the deep zone, he tried the short pattern again. This time, however, junior defender Ted Provost had blanket coverage and made the interception at the Purdue 35. Thanks to blocks from Tatum and middle guard Jim Stillwagon, Provost raced into the end zone for the touchdown and jubilantly heaved the football into the stands.
The interception started the Buckeyes on their way to a 13-0 upset of the Boilermakers, and the team finished out a perfect season and national championship with a Rose Bowl victory over USC.
The third historic interception came in 1975 and is remember as one of the finest defensive plays in the long history of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry.
That season, the Buckeyes and Wolverines were meeting for the seventh time in eight seasons to determine the Big Ten’s Rose Bowl representative. An NCAA-record crowd of 105,543 squeezed into Michigan Stadium where the Wolverines were working on a 41-game unbeaten streak.
OSU was trailing 14-7 with 7:11 remaining in the game and hadn’t registered a first down since early in the second quarter. But quarterback Cornelius Greene drove the team 80 yards for the game-tying score with 3:18 left to play.
With the score knotted at 14 – and the Wolverines knowing a tie would send the Buckeyes to Pasadena – Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler was forced to try and create something on offense. On third-and-19 at his own 11, quarterback Rick Leach tried to find a receiver past the first-down marker down the middle but threw too far and in the vicinity of OSU sophomore safety Ray Griffin.
The younger brother of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin snagged Leach’s pass at the Michigan 32 and streaked his way back down the sideline to the 3-yard line. On the next play, fullback Pete Johnson thundered into the end zone and the Buckeyes had secured a 21-14 victory. In the game, Archie Griffin had his streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games snapped at 31. But brother Ray had a coming-out party with 14 tackles, including 10 solo stops and two sacks, and the all-important interception.
After the game, Woody Hayes told reporters, “I’d have to say this is our greatest comeback, so this has got to be the greatest game I’ve ever coached.”
Unfortunately, Ohio State couldn’t parlay the win into the 1975 national championship. The Buckeyes were upset 23-10 in the Rose Bowl by UCLA, a team they had beaten 41-20 in Pasadena earlier that season.
But there was no denying that Ray Griffin’s interception was one of the biggest plays of that season. If you would like to relive it, click on this link: 1975 Ohio State-Michigan Game.
“That interception was really, really special – for me and for the rest of the seniors,” big brother Archie said in 2004. “That meant we never lost to Michigan, having gone 3-0-1. To me, that was more important than getting 100 yards.”
Ray has often said it was biggest play of his four-year career at Ohio State. “In fact,” he said in 2003, “it’s the most memorable play of my career, either in college or the pros.”
Ray was a three-year starter for the Buckeyes from 1975-77 and then enjoyed a seven-year NFL career with Cincinnati from 1978-84. With the Bengals, he had 11 interceptions and returned three for touchdowns.
Oh, and one more thing … today is Ray Griffin’s 52nd birthday.
Also celebrating a birthday today is former Ohio State defensive lineman Joel Penton. Born June 25, 1983, in Van Wert, Ohio, Penton became a standout football player and wrestler in high school. He was a member of the outstanding recruiting class of 2002 was a key backup for OSU throughout his career. During his senior season, Penton registered a career-high 20 tackles, including two sacks – one against Penn State and the other against Michigan. He was a four-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and won the 2006 Danny Wuerffel Award, an honor known as the “Humanitarian Heisman.” After graduation from OSU, he turned down offers to play in the NFL to become a full-time motivational speaker. Penton is also community director for the Central Ohio chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Among the celebrities who have birthdays today: jazz pianist Dave Grushin; former Fifth Dimension lead singer Billy Davis Jr.; former Scandal lead singer (and the current Mrs. John McEnroe) Patty Smyth; former Berlin lead singer Terri Nunn (“Take My Breath Away”); three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond; former NFL tight end Shannon Sharpe; actor Chris O’Donnell (“Scent Of A Woman,” “Batman Forever”); Emmy Award-winning actor Sean Hayes (“Will & Grace”); Academy Award-nominated director Paul Thomas Anderson (“There Will Be Blood”); eclectic actor Jason Schwartzman (“Rushmore, “I ♥ Huckabees”); country singer Gretchen Wilson; New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter; Milwaukee Brewers catcher Jason Kendall; New York Jets quarterback Chad Pennington; and currently incarcerated Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.
