SEPTEMBER 30, 1967
In case you missed it, Arizona’s 14-7 victory over Ohio State in the Buckeyes’ season opener in Columbus, was ranked No. 17 in my list of the Top 50 games in Arizona history. Today marks the 45th anniversary of one of the most memorable wins in Arizona’s history. Here is a re-write of the entry in my top 50 list:
This was a benchmark game for the program in that it showed Arizona could compete on a national basis against a team from a power conference — the Big Ten. The Wildcats, from the WAC, were coming off a humbling 36-17 loss to Wyoming two weeks previously in Tucson. Ohio State, coached by the legendary Woody Hayes, had not lost a home opener to an unranked opponent in the program’s history. All indications pointed to a potential rout by the Buckeyes, even though Ohio State was coming off a 4-5 season in 1966.
In a story published by ArizonaWildcats.com in 2007, former UA linebacker Olden Lee recalled the motivation the Wildcats drew from watching a television interview with Hayes the day before the game was played at the famous horseshoe-shaped stadium in Columbus.
“We came in to Columbus on Friday evening before the game,” Lee told ArizonaWildcats.com. “And it isn’t hard to remember the thing that sticks out the most from that trip. We were sitting around the hotel watching television and pretty soon they were interviewing Woody. He was talking about the tradition Ohio State had, of winning its first game each season.
“The interviewer said something like, ‘Well, Coach, do you tend to schedule a weaker opponent for the opener?’ And Woody didn’t necessarily confirm it — but he didn’t do a lot to dispel it, either.”
Ohio State, it appeared, did not get motivated from some fighting words from UA coach Darrell Mudra before the game.
“If I were Woody Hayes, I wouldn’t be too excited about playing us,” Mudra was quoted as saying by Sports Illustrated.
With the score tied at 7, Mudra sent in a power-play to the right side, with Wayne Edmonds, who had scored the first UA touchdown, carrying the ball. But after breaking the huddle, reserve UA quarterback Bruce Lee — substituting for ineffective starter Marc Reed in the second quarter — whispered “bootleg” to Edmonds.
Bruce Lee took the snap, faked to Edmonds and put the ball on his hip. Split end Tim DeWan blocked the only Ohio State player between Bruce Lee and the goal line, and the UA quarterback darted into the end zone. Arizona led 14-7 and the Wildcats were on their way to victory as the defense stifled Ohio State following a first-quarter score by the Buckeyes.
“We did not run well at all,” Hayes was quoted as saying by The Arizona Republic. “Our inability to run the ball against their defense is what beat us … the middle of the Arizona defense was darned good. They outplayed us and deserved to win.”
Mudra, in the Arizona Republic article, said: “Our guys blitzed a good deal. We watched last year’s films of Ohio State’s games and ran the same way Washington did (in a 38-22 win at Columbus). We expected to win here.”
The game was played in front of the biggest crowd (77,468) to see a Wildcat game as well as providing the school with its biggest paycheck ($62,000 after expenses).
Former Tucson Citizen sports columnist Corky Simpson wrote in 1997 about an episode with Hayes and a member of the media after the game.
Fuming from the defeat, Hayes was asked a question by Citizen sports editor Carl Porter that drew the coach’s ire.
Simpson wrote: ”What kind of (bleeping) question is that?” roared the Ohio State coach, drawing back a fist (probably similar to what he showed in the accompanying YouTube video in the 1978 Gator Bowl, which led to his firing).
Porter braced himself “but scrawny little (UA sports information director) Frank Soltys jumped in between us and calmed Woody down,” Porter said. ”That typified Frank. He wasn’t afraid of his own athletic department, and he darn sure wasn’t afraid of Woody Hayes.”
Hayes was feeling the heat from Buckeye fans. Following the losing season in 1966, the season-opening loss to Arizona and 2-3 start in 1967 created some restlessness in Columbus. Ohio State media to this day compare the loss to Arizona as something similar to Michigan losing its season opener to Appalachian State in 2007 because the Wildcats were in the WAC.
The Buckeyes won their last four games in 1967 to finish 6-3 while Arizona stumbled with only two more wins and inexplicably finished 3-6-1 under Mudra, in his first season.
“You know, you remember a lot of things from your college days,” Olden Lee told ArizonaWildcats.com, “and most of them are good. But what bothered me the most from the time I was at UA was, we didn’t have a winning season.
“So the Ohio State win was big, but it’s hard to say you did something special when you didn’t have a winning football season. Great as that victory was, we’d rather have won it in the Western Athletic Conference.”
Arizona’s win over Ohio State is significant when factoring the Wildcats’ lack of success against teams from the Big Ten region before that game. Furthermore, the Buckeyes, with many of the same players, went undefeated the following season and were crowned national champions.
The Wildcats ventured to Notre Dame, Marquette and Big Ten locales 10 times before 1967 and were 0-9-1. They were outscored 322-61 in games against Marquette (four times), Notre Dame, Michigan State (twice), Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa. Those games were the easternmost Arizona had traveled to that point. Michigan State also played Arizona in Tucson in 1949 and dealt the Wildcats their worst loss in school history 75-0.
OTHER SEPTEMBER 30 HAPPENINGS OF NOTE:
— Arizona tied Nebraska 14-14 in Lincoln in 1961. The Wildcats finished that season 8-1-1 under coach Jim LaRue. Nebraska finished 3-6-1.
Site publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner