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Former Ohio State football standout Mike Sensibaugh dies at 72

Bill Rabinowitz, Buckeye Xtra
·4 min read
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Mike Sensibaugh, a key part of Ohio State’s 1968 national championship football team and still the school’s leader in career interceptions, has died.

He passed away Wednesday after a cardiac incident in suburban St. Louis. He was 72.

Sensibaugh was part of the fabled “Super Sophs” class that arrived on the Ohio State campus in 1967. Freshmen weren’t eligible to play then, but the next year that recruiting class led the Buckeyes to a 10-0 record and national title.

Sensibaugh was first-team All-Big Ten in 1969 and 1970 and a first-team All-American the latter year. He had 22 career interceptions, which is the most in Ohio State history and third-most in Big Ten history.

Sensibaugh played eight seasons in the NFL, five with the Kansas City Chiefs and three with the St. Louis Cardinals. He had 27 interceptions in the pros.

Ohio State Mike Sensibaugh (3) in action against Purdue at Ohio Stadium in Nov. 1969.
Ohio State Mike Sensibaugh (3) in action against Purdue at Ohio Stadium in Nov. 1969.

David Sensibaugh, one of Mike’s four siblings, said that his older brother downplayed his football accomplishments.

“He did not at all want attention drawn to himself,” David Sensibaugh said. “He was not a person that would say, 'Hey, I'm Mike Sensibaugh, Ohio State All-American or professional football player.’ He was very humble in that regard.”

Sensibaugh grew up in the Cincinnati suburb of Lockland. He was a quarterback as well as on defense in high school and was given the option of playing on either side of the ball at Ohio State. But Rex Kern was also part of his recruiting class, along with holdover Ron Maciejowski, and Sensibaugh realized defense was the way to go.

As a defensive back, he combined his intelligence, speed and instincts to form an imposing back duo with legendarily hard-hitting safety Jack Tatum.

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The 1968 team defeated a Southern California team led by Heisman Trophy winner O.J. Simpson in the Rose Bowl to win an unexpected national title. The 1969 team was even more dominant until it was shocked by Michigan in the season finale. The 1970 team was undefeated until losing to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

“I think he was very proud of what they accomplished,” David Sensibaugh said. “It was this amazing group that stuck together, played together, and I think loved each other deeply.”

“He was just an incredible athlete. He was fearless. He didn't have a lot of injuries, but when he did, he would certainly play through them.”

Sensibaugh was also the Buckeyes’ punter, setting a Rose Bowl record for punting yardage.

"I know we've had some awesome Buckeye teams recently," said Rudy Hubbard, the OSU running backs coach during Sensibaugh's career, "but for those who aren't old enough to remember, Mike Sensibaugh was a member of arguably one of the greatest teams in Buckeye history. Mike was a great athlete. He could pass, punt and was a defensive wiz."

Sensibaugh was only an eighth-round draft pick by Kansas City, but he was a solid and respected pro.

“He played bigger than his size and he had an eye for the ball,” David Sensibaugh said.

He said that came partly from his background as a quarterback. He said Chiefs quarterback Len Dawson would often pick Mike’s brain after practice for a defensive back’s point of view of certain plays.

“He was just an incredible student of the game and just incredibly intelligent,” David said.

After Sensibaugh’s pro career ended in 1979, he settled in the St. Louis area. He owned a business servicing and installing swimming pools and was an avid hunter.

Sensibaugh had three children — Doug, Amy and Cara. He and his wife Dana were married for 29 years.

Sensibaugh was inducted into the Ohio State Athletics Hall of Fame in 1997. A few years later, the Touchdown Club of Columbus chose him as part of Ohio State’s All-Century team.

Donations in memory of Sensibaugh may be given to the Concussion Legacy Foundation, 361 Newbury St., 5th Floor, Boston, MA 02115 or online at concussionfoundation.org.

This article originally appeared on Buckeye Xtra: Former Ohio State, NFL player Mike Sensibaugh dies at age 72