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Big moments in Ohio State football history: the Snow Bowl

Baby, it’s cold outside.

Vic Janowicz
Vic Janowicz. This game was about kickers.
Photo by Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

It may certainly seem odd to rate a loss to TTUN as a “big moment,” but this one was special. “The Game” played in Columbus on Nov. 25, 1950, nearly immediately given its “Snow Bowl” label, is still talked about and written about to this day.

But the Snow Bowl is beyond actual memory – even for an oldster like me. I know that there was a little snow in Ann Arbor last year, but it didn’t affect the outcome. When we think of bad weather more recently, we might recall the 2015 Michigan State game. When we think of cold weather, we might remember the November 2014 contest in Minneapolis.

In that 31-24 Buckeye win, the temperature at game time was only 15 degrees. But there wasn’t much wind — and it wasn’t snowing. Additionally, there are a lot more warming devices available to players than there were in 1950.

Against the Gophers, J.T. Barrett broke an 86-yard run for a touchdown on the first OSU possession and finished with 189 rushing yards, breaking a team single-game record for quarterbacks. Barrett also had big passing plays, throwing TD passes to Jalin Marshall (57 yards), Michael Thomas (30 yards), and Evan Spencer (22 yards). With the Bucks racking up 489 yards of total offense, the cold didn’t seem to slow down this speedy team much.

Certainly not the case in the 1950 game.


If you look at the old black and white photos from the Snow Bowl, you’ll see Ohio Stadium sparsely filled. Although the game had been a sell-out (of course), the official attendance was listed as just over 50,000. My dad, one of the biggest Buckeye fans of all time, claimed to be among them, but I doubt it. Maybe, but we weren’t living in Columbus then — about 50 miles away in Bellefontaine.

My personal interest in the Snow Bowl came in the late 50s, maybe early 60s. The mother of one of my friends was a writer/editor for Highlights for Children. Looking through those magazines in my dentist’s office, I thought it was pretty cool to see her name among the editors. More interesting, by far, was her freelance work.

In their small house in Grandview, she had a desk in a corner of the dining room, where she’d sit, chain-smoking and pounding the keys on her manual Royal. Then, one day, she announced that she had sold a story about the Snow Bowl to Sports Illustrated. I suppose that I had an unhealthy interest in writing, even then, but to me she was a rock star. And that 1950 OSU-UM game has always loomed large.


Pregame indecision

It had snowed all day Friday in Columbus and through the night. By the time that the game was scheduled to start, there were several inches on the ground, and it was snowing again. A crew had put a tarp over the field, but there was snow under it, and the ground was frozen. It was currently 10 degrees and snowing heavily. 30 MPH winds blew the snow every which way.

Before game time, Big Ten, Ohio State, and Michigan officials met to decide if the game should be played at all. The conference championship was at stake: the game winner would be champ. Michigan, if it won, would also get a Rose Bowl bid. With a no-repeat rule in place, Ohio State, having played in the 1950 game, was ineligible. Neither Buckeye coach Wes Fesler nor Michigan coach Bennie Oosterbaan wanted to play. The Wolverine athletic director was more undecided; he would play, or he would forfeit the championship, but he would not reschedule the game. Buckeye AD Dick Larkins wanted to play or reschedule. He did not want to deal with refunding tickets.

They played.


The game itself

The tarp was removed, and a team of broom sweepers were posted at each end zone to try to keep the goal lines clear.

Yes, Michigan won the game, 9-3, but even a quick look at the stats tells us all we need to know about this game and how different it was from 2014 Minnesota. There were only three first downs (combined, both teams) and 45 punts. The blocked kick was the biggest weapon for both teams. Though it’s a bragging point, I suppose, to say that you attended this game, I’m not sure that it provided enough excitement (even if you could see the “action” through the snow from your seat) to warrant braving the elements.

The Buckeyes scored first, in the first quarter, when Vic Janowicz kicked a 38-yard field goal into the strong wind. The Bucks had blocked a Michigan punt and recovered the ball at the UM 8-yard line. Three rushing plays, however, lost yards, and Janowicz had to kick a long one. Quite impressive under the conditions.

The Wolverines turned the tables and blocked an OSU punt in the second quarter. The ball rolled out of the Buckeye endzone for a Michigan safety. 3-2. Another blocked Janowicz punt, this time recovered in the endzone, resulted in a touchdown, and Michigan led 9-3 at the half.

Every point scored stemmed from a blocked punt. Perhaps it’s not that unusual if there were 45 punts, but neither offense could move the ball. The strategy, adopted by both teams, was to run a couple of plays, hope that something would happen, then punt on third down. Why third down? In case of a fumble, there would be another chance for a punt.

Neither team did anything in the second half, and the halftime score held up: Michigan 9, Ohio State 3. For the game, UM was 0-for-9 passing for zero yards (obviously), 27 net yards rushing, and zero first downs (yes, 0!). And won! The Buckeyes had three first downs, 18 yards passing, and 16 yards rushing. They also suffered four blocked punts during the game.


The aftermath

Michigan claimed the Big Ten Championship and went on to the Rose Bowl, where they beat Cal, 14-6. Wes Fesler resigned as OSU coach after the game, paving the way for the hiring of Woody Hayes. And the Snow Bowl? The Snow Bowl is legendary and truly a big moment, even though it was a loss.