Same as this year, the game was played on Nov. 22.
1969 was Bo Schembechler's first year as head coach of the Wolverines. Keller said Bo came in after the 1968 season and announced things would be different. "Bump Elliot was a great guy but he ran a loose program," Keller said. "He didn't work guys all that hard and that's where Bo came in and said, 'You guys are a bunch of sissy's' and told us we had underperformed and things were going to change."
This change gave birth to the famous Wolverine saying, "Those Who Stay Will Be Champions".
"We had about 150 guys when Bo came in," Keller said. "When we went into Bo's winter conditioning program it was brutal, the Junction Boys have nothing on us. A lot of the guys didn't want anything to do with it and quit, so we started the '69 season with about 70 guys. Bo told us then that those who stayed would be champions. We started challenging people with that and posted boards all over the locker room with that phrase on them so when people went into the locker room or into meetings they would see them, and it stuck."
One of the first things Schembechler told his players was that they would never be beaten like that again. "He basically came in and told us he was going to kick our (butts)." Keller said. "To us sophomores it really wasn't that big of a deal because we didn't play the year before, but for some of the upperclassmen it was hard to take. For our agility drills Bo would take us into one of the wrestling rooms and turn the heat up to about 120-130 degrees then start drills. After agility drills we'd go into Yost Fieldhouse where we did speed drills. We had our locker room there, upstairs. There was a long stairwell up there and when we'd come in to do speed drilles there'd be about 15 guys or so hanging over the railing puking their guts out. Bo's thing was that he would work us so hard he would make us puke. That's why a lot of guys quit or transferred. It was the most incredible thing I've ever gone through."
Michigan had just come off an 8-2 season under Eilliot. His last game though as Wolverine coach was a 50-14 blowout by the Buckeyes in Columbus and as a result, Keller said, Michigan didn't get any respect from the Buckeyes. Michigan State, Minnesota, even Indiana were all decent teams in the 60s, but Ohio State was king of the Big Ten. The Buckeyes had just come off a national championship season and had steamrolled teams all through the '69 season. Even though each game was a priority before they played, Keller said they did something each week to prepare for the OSU game that year. "Bo knew that was the one we wanted."
Michigan started the 1969 campaign with victories over Vanderbilt and Washington. Keller said after the win over Washington they team started to believe they had something special. Then they suffered their first loss to a top 10 Missouri team. Afterwards they beat Purdue before a loss to Michigan State. "After that we started getting better," Keller said. "The real turnaround was after halftime of the Minnesota game. We were behind 9-7, then Billy Taylor came out in the second half and ran like crazy. We scored four unanswered touchdowns and won 35-9. Afterwards we blew teams out, our defense was shutting people off and our offense was scoring points."
The weather during the week leading up to the game was frigid. "It was 20 degrees and there was snow and ice all over the practice field," Keller said. "Michigan has just installed artificial turf and the freshman and coaches had to go out and scrape ice off the practice field every day before we could go out. It was like that all week, but on gameday it got up to 45. You could see all the snow around the field but the field itself was fine."
Ohio State came into the game ranked No. 1 in the country. How confident was the Michigan team going into the OSU game? "We knew were pretty good," Keller said. "Even though we still had an inferiority complex Bo convinced us that we had a chance. A lot of it was the seniors, especially the Ohio guys who remembered the loss from the last game. Everything you read was that it was going to be another blowout like last year, you know, they were supposed to be the greatest team ever. People were talking that the only team that had a chance against them was the (NFL Minnesota) Vikings. People were comparing them (OSU) to the Vikings, of all things."
All the scoring in the game was done in the first half. Ohio State scored to take a 12-7 lead in the second quarter. The Buckeyes kicked the extra point but Michigan was offsides on the play. OSU coach Woody Hayes opted to take the penalty and go for the two-point conversion. Keller blasted into the backfield and sacked Buckeye quarterback Rex Kern to leave the score at 12-7. It would turn out to be the last points Ohio State would score that season. "I think that was a turning point in the game," Keller said. "I think they didn't feel like they could lose, but after that sack you could start to see it in their eyes. You could start to sense that these guys knew they were beaten. A situation like that took a lot of wind out of their sails."
The next Michigan drive resulted in a Garvie Craw touchdown to put the Wolverines ahead for good.
Keller recalled the treatment the Wolverine defense gave Kern during the game. "We hit Kern a few times and he started wimpering." Keller said, chuckling. "That just made us go after him harder and they ended up pulling him out of the game."
Going into the halftime locker room up 24-12, which ended up being the final score, Keller said there really wasn't any kind of inspirational speech given by the coaches other then to make sure they didn't suffer a letdown. They didn't as the second half was a scoreless defensive battle. The Wolverines were off to Pasadena and the Rose Bowl.
Michigan Stadium isn't known as a loud arena, but this game was different.. "It was the largest crowd ever to see a game up to that time, almost 104,000 people," Keller said. "We talked to Bill Flemming and the other announcers afterwards and they said it was the loudest game they'd ever been to and it never let up through the entire game." The post game celebration was euphoric. "I was so exhausted I could barely stand, "Keller said. "We gave it everything we had. As the crowd came onto the field I felt myself starting to fall down. Then some fans caught me and helped me off the field, it was unbelievable."
Back in those days only the Big Ten champ went bowling, and the only bowl for them was the Rose. Since Ohio State had gone the year before they weren't eligible to return under Big Ten rules at the time, which didn't allow back-to-back trips, even for outright conference champs. One Ohio State player was so confident of a Buckeye victory that he said he was going to enjoy watching the bowl games over the holidays knowing they were the best in the country.
Keller, a sophomore in '69, spent two more years at Michigan, and several in the National Football League, but said of the '69 game, "That was by far the greatest experience I've ever had on the football field. To this day it is a wonderful feeling to have been a part of that team. We put Michigan football back on the map and even though the game was a big rivalry before then, it became even moreso after. It seemed for 20 years afterwards the Michigan - Ohio State game almost always decided the Big Ten champion and sometimes decided the national champion. " Has the rivalry lost any of its intensity since Bo and Woody are no longer on the sidelines? "I don't think so at all," Keller said. "Lloyd is part of the line from Bo, and this game is once again for the Big Ten title. I think these kids today understand what this is all about and go out there to win just as we did."
Keller said he keeps close to the program but hasn't talked to Bo in a while. "It goes in spurts," he said. Michigan fans will recall his son, Sam, now back-up quarterback at Arizona State, was originally a U-M commit but changind his mind just before signing day last year. The elder Keller is planning on attending this years 100th game with his father. The Grand Rapids native, who played for Grand Rapids Catholic Central, said he was better as a basketball player than football player in high school, "But I was 6-3 and not a very good ball-handler," Keller said. "I was a good shooter but I would have had to play inside and at 6-3 that wasn't going to happen, so I played football."
The game is at noon on Saturday in Ann Arbor.