Ohio State’s first and only previous trip to the Orange Bowl, a 27-10 win over Colorado on Jan. 1, 1977, provided plenty of fond memories for the Buckeyes who made the trip to Miami.
It marked the second season in which non-champions from the Big Ten and Pac-10 could play in a game other than the Rose Bowl. However, it was the first year in which OSU was able to take advantage, having won the conference and gone to the Rose Bowl the previous season.
The extended stay in Miami – the Buckeyes arrived before Christmas – included late nights at the bar (thanks to a 1 a.m. curfew), early morning meetings and ultimately a comeback victory that snapped a two-game losing streak in bowls.
But first, it featured a bout with seasickness.
“We went fishing one day, I remember that,” kicker Tom Skladany said. “It was a huge boat. I was a fisherman, so I told the boys to take Dramamine – and they didn’t. About half an hour into the trip, we had about 12 of them on the other side of the boar chumming for sharks, just getting rid of everything they had for breakfast.”
The game itself didn’t start much better for Ohio State. Colorado raced out to a 10-0 lead in the first quarter thanks to a Mark Zetterberg field goal and an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jeff Knapple to Emery Moorehead.
“In the first quarter, they were absolutely eating our lunch,” OSU running back Jeff Logan said. “We were struggling against their defense. They had a middle guard that was absolutely unblockable early in the football game.”
The game changed when aforementioned middle guard Charlie Johnson broke his ankle in the first quarter. Logan responded to the Colorado touchdown with a 36-yard touchdown run late in the opening frame to put the Buckeyes on the board.
Sensing the opportunity to exploit the hole in the Buffaloes’ defense, OSU coach Woody Hayes made the decision to insert the more mobile Rod Gerald at quarterback. The Buckeyes also shifted Logan to fullback, which allowed OSU the chance to put both its running backs in the backfield behind Gerald.
“We had not practiced me at the fullback position at all, but we go to that switch and we run a fullback belly that goes 36 yards for a touchdown,” Logan said. “All of a sudden, Woody thought he had the greatest invention in the world with two tailbacks in the backfield at the same time – me at the fullback position, and Rod Springs behind me at tailback.”
Of course, that change may have had its roots in Hayes’ obsessive film watching, which Skladany saw up close while in Miami. On the way to a team meeting, the senior captain was running late and speeding down the halls to get into the room before Hayes locked the doors.
“One of the film guys motioned me into this side room, into a meeting room,” Skladany said. “I poked my head in, and there was probably four feet worth of film lined up like spaghetti, probably five feet high.
“There was a note – I can see it now – and it said, ‘I found that I could watch more film when I didn’t have to rewind each tape. Please clean this up. – Coach Hayes.’ Is that beautiful, or what? He actually figured out that instead of waiting while it rewound, he’d just let it run out so he could put the next one on. That’s how his mind worked.”
The Buckeyes went on to score 27 unanswered points, helping to erase the sting of a 22-0 loss to Michigan in its regular-season finale. On the day, the Buckeyes finished with 271 rushing yards on a whopping 71 carries. OSU attempted just seven passes and completed just two of those.
Skladany said that some members of the team were initially reluctant to go to the bowl game, having been beaten quite thoroughly by the Wolverines. Hayes made clear that the Buckeyes would be heading to Miami, and any feelings of reluctance vanished once they began preparing for the contest.
“If we would have had to just sit and not have a game to prepare for, I think it would have been devastating to have that whole winter off just worrying about how poorly we played against Michigan,” Logan said. “The simple fact that were able to go play in a huge bowl game for us and that our season didn’t end, it really wasn’t that difficult to wash the bad taste out of your mouth and move on to the next opportunity.”
Logan compared the situation to the plight of the current team, having dropped its final game of the season that denied it a chance to play in Pasadena, Calif. Realizing that they represented the Big Ten, the Buckeyes managed to grind through their disappointment to pick up a marquee out-of-conference win in the Orange Bowl.
“We just had to forget about the challenge and move on to the next challenge ahead of us,” he said. “The only way to silence critics is to do it on the football field. Going up against high-caliber teams, your actions speak louder than your words.”