Strange But True: 60-Second Disaster

When Ohio State and Notre Dame met to play football in 1935, both teams were undefeated. The teams were evenly matched, and the game was one of the most exciting ever played. But for some strange reason the outcome seemed to depend on a reserve halfback for Ohio State named Dick Beltz.

Ohio State took control at first. It scored two straight touchdowns and led, 13-0. Dick Beltz was the kicker who scored one of the extra points.

Finally Notre Dame scored a touchdown, but missed the point-after. The score was 13-6. Then late in the fourth period Notre Dame got another touchdown. But once more the kick failed, so Ohio State led, 13-12.

With about a minute to play Ohio State had the ball. The extra point made by Dick Beltz was the difference between the two teams. All Ohio State had to do was hold onto the ball until the clock ran out. Undoubtedly, Beltz would be the big hero.

But the game had run only 59 minutes. A lot could happen in that final minute–both to Ohio State and to Dick Beltz.

First, Beltz got the assignment of carrying the ball for the Buckeyes. He tried an end sweep. Half of the Notre Dame line helped to stop him, and they knocked the ball from his hands. Notre Dame recovered. Suddenly it had one last chance to win the game.

On the first play Andy Pilney of Notre Dame ran the ball down to the Ohio State 19. But he was hit so hard he had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. He was replaced by a player with the unlikely name of William Shakespeare.

Shakespeare tried a pass, but he threw the ball badly–right at Dick Beltz. (Players in the 1930s played both offense and defense.) No player from Notre Dame was within five yards of him. All he had to do to assure a victory for Ohio State was catch the ball.

He dropped it!

Again Notre Dame tried a last-ditch pass. It was thrown to Wayne Milner, a sure-handed receiver. Milner caught the ball, and only one Ohio State player had a chance to stop the score–Dick Beltz. He lunged at Milner, but missed. The Irish of Notre Dame scored, and moments later the game was over. Final score: Notre Dame 18, Ohio State 13.

There wasn’t a more dejected football player in the United States than Dick Beltz. With one minute left he had been the hero of the game, because his conversion had given Ohio State a one-point edge. But then 1) his fumble gave Notre Dame possession of the ball; 2) his failure to make an easy interception gave Notre Dame still another chance; and 3) the winning pass had been thrown over his head.

It had all happened within a period of 60 seconds. In that one minute, Dick Beltz had changed from a hero to a goat.

From Strange But True Sports Stories by Howard Liss. Illustrations by Joe Mathieu.

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  1. I love all of the missed kicks in old time games due to the way regular players also got kicking duty.

    I think the NFL should adopt a rule that anyone kicking the ball has to have played on the last possible set of downs on offense or defense. Which means you either have to have regular players who can punt and placekick, or you sub in your kicker for a regular player and have them play fullback or some other position on the last set of downs.

    You would be allowed to have a defensive player take kicks when the offense has the ball, but they would have had to have played the last time the defense was on the field.

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