With the way college football lends itself to regionalized fandom there are natural rivalries everywhere, some bigger than others. Pitt and West Virginia’s Back Yard Brawl is a pretty big deal. So is Army v Navy, Auburn v Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and even Oregon v Oregon State in their Civil War. Texas and Texas A&M was a huge, historical rivalry but that’s coming to end with the Aggies’ exit to the SEC and the Longhorns pouting about it. Texas still has their Red River Shootout with Oklahoma to look forward to, but it’s not THE Game. None of them are.
Rivalries exist in every sport, but none quite like The Game. The Yankees and Red Sox is a big one but they’ve played more than 2,000 times, including eighteen times last season alone. That’s not “The Game.” It’s a good rivalry, but it isn't at the very top of the list.
The NFL has their share of rivalries as well, from Broncos-Raiders to Cowboys-Redskins, but they lack the passion and luster of a college football rivalry. Most of those matchups found in the NFL are within a division as well, meaning the play twice a year. For the same reason Duke-North Carolina hoops isn’t The Game (yes, they play a home-and-home every year as well), neither is anything found in the NFL.
“The Game” is reserved for that one-time battle between universities separated by a state line and an uncontrollable hatred for one another. Its 107 meetings in 114 years. It’s the Ten Year War, Bo v Woody, O$U v scUM, Ohio v That Team Up North, and its 2,926 days since your team beat ours. It’s The Ohio State University v the University of Michigan. Buckeyes v Wolverines.
This Saturday marks the 108th renewal of the series so let’s put on our Scarlet and Gray glasses and take a quick look backwards at it all before jumping back to the present day and putting our focus back to this Saturday’s clash. After all, we don’t get to today without yesterday...
SOME HISTORICAL DATA
Michigan leads the all-time series 57-43-6 which means that even though it’s been nearly 3,000 days since they last beat Ohio State, it would take the Buckeyes going undefeated for the next 5,100+ days in order to even up the series. Every game has counted, as it should, but taking a bit of a closer look shows us that the facemask-less, leather helmet wearin’ Wolverines won fifteen matchups from 1897 to 1918 before OSU got into the win column. To those Michigan fans who like using the all-time series as their benchmark for “dominance” and were alive for any of those first fifteen wins, I congratulate you (not for the wins, for still being alive 11 decades later).
Ohio State and Michigan are mega-schools with regards to historically successful programs. Both have 800+ victories and winning percentages over .700. Michigan has their eleven national titles to Ohio State’s seven, but the two schools have also combined for 10 Heisman trophies, 82 bowl appearances (including 13 BCS bowls), 34 Rose Bowls, 156 All-Americans, and 77 (holy shit) Big Ten conference titles. There aren’t two other college football programs within a rivalry that touch that combined history of success. It’s THE Game.
Bo Schembechler is Michigan football, Woody Hayes is Ohio State football, and they put their collective stamp on the series from 1969 to 1978 in what is known by both fan bases as the “Ten Year War.” It was the golden age of the series and a decade of two head coaches using every one-liner and cuss word they could think of to describe their hated rival.
In 1968 the Wolverines found themselves with a head coaching vacancy and promptly took Schembechler, a former Hayes assistant at Ohio State, from Miami (OH) up to Ann Arbor to run the program. In their first matchup Hayes and his Buckeyes took a 22-game winning streak to the Big House only to have Bo and his Wolverines snap it in a 24-12 loss for OSU that saw neither team score in the second half.
The next nine years would prove to be epic. Four times between their first contest and 1975 both teams entered The Game having been ranked in the top 5 nationally. Four of those times Michigan came in undefeated and only won once (oops). The circumstances of 1973 just added fuel to the already white-hot fire between the programs. Both teams came into The Game undefeated and played to a 10-10 tie, leaving the rest of the Big Ten athletic directors to vote for who should represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. After secret ballots were cast the Buckeyes got the nod and the butthurt Wolverine administration and fans spent the following months bombarding Columbus newspapers with hate mail and threats of lawsuits.
The Ten Year War saw the programs share the conference title six times and finished with Bo holding a 5-4-1 record over Woody before Hayes was eventually terminated after his famous Gator Bowl altercation with a Clemson player.
IF YOU CAN’T BEAT MICHIGAN, YOU CAN’T COACH AT OHIO STATE
John Cooper ended his thirteen matchups with Michigan with a 2-10-1 record, against three UM coaches (Schembechler, Moeller, Carr) and was fired from his duties at the end of the 2000 season in spite of a pretty remarkable record outside of The Game.
