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November 22, 1969 – Bo’s Biggest Win!

Posted on November 22, 2017 by Barry Gallagher

Today’s post takes us back to November 22, 1969 – the day of Bo’s biggest win at Michigan. Bo Schembechler won 194 games at Michigan, but his first victory over Ohio State was the biggest win of his career. Let’s find out why Coach Schembechler felt that way.

Bo Schembechler Michigan Football 1969 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Bo Schembechler’s biggest win came on November 22, 1969. What a day it was! Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

The 1969 season was the 90th in Michigan Football History. The greatest rivalry in the history of Michigan football, and arguably the greatest rivalry in college football, was really going strong when Bo arrived. Actually, it was going strong for OSU, but not so much for Michigan.  No one could have imagined that it would get any more intense, but that’s exactly what happened.  The dynamics of Bo versus Woody, student versus teacher, “The Team Up North” versus “ohio” was football drama at its best.  Some of the greatest games in the rich history of the Michigan-OSU rivalry were played in the Bo Era.  However, nothing ever beat game one of the Ten Year War!

Bo’s first test against the Buckeyes came against his “football father” as he referred to Woody prior to their impending battle in November 1969. Woody’s Buckeyes rolled into Ann Arbor on a twenty-two-game winning streak. They were ranked number one in the nation and were the defending national champions.  Some sportswriters claimed they were the greatest college football team ever!  Many experts believed that the only team that stood a chance against the mighty Buckeyes was the Minnesota Vikings of the National Football League.

Beating the buckeyes was Bo’s stated goal from his first day on the job.  He knew Woody better than any coach in the country and he took advantage of this knowledge.  He modeled his offense and defense after Ohio State’s which meant that his team practiced against the buckeyes every day, all season long.  Bo made sure that his conditioning program was tougher than Ohio States. Schembechler made sure that his practices were more intense than Woody’s practice sessions in Columbus.  Bo made sure that his team knew the score of the 1968 game (14-50) and the magnitude of the game that would be played on November 22, 1969.

Barry Pierson MIchigan Football 1969 | bigbluefootballhistory.com

Barry Pierson’s punt return was one of many BIG plays that doomed Ohio State in 1969. Photo courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library at The University of Michigan.

Going into his first OSU game, Bo’s twelfth ranked Wolverines had a record of 7 wins and 2 losses. So, his record was not as good as Bump Elliott’s was the year before (Elliott’s team was 8-1 going into the OSU game).  Basically, the success of Bo’s first season rode on the outcome of “The Game.”  Bo knew it, his coaches knew it, his players knew it and every Michigan fan knew that this was the measuring stick by which people would judge the wisdom of Schembechler’s hiring.

Bo’s underdogs (Buckeyes were favored by 17 points) were sky high for this game and it turned out perfectly for the rookie coach and his Michigan Men.  Television announcer Bill Fleming’s reaction to the upset win (24-12) over the number one team in the country was this exclamation “There it is! What has to be the upset of the century.”

The 1969 season was the one hundredth year of college football so Fleming (a slightly biased Michigan Man) may have had a good basis for his statement.  Game number sixty-six in the Michigan vs ohio state series was a classic, at least in the annals of Michigan Football History. 

Bo’s eighth win as the Michigan Football Coach was the five hundred and seventeenth victory in program history.  Many argue that Bo’s biggest win was also the biggest win in Wolverine Football History. It was HUGE, because it established Bo’s program. More importantly, it re-established Michigan as a team to be reckoned with in the Big Ten Conference and on the national stage.  At a dinner in Columbus, many years later, someone asked Woody which team was his greatest team.  His answer was his 1969 team and he looked down the table where Bo (he was still coaching) was sitting and said, “damn you Bo, you’ll never win a bigger game.”  Later Bo would say, “he (Woody) was right. I never won a bigger game.”  Bo went on to win one hundred and eighty-six more games at Michigan, but none would ever be remembered like the shocker heard around the college football world in 1969.  One more thing, Bo’s Wolverines were never, ever, seventeen-point underdogs again – to OSU or anybody else!

There were a number of important Michigan Football “firsts” associated with Bo’s biggest win in 1969. Let’s take a look.

·         The 1969 season was Bo’s first season at Michigan.

·         Bo’s first season was also the first season for helmet stickers on the famed winged helmets.

·         The 1969 Michigan vs OSU game was the last regular season game of Bo’s first season at Michigan.

·         This important game was Bo’s first rival game vs OSU and his first game against his mentor, Woody Hayes.

·         It was also the first game of the “Ten Year War.”

·         The dramatic win gave Bo his first series win over OSU.

·         Finally, the OSU victory gave Bo a share of his first Big Ten Championship.

Bo delivered on his “promise” to his seniors and the rest of the team. For the record, he also kept that promise to every other Wolverine who played his full eligibility from 1969-1989 – “Those Who Stayed Were Champions” – all of them!

Bo’s “underdogs” accomplished some great things in his first season. Not a bad start for the coach who was Don Canham’s second choice. The impatient Schembechler accomplished what many experts thought was impossible. Michigan stopped the buckeye twenty-two game winning streak, knocked them out of the number one spot in the national rankings, and avenged the debacle from 1968. Remarkably, it all happened in just 332 days, counting from the day Bo was hired until the day the Michigan Stadium scoreboard read: Michigan 24 – OSU 12. So, that’s why the 1969 victory over OSU was Bo’s biggest win. Any questions?

Thanks to Dr. Sap for his video on the final countdown of Bo’s Biggest Win at Michigan.

Of course, we have another BIG GAME on Saturday. Yes, we are underdogs, again, to the hated Buckeyes. I am really hoping that we come up with some sort of a miracle in the Big House on Saturday. It would be the BIGGEST win of Jim Harbaugh’s career, so far. Go Blue! Beat OSU!


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