The first four games of the Ten Year War had been very exciting, but none would be more controversial than the 1973 contest between the Wolverines and Buckeyes. Yes, the 1971 game had been controversial because of the game-sealing interception, but it would be nothing like the weeks and offseason following the finale to the 1973 season. The game would prove to be so important that it would permanently change Big Ten policies and change the face of the rivalry.
After a disappointing finish to the 1972 season, Michigan had rebounded well, beginning the season ranked #5 in the nation and holding their first seven opponents to 10 points or less. During this stretch, Michigan would also be great on the offensive side of the ball, only scoring fewer than 20 points once. By time the 1973 Ohio State game rolled around, Michigan had won 31 of its last 32 regular season games, something that would be impressive during any coaching tenure.
Michigan had many impressive players on its 1973 squad, but the development of quarterback Dennis Franklin had to be a positive for Wolverine fans. He would be named All-Big Ten and be one of the players that allowed the Wolverines to have such success. Not to be outdone, Michigan's running game with backs like Gil Chapman and Chuck Heater were quite successful at moving the ball. Michigan would average over 300 rushing yards entering the match-up with the Buckeyes.
If Michigan was having a great year, then the Buckeyes were having an extroadinary season. They began the year ranked #3, but quickly moved to the #1 spot and didn't look back until the Michigan game. They brought a 9-0 record into Ann Arbor and were having a truly remarkable year. Only one team would score more than a touchdown against the Ohio State defense and it would happen in a game where the Buckeyes scored a whopping 55 points. So, needless to say, it wasn't very close.
Ohio State had performed so well largely because of their defense led by defensive line All-American Van DeCree. The linebackers of Rick Middleton, Vic Koegel, and Randy Gradishar also helped build a defensive front that was one of the best in the nation. Along with this, it goes without saying that Archie Griffin made some large contributions. He set a conference record with 1265 rushing yards and showed why he would win two Heisman trophies at Ohio State. However, probably the most amazing stat from the 1973 Ohio State team was that 10 players on the squad would earn All-American status in their careers. Simply amazing.
The beginning of the game was pretty hectic for both sides. OSU had two three and outs and Michigna's Gil Chapman fumbled the ball to give the Buckeyes good field position. After Michigan got the ball back on its second drive, they got a few first downs with Ed Shuttlesworth. However, for much of the first quarter the teams simply exchanged punts after the Wolverines slowed down Griffin and the Buckeyes made Michigan's gains useless.
Once Griffin did start getting things going, Ohio State got into good field position early and were able to kick in a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead. Michigan had a great return, but a penalty brought the return all the way back. The Wolverines offense could do little and were forced to return the ball to the Buckeyes. Griffin moved the ball well for OSU and got them right back in position to score. Pete Johnson ran the ball into the endzone for the Buckeyes and gave OSU a 10-0 lead.
OSU looked to be in good shape entering the 2nd half, but Woody Hayes opted to go to a conservative philosphy that would ultimately punish him and his team. This half began much like the first with little offensive success for either team. However, OSU finally got into decent position and were on the verge of field goal position. If they could get a field goal, there was almost no chance Michigan could win. Scoring two touchdowns on this defense seemed impossible. The defense would have to hold. In a great display of defensive football, the Wolverines stuffed the Buckeyes and got the ball back.
This would swing all the momentum of "The Game". Dennis Franklin and Ed Shuttlesworth got the Michigan offense moving and quickly put them in field goal range where they closed the OSU lead to 10-3. The Buckeyes were then shut down on the next drive and Michigan got the ball back again. The offense's success continued and they got down to the 9-yard line. However, they needed just two inches to get a first down. Obviously, this would be Shuttlesworth who would get Michigan the first down. However, Michigan ran an option play, which got Franklin into the endzone and tied the game. Nearing the end of the game, Michigan's Lantry had a chance to kick two field goals, but missed both and ended the game in a tie.
Out of any game in the Ten Year War, this was the one with the most controversy. Not because of a play during the game, but because of the events surrounding the ending. After the tie, the athletic directors for the Big Ten schools were the given the right to vote on which school deserved to go to the Rose Bowl. Immediately following the game, almost everyone predicted Michigan would get the nod for Pasadena. They had, after all, been just one missed kick away from beating the Buckeyes and ending any debate.
Despite this sentiment, the athletic directors voted for OSU to go to the Rose Bowl. The schools that voted for the Buckeyes were as follows: OSU, Northwestern, Purdue, Illinois, Wisconsin, and unsurprisingly, MSU. Bo was shocked following the voting results and was forced to give an emotional speech to his team explaining why they wouldn't be attending the Rose Bowl. Something no coach wants to do.
A late injury by Michigan's quarterback, Dennis Franklin, would be cited as the primary cause for the voting results. Bo went on a rampage during the time period following the decision accusing OSU's athletic director of lobbying others, the athletic directors of not doing adequate research, and the conference not using the right method for its decision. The entire Michigan community would be involved in this process and truly made a ton of noise for the Big Ten.
OSU would win the Rose Bowl by blowing out USC. The Rose Bowl selection process would also soon be altered to remove the athletic directors from the decision, which is something that is still present today. After the 2010 football season, there were three teams eligible to go to the Rose Bowl, Wisconsin, OSU, and MSU, and this process was used to decide who would be sent to Pasadena. This split decision would also be used as fuel for the eventual 1974 contest, which would be even more intense as a result.