Photo: Tommy Graves is No. 10 and Paul Rudzinski No. 37.
The wonder of history is an untold story always surfaces years later.
Tommy Graves, Michigan State’s All-Big Ten second-team safety as a 1974 freshman that was robbed of future greatness by knee injuries, tells one 40 years later. It's about the Spartans’ monumental 16-13 upset of No. 1-ranked Ohio State on Nov. 9, 1974 before 78,533 at Spartan Stadium.
Ohio State was an 8-0 goliath when the Buckeyes arrived at unranked Michigan State with a 15-game unbeaten streak in Big Ten play. Ohio State had averaged of 50.2 points per game in its previous four Big Ten victories over Wisconsin, 52-7; Indiana, 49-9; Northwestern, 55-7; and Illinois, 49-7.
But Woody Hayes’ offense was predictable.
“We knew they liked to run between the tackles,” Graves said. “We put in special defense for when they got to the goal-line. Ohio State liked to close things down when they got inside the 5-yard line. We worked on that all week.”
In the 1970s, the Neanderthal offenses of Hayes and Michigan’s Bo Schembechler outmanned the Big Ten’s Little Eight teams, but then were befuddled at the Rose Bowl by Pac-8 schools to the tune of a 1-9 record. But in late 1974, improving Michigan State’s had matured out of the Little Eight grouping with strong defense.
“We had a young secondary but lot experience up front,” said Graves as he ran through a roll call.
He mentioned defensive tackle Jim Taubert, defensive end Otto Smith and linebacker Terrence McClowery as first-team All-Big Ten picks; defensive tackle Gregory Schaum was second team All-Big Ten in addition to Graves; defensive end Michael Duda and linebacker/nose tackle Kim Rowekamp were honorable mention.
“We also had a tough little nose tackle named Tom Standal,” Graves said.
The defense held Ohio State to a touchdown that was set up a by a fumble and two field goals. The Buckeyes clung to a 13-3 lead in the fourth quarter. But then suddenly the Spartans scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns. First was a 44-yard pass from Charlie Baggett to Mike Holt with 5:30 to play followed by a failed 2-point conversion pass. The Spartans forced a punt and then Levi Jackson broke off an 88-yard run for the game-winning score with 3:30 remaining.
As Ohio State attempted to mount a game-winning drive to save its national championship season, the first controversial play conveniently overlooked by Ohio State fans was an interception by McClowery. An official further from the play overruled it as incomplete.
On the next play, Archie Griffin broke off a 31-yard gain over right tackle and cut left across the field to Michigan State’s 30-yard line. Terrence McClowery’s twin brother Patrick saved that play, pursuing Griffin from across the field for a tackle that forced Ohio State to consume more time to get within scoring range.
Griffin, a month from picking up the first of his two Heisman Trophies, touched the ball only two times on the possession – gaining 31 and 5 yards to finish with 140. The last two runs safely protected his 100-yard rushing streak that eventually grew to 31.
Ohio State continued down field and used its final timeout after Griffin gained 5 yards to the 6.
Michigan State defensive coordinator Ed Youngs countered with the goal-line defense the Spartans had had yet to show. Paul Rudzinski, a freshman linebacker who would later play for the Green Bay Packers, replaced a cornerback and lined up in the middle of the field as an extra middle linebacker. Graves shifted to the outside and Tom Hannon was a lone safety in the middle.
“We hadn’t shown it,” Graves said, “so they hadn’t seen it and didn’t know how to block it.”
But on the next play Ohio State’s line got a strong push and fullback Champ Hensen went up the middle for 5 yards to the 1-yard line. The chains were brought out to measure for a first down. Ohio State lined up and ran the same play.
This time Rowekamp, playing nose tackle, gained penetration underneath Ohio State’s offensive linemen to nullify the Buckeyes’ push. Terrence McClowery hit Hensen head on. Rudzinksi, who brought more power than a defensive back could deliver, was in on the hit with McClowery and Hannon behind Rudzinski. They forced back the 231-pound Hensen – comparable to a 250-pound back in today’s game – without reaching the end zone.
“Rudzinski wasn’t accounted for,” Graves said. “Basically, we had a free running linebacker. And then they were out of timeouts.”
Ohio State tried to get up to run one more play, but the offensive line wasn’t set when the ball was snapped. It slipped through quarterback Cornelius Greene’s hands and Brian Baschnagal picked it up before running into the end zone. One official signed touchdown, but the head referee ruled time expired.
Controversy ensued for the next 45 minutes as commissioner Wayne Duke said the game wasn’t official until he spoke with the referees. They informed Duke there was no controversy – Ohio State wasn’t set and time had expired.
Eventually Duke entered the Ohio State locker room to inform Hayes his team had lost. Ohio State’s players years later described the furious Hayes cussing at Duke and waving a leg from a chair he had broken. Hayes’ name is one of those that grace the Big Ten Coach of the Year Trophy.
“When the game ended, the coaches told us to get off the field,” Graves said. “We were in the locker room, but the coaches said to stay dressed. Then we finally got the word we won and celebrated.”
Graves said the 1974 Ohio State-Michigan State game might have been the physical game he ever played in. He delivered one of the biggest hits of the game on Baschnagal.
He had All-American player written all over him, but he suffered a severe knee injury in 1975 and was never the same player. He missed the 1976 season but returned in 1977 and 1978. He was first-team All-Big Ten in 1978 when the Spartans won a Big Ten title for the first time since 1966.
“Had it not been for injures, he surely would have gone down as a two-time All-American and one of the all-time great Spartans,” Raye said in the book “Raye of Light.” “He had the athleticism, range, size and he was a fierce competitor.”
Graves played one year with the Pittsburgh Steelers, earning a Super Bowl ring in 1979, but then he retired.
“I was about to sign with Philadelphia,” Graves said. “But my doctor said if I wanted to be able to walk when I was 40, I should quit playing.”
Graves subsequently return to the family business, Graves Funeral Home in Norfolk.
“We’ve been in business 61 years,” Graves said. “My dad just turned 90. My two sons are working with me now.”
Michigan State's 1972 upset of Ohio State that Graves watched as a high school senior inspired him. The chance to play Ohio State was one of the reasons Graves picked Michigan State when Raye recruited him out of Norfolk (Va.) Lake Taylor. He had worn No. 10 in high school, the same number Michigan State All-American safety Brad Van Pelt wore as senior in 1972. The Spartans envisioned Graves as another Van Pelt.
“For some reason, they showed the 1972 Ohio State-Michigan State game in our area instead of one of the games from the South,” Graves said. “Michigan State had Brad Van Pelt. And they had another great linebacker, Gail Clark (first-team All-Big Ten). They just beat on Ohio State that day.”
Two years later Graves was part of another beating on Ohio State.