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B1G Historical Perspective: The Real Game of the Century

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84 years in the making, the 1988 Indiana football team did something for the first time since the Roosevelt administration – as in Teddy Roosevelt. They beat Ohio State in Bloomington.

Anthony Thompson in action against Ohio State
Phil Whitlow / Herald-Times

1988 was a rather significant year for a lot of reasons. The Summer Olympics were held in Seoul, the Washington Redskins knocked off the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XII in San Diego, the Baltimore Orioles began the 1988 MLB season with a 21-game losing streak, and Notre Dame won the National Championship among other things.

Speaking of Notre Dame, some would say that the October 15, 1988 “Catholics versus Convicts” match-up with Jimmy Johnson’s Miami Hurricanes was the “Game of the Century”. It turns out, just one week prior there literally was the game, or more accurately, win of the century for the Indiana Hoosiers.

The Indiana Hoosiers football team in the mid 1980s experienced something rarely seen in Bloomington: winning. Head Coach Bill Mallory arrived from Northern Illinois in 1984 and began a rather daunting task of reversing the Hoosiers football fortunes. By 1987 Indiana had advanced from 0-11 (1984) to an 8-win season, second place Big Ten finish, and appearance in the Peach Bowl. Additionally, the Hoosiers did something virtually unheard of in Bloomington: they beat both Michigan and Ohio State in the same season.

The Ohio State win was special for the Hoosiers. It was their first victory against the Buckeyes since Woody Hayes’ first season in 1951. It was also just the tenth time Indiana had defeated Ohio State in the series. Indiana’s 31-10 victory in Columbus prompted Buckeye head coach Earle Bruce to exclaim, “This is the darkest day in Ohio State football since I have been associated with it.”

The 1988 rematch in Bloomington featured an undefeated Hoosiers team (with one tie versus Missouri) against a 2-loss Ohio State team (those losses being at Pitt and against Illinois in The Shoe). Indiana was vying for just their twelth victory all-time against the Buckeyes. Ironically, of their 11 victories against the Buckeyes (prior to the 1988 game) 10 had occurred in Columbus. Indiana had only ever beaten Ohio State in Bloomington once... in 1904!

A national television audience tuned in, and 52,133 fans were in attendance at Indiana’s Memorial Stadium (the first season under Memorial Stadium’s permanent lights) to see John Cooper’s Buckeyes take the field against Bill Mallory’s Hoosiers. It turned out that the game wasn’t close. The Hoosiers rode tailback Anthony Thompson’s 190 yards rushing and four touchdowns to a resounding 41-7 victory. This represented Indiana’s largest margin of victory in a Big Ten game since a 49-0 victory against Minnesota in 1945; and Ohio State’s worst conference defeat since losing to Purdue 41-6 in 1967.

Indiana’s domination on this game was not lost on John Cooper; who said, ‘’Bill was nice to us-he took the first team out. This is the best team we’ve played so far. I told Bill afterward I hope he goes to the Rose Bowl.’’ The Hoosier’s path to the Rose bowl was derailed by a stretch where they lost 3 out of 4 to Michigan, Illinois, and Michigan State (with the lone victory in this stretch against Iowa). They would finish the season routing Purdue for the Old Oaken Bucket, and then knocked off South Carolina in the 1988 Liberty Bowl.

In 1989 Ohio State ended the Hoosiers 2-game winning streak with a 35-31 victory over Indiana in Columbus. The teams tied at 27 in the 1990 game in Bloomington. Starting in 1991 the Buckeyes have won 22 straight versus the Hoosiers. The 1988 game in Bloomington is, to date, Indiana’s most recent victory – home or otherwise – against Ohio State. And it – rather than some game in South Bend matching up Jimmy Johnson and Lou Holtz – was truly the game and if you’re a Hoosiers fan win of the century.

Indiana Players and Head Coach Bill Mallory celebrating the 41-7 victory over Ohio State on October 8, 1988
Phil Whitlow / Herald-Times