Posts Tagged ‘The Game of the Century’

Back to the way it was: Ohio State-Michigan feels like it used to

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012


On November 18, 2006, Michigan and Ohio State squared off in Columbus, both undefeated. Two titans with an unrivaled history found themselves in what was dubbed by the national media “The Game of the Century.” The Big Ten title and a spot in the BCS National Championship game were at stake. The game went back and forth like a heavyweight fight, but in the end, the scoresheet went in Ohio State’s favor.

The day before, the great patriarch of Michigan football, Bo Schembechler, had passed away, and along with him metaphorically went the program. Michigan went to Pasadena on New Years Day and got thumped by USC.

Bo's passing shook the rivalry and the Michigan program

Bo’s understudy, Lloyd Carr, decided to stick around for one more year. After all, he had a senior, fourth-year starting quarterback and running back, the eventual first overall NFL Draft pick at left guard, and a talented receiving corps. Who could blame him for giving it one last go-around? But a shocking loss to Appalachian State started the season, followed by a humiliating drubbing by Oregon and the Michigan program that had spent most of the previous season looking unbeatable had now lost four straight. The program that had seemed unshakeable for over 40 years was now suddenly lost without its figurehead.

The Wolverines rebounded with eight straight wins before dropping the final two to Wisconsin and Ohio State. In Carr’s swan song, Michigan faced a heavily favored Florida squad coached by Urban Meyer who relied heavily on his star quarterback. Carr pulled out all the tricks in the bag, using an offense almost foreign to the Michigan faithful and beat Meyer’s Gators.

Carr’s retirement a year after Bo’s passing signaled the end of Michigan football as we knew it and college football’s greatest rivalry suffered along with it. Ohio State beat Michigan by a combined score of 100-24 over the three years that followed while Michigan was guided by an outsider who many felt never truly understood the importance of the rivalry.

And so it was only fitting that it would take a Bo disciple to right the ship. Brady Hoke immediately returned the program to what it was like under Bo and followed in Bo’s footsteps by beating Ohio State in his first season. It ended Ohio State’s seven game winning streak over Michigan, but the Buckeyes were going through some troubles of their own. The great tattoo scandal sent Jim Tressel packing and left the Bucks headless last season, but led the man who was on the losing end of the final game of the old Michigan era to become the new head man in Columbus.

All he has done in his rookie season is not lose a game. Despite being ineligible for the postseason, OSU is ranked fourth in the AP poll and could conceivably be crowned national champions by the writers upon season’s end. Michigan faced a much tougher non-conference schedule which eliminated any national title hopes, but still holds hopes of a Big Ten title. And that’s just the way it should be: title hopes on the line, dreams either made or dashed.

Tim Biakabutuka's record performance ruined OSU's perfect season in 1995 (Larry E. Wright)

It’s the way it was so often throughout the past few decades. Something was always on the line, and more often than not, it was that way for both teams. The season-ending battle truly was the one game season.

Six times in the past 19 matchups, at least one of the two has entered The Game undefeated. Saturday marks the seventh and Michigan will be looking to do what it has done three times since 1993: hand the Buckeyes their first loss.

In 1993, OSU entered with a 9-0-1 record, it’s only non-win a 14-14 tie at Wisconsin. Michigan was just 6-4 with losses to Notre Dame, Michigan State, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The Wolverines played spoiler with a resounding 28-0 win in what Ohio State head coach John Cooper called “by far the most embarrassing game I’ve been associated with in college football.” Tyrone Wheatley gashed the Buckeyes for 105 yards and Todd Collins played an efficient game. The defense picked off the Buckeyes four times and Michigan ended Ohio State’s 16-game unbeaten streak and hopes of an outright Big Ten title and handed the Bucks their first shutout since 1982.

Two years later, in 1995, Ohio State visited Ann Arbor with a 11-0 record and a No. 2 national ranking. Michigan was just 8-3. A Buckeye win would give them the Big Ten title and likely a national championship pending the Rose Bowl result. But yet again, Michigan played spoiler. Prior to the game, Ohio State receiver Terry Glenn mouthed off to the media that Michigan was nobody. But when the teams took to the field, Tshimanga Biakabutuka rushed for 313 yards, the most an Ohio State defense had ever given up to a single back as Michigan soared to a 31-23 victory. Once again, Cooper issued a strong statement, saying, “I don’t know if I’ve ever been as disappointed in my life as I am right now.”