Coop had an overall record at Ohio State of 111-43-4 (.703) but went into the Michigan game three different times with an undefeated record only to lose to the Wolverines. The most notorious of the Cooper era was in ’95 and ’96, both years seeing Ohio State ranked #2 in the nation going into The Game but leaving with a loss.
When push came to shove it didn’t matter how many wins Cooper piled up as head coach. His two wins in thirteen years (none in Ann Arbor) against the hated Wolverines wasn’t enough to cut it and he was fired at the end of the 2000 season.
THE VEST SHOVES IT STRAIGHT BACK UP THEIR ASSES
Jim Tressel was hired to lead the Buckeyes in 2001 and immediately let his feelings, and intentions, about the rivalry be known:
He and his players would hold up their end of the promises over his ten years at the helm with a 9-1 record against the hated team up north, including a monumental 42-39 win when they met in 2006 as the top two teams in the country, minus one that was vacated after the 2010 season amidst the NCAA investigation.
The Game has turned into an annual piñata party for Ohio State, breaking loose crybabies and whiners from a paper Mache fan base year after year, and Tressel made sure it was the norm rather than the exception. Then he resigned…
MICHIGAN FANS RISE FROM THE DEAD
Michigan fans have taken special joy in seeing Ohio State “fall from grace” over the last twelve months while the Bucks were being dragged through the mud by the media, fans, and the NCAA. Nine losses in ten years, including seven straight, will do that to a fan base. They were especially happy to see Tressel resign on Memorial Day this year (wouldn’t you be?) and have coupled that with the hiring of “Michigan man” Brady Hoke to run their program starting with this 2011 season.
Undoubtedly Hoke will lead a better team onto the field than what Rich Rodriguez was able to do in Ann Arbor the last three years, but as of now they’re still sitting on seven straight losses with two-time National Champion Urban Meyer visible on the Ohio horizon as they look south. Needless to say the Michigan fans are desperate for glory this year, especially after a forgettable recent history in The Game, and they’re not afraid to puff out their chests with their new-found success (9-2, really?) neatly positioned against Ohio State’s 2011 struggles.
Fortunately for the Buckeyes a rivalry game means you can throw out the records.
THE GAME – 2011
There is plenty of motivation for Ohio State to win on Saturday, aside from obvious facts. Luke Fickell is coaching for the first (and likely only) time in the series. The weight of everything that occurred in the offseason has come crashing down on him for the last twelve weeks. This is his shot at redemption and some glory in an otherwise painful season as Ohio State’s head coach. Who thought he could lead us to victory over a heavily favored, pissed off Badger bunch in September? Not me, yet he did.
The Ohio State seniors are set to go undefeated against Michigan which would mark the second Ohio State class in a row to do so. The vaunted 2008 class (Pryor, Posey, Adams, Brewster, etc.) have managed three BCS appearances (and two victories), three Big Ten titles, three wins in The Game, but zero National Championship Game appearances and a nightmare of a senior season that was never scripted in the plans. Now they go to Ann Arbor with one final shot to be adored by the most loyal fan base in college football.
This game means everything to the fans. No, we didn’t trade tattoos for memorabilia or sit through NCAA meetings, nor did we have wins we earned vacated or our names printed all over Sports Illustrated (idiots!) or ESPN (crooks!). But, like many college football fan bases, we live and die by what occurs with our Buckeyes. They dominate our state when it comes to fan loyalty and it’s been just as brutal a twelve months for the die-hards as it has been for the program. Jim Tressel convinced us that we’re supposed to win The Game each and every year, and 2011 is no different. The fact that we’re 7.5 point underdogs and playing in Ann Arbor doesn’t matter. The Streak does.
Ohio State enters the Big House with a seven game win streak in the series and regardless of records, rhetoric, or in-season momentum the game should be a knock-down, drag out fight. The Buckeyes seemed to lay down against Purdue and Penn State (and even Indiana) but that doesn’t happen in The Game. This year’s seniors have spent a college career upholding the expectation that we’re to beat Michigan annually. Jim Tressel made sure of that by talking to them about it for the first 156 weeks of their college lives. Do we really think that Tressel’s exit caused these guys to forget that? Yes, we’re packed full of youngsters this year but they are led by juniors, seniors, and Coach Fickell’s seventeen years of Scarlet and Gray blood.
Nobody on our side lays down this week. No chance. This isn’t the Yankees and Red Sox. Its 107 meetings in 114 years. It’s the Ten Year War, Bo v Woody, O$U v scUM, Ohio v That Team Up North, and it’s been 2,926 days since they beat us. It’s The Ohio State University v the University of Michigan. It’s THE Game, and it’s here.
A classic OSU/UM piece HERE drawn up by our friends over at The Buckeye Battlecry