It was also the day when many famous people of the past were born, including U.S. Gen. Abner Doubleday (who may or may not have invented baseball); Nobel and Pulitzer prize-winning author Pearl S. Buck; character actor Peter Lorre (“The Maltese Falcon,” “Casablanca”); Col. Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s longtime manager); and Mildred Ella “Babe” Didrikson, perhaps the finest all-around athlete (male or female) of all-time.
THIRTY-EIGHT YEARS AGO TODAY
You know those bar code symbols that are affixed to everything from eggs to newspapers these days? They are officially known as “Universal Product Codes,” and they were developed in 1973 by George J. Laurer, who improved several earlier forms.
The original UPC appears in U.S. patent No. 3832686 awarded to Ilhan Bilgutay, who created four bars of varying widths and put them into groups of two. Laurer added space between the bars, thereby creating a symbol that occupies more space than the Bilgutay original.
The following year, on June 26, 1974, the first item ever scanned using the present-day UPC occurred at 8:01 a.m. when a 10-pack of Wrigley’s chewing gum went through the scanner at Marsh’s Supermarket in Troy, Ohio. That pack of gum is currently on display at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.
WORST SPORTS ANNOUNCERS
Everybody has a list of something these days. The folks over at Maxim (one of those publications you read only for the well-written articles, of course) have a list of their “Ten Worst Broadcasters In Sports.” Here is their list along with why they’re ranked where they are:
1. Chris Berman, ESPN – The godfather of taking a spectacular athletic moment and butchering it with bulls**t. Never fails to shoehorn his trademark nonsense into a game.
2. Chip Caray, TBS – A fountain of inaccuracies.
3. Joe Morgan, ESPN – The most condescending broadcaster in sports.
4. Dick Vitale, ESPN – A mugging cartoon whose catch phrases like “dipsy-doo dunkaroo” send fans scrambling for a dull razor.
5. Bryant Gumbel, NFL Network – Gravitas only matters if you don’t suck.
6. Bill Walton, TBS – The undisputed king of hyperbole.
7. Billy Packer, CBS – The Dick Cheney of college basketball broadcasting, Packer is a crotchety antagonist who brings the joy of a diaper change to every gig – along with doses of racism and sexism!
8. Mike Patrick, ESPN – During an overtime game between Alabama and Georgia last September, Patrick began peppering booth partner Todd Blackledge with questions about Britney Spears and her whacked-out personal life. Blackledge’s answer: “Why do we care at this point? Is she here?”
9. Walt Frazier, MSG – Tone down the pimp-wear, criticize your sorry-ass team once in awhile, and please put down the thesaurus.
10. John Madden, NBC – Became a parody of himself long ago.
** Notre Dame continues to get some love in the preseason polls. The Fighting Irish, who weren’t even as good last year as their 3-9 record would indicate, have already been picked by some analysts as their surprise team of 2008. Now, ESPN.com college football writer Mark Schlabach has reshuffled his preseason top 25 and has Notre Dame in the No. 25 spot. The Irish may be improved this season – how could they get much worse? – but let’s see if they can get to .500 before vaulting them into the rankings.
** Did you hear that Louisville tried to sue Duke after the Blue Devils football team pulled out of the final three games of a four-year contract? A Kentucky Circuit Court judge dismissed the case, saying that Duke’s performance on the field was so poor that any Division I team would suffice as a replacement. The Blue Devils are 6-45 over the past five years and 13-90 since 1999.
** Care to try and name the last two freshman running backs to lead national championship teams in rushing? Try Herschel Walker of Georgia in 1980 and Maurice Clarett of Ohio State in 2002.
** When Seattle pitcher Felix Hernandez hit his grand slam the other night of New York’s Johan Santana, it gave Hernandez the exact same number of career slams as Derek Jeter … and one more than Milwaukee slugger Prince Fielder.
** Here’s more major league baseball minutiae: Last week, Philadelphia first baseman Ryan Howard struck four times in the same game for the 10th time in his young career that spans only 488 games. Want to know how many times Atlanta third baseman Chipper Jones has worn the golden sombrero during his 1,965-and-counting-game career? Zero.