Charles Woodson helped keep Michigan's perfect season intact against OSU in 1997

The following season, Michigan traveled to Columbus to face yet another unbeaten and second-ranked Ohio State squad. Michigan was 17-point underdogs and this time, Cooper kept his players from speaking to the media in order to prevent any bulletin board material. But Michigan didn’t need it. Ohio State jumped out to a 9-0 halftime lead, but wouldn’t score again. Michigan had to turn to Brian Griese due to an injury to starter Scott Dreisbach and he threw a 68-yard touchdown to Tai Streets. Kicker Remy Hamilton added a pair of field goals to give Michigan the 13-9 win. Following the game, it was Michigan cornerback Charles Woodson who did the talking, saying, “It was a great victory, to be able to look those people in the eye and say, ‘this is why I didn’t go to Ohio State’. I wanted to win at Michigan.”

In 1997, it was Michigan that carried the undefeated season into The Game. At 10-0 and ranked first in the nation, Michigan hosted the 9-1, fourth-ranked Buckeyes. The Big Ten title was on the line – either Michigan won it outright or the two shared it – and for Michigan, the national title was at stake. Michigan prevailed 20-14 on the heels of a great all-around performance by Woodson and advanced to the Rose Bowl where the Wolverines beat Washington State and captured the national title.

In 2002, Ohio State once again brought an unblemished record into the matchup. At 12-0, and ranked second, Ohio State needed a win to capture the Big Ten and advance to the BCS National Championship game. Michigan was 9-2 with losses to Notre Dame and Iowa. The Buckeyes held on, intercepting a John Navarre pass near the end zone to win 14-9 and eventually won the national title.

This Saturday, the rivalry has the ferver it did back then. Michigan needs a win and a Nebraska loss to advance to the Big Ten championship game. Ohio State needs a win to complete an undefeated season. The only thing holding the game back from receiving all of the national spotlight is the sanctions Ohio State is currently facing, keeping the Buckeyes from being able to win the Big Ten and play for the national title. But on the field, the two teams will battle it out just like the good old days and Michigan will hope to ruin Ohio State’s dream season for the fourth time in the last 20 years.

The man who has resurrected Michigan’s program with the Bo-like approach now faces off with the man who has transformed the Buckeye program. It has all the makings of a new “ten-year war” like the one Bo and Woody Hayes once fought with both programs at the top of their games. Most importantly, the game matters again. It’s back to the way it was.

GROWING GAINS: How I grew to hate Ohio State

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010


One week in mid-November makes us obsess a little bit more than all the others: Ohio State week, or Buckeye week, or Hate week. Whatever you want to call it, we spend more time during the week longing for Saturday to come, more time ragging on our family, friends, and coworkers who have the unfortunate quality of being Ohio State fans, and more time telling “a Michigan fan and Ohio State fan walked into a bar…” jokes.

So I’ll spend a little more time this week writing about all things Michigan and Ohio State related. Thank goodness for Thanksgiving making this a two-day work week! I’ll publish an article every day this week, the schedule as follows:

Monday: Wisconsin recap and Ohio State preview

Tuesday: What The Game means to me

Wednesday: Why Michigan has a chance on Saturday

Thursday: What I’m thankful for this season

Friday: Michigan-Ohio State game preview

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Michigan-Ohio State week is upon us and I find myself reflecting on what it means to me. Every Michigan fan has their own stories about how they grew to love the Maize and Blue and how the rivalry was ingrained into them as a sort of religion. But while each person’s story is different, we all share a common bond: a hatred of Ohio State.

For me, it comes from having grown up in Ohio. I became a Michigan fan because my mom, class of ’81, and grandfather, class of ’51, were Michigan grads and my parents took me to the Rose Bowl in 1983 when I was a month and a half old. Of course I was too young to know what was going on, but something captured me and brought me to the good side.

My parents moved from Arizona to Ohio when I was two years old, ensuring that I would grow up surrounded by Buckeyes.

The 1995 game in which Tim Biakabatuka gashed Ohio State for 313 yard was my first UM-OSU game

As a very young kid, before I knew what the game of football was, let alone who Bo Schembechler was, my first stuffed animal was a little yellow bear which I named “Mazie.” I took the thing everywhere I went.

Becoming a Michigan fan must have been exciting for my mom, but a sad reality for my dad, an Ohio State fan from a family of Buckeyes. For his first child, a son nonetheless, to become a Michigan fan, must have been hard, but he didn’t try to push me towards the Buckeyes. Or if he did, I didn’t know it.

As long ago as I can remember, my parents took me, and eventually, my younger brother and sisters, on an annual trip to Ann Arbor. It was where my parents had met, my dad having moved there for work after college, and my mom, three years younger than he, a student at Michigan.

I remember, as young as three, spinning the cube on campus or avoiding the “M” in the Diag. As the years progressed, and the annual fall pilgrimage continued, the memories grew fonder. The dinners at The Cottage Inn, the trips to the MDen, the walks across campus, and of course, football Saturdays.

My first trip to the Big House was for the 1995 Michigan-Ohio State game. It was my dad, my grandpa, and me, and we witnessed Tim Biakabatuka run for 313 yards against a formidable Buckeye defense, leading Michigan to a 31-23 upset win. If there was any question up until that point as to whether or not I was a Michigan fan, “Touchdown” Tim removed all doubt from my then-13-year old mind.

On many of those trips to Ann Arbor, if Michigan was away for the weekend, we would venture into the Big House and walk down to the field. Those days, the gates were open and no one stopped us from throwing the football around, acting out Desmond Howard-like catches in the endzone, kicking field goals, and pretending to be a Michigan Wolverine.

I remember walking into Crisler Arena and standing in the tunnel watching the basketball team practice. One time, an older gentleman approached me and struck up a conversation. About what, I don’t recall, but what I do remember is realizing that this man was none other than Bo Schembechler, the Michigan legend who led the Wolverines for 20 years and, along with OSU coach Woody Hayes, made the rivalry what it is today.

I was there in 2001 when Ohio State ended its 14-year losing streak in the Big House

Another time, while watching basketball practice, the head coach walked over to us and in my young, star-struck awe, I mistakenly called him George Fisher. He was, of course, Steve Fisher, the coach who guided Michigan to a National Championship in 1989 and hauled in the best recruiting class in college basketball history, the Fab Five.

In addition to the yearly trips to Ann Arbor, I also went with my dad to an Ohio State road game every year. He made it one of his goals to visit every Big Ten stadium, and since I was his oldest kid, he took me along. Of course, I always wore my maize and blue, which didn’t sit well with the Buckeye fans. One year in Indiana, while walking down the steps to our seats, an adult Ohio State fan reached out and knocked my hat off. Granted, it wasn’t as bad as the Cleveland Browns fan tackling the eight-year-old Jets fan a couple weeks ago, but still, who does that to a kid? As if I needed any more reasons not to be a Buckeye, that was it.

I remember, in 1997, sitting in an Ann Arbor sports bar watching the “Judgment Day” game between Michigan and Penn State. It would all but wrap up a Rose Bowl berth and I insisted on buying a rose to clench between my teeth like Charles Woodson as we walked around campus that afternoon.

It was a great year to enter high school, with Michigan coming off a National Championship. I was one of just a handful (if that) of Michigan fans in the school, an hour west of Columbus. All of my friends were Buckeyes and they always let me know it.

My birthday is Nov. 17, so that makes the Michigan-Ohio State game that much bigger every year. I came to expect my locker getting decorated in scarlet and grey each year while I was in class. At the time, I didn’t mind because I knew that when the following Monday rolled around, I would be the one with the bragging rights once again. It was the same sort of pride that Ohio State fans must have right now.

On the morning announcements, they would blast Ohio State’s fight song or “Hang on Sloopy” each day leading up to the game, but then on the Monday after, I would persuade them to play “The Victors,” much to the dismay of 99 percent of the student body.

My freshman year of college, I found a girl who had a friend at Michigan that sold me two tickets to the 2001 Michigan-Ohio State game for $100. I took my dad and we sat in the Michigan student section and I suffered my first heartbreak in the Big House as Ohio State broke out to a 23-0 lead and Michigan lost despite a furious comeback.

In 2006, I bought tickets on Craigslist from an Ohio State fan for The Game, which was dubbed “the Game of the Century,” between No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan. Both were undefeated and the winner was headed to the BCS National Championship. I couldn’t find just a single ticket, so I bought two, knowing that I had no one to go with. My dad wanted to watch the game at home and my Michigan friends didn’t have the money to pay for a ticket at the time.

I was right there in the student section for the 2006 "Game of the Century"

When I met the guy in a coffee shop in Columbus, I wore an Ohio State hat, the one and only time I’ll ever do that, because he was adamant that he sell the tickets to a Buckeye fan. Sucker.

I stayed with a friend on campus and we tailgated with some friends the morning of the game, but they went back to their apartment to watch the game. I was heading into the Horseshoe alone, clad in maize and blue, with seats in the OSU alumni section.

I befriended a Michigan fan on my way into the stadium, who happened to have tickets in Michigan’s student section. Once we got through the gates, he let me borrow his ticket to get me into the section so I was among friends in hostile territory. I ended up four rows from the field in the corner of the endzone.

Unfortunately, the game didn’t end well, and I was left to walk back across campus, a lone wolf in enemy clothing. By some miracle, I didn’t get hit with one of the many full cans of beer that were chucked my way from fraternity rooftops. And thanks to Buckeye drunkenness, I was able to get away from the brahs that tried to chase after me.

Each of those experiences only cemented why I’m a Michigan fan and why I dislike Ohio State. While I love my family and friends who happen to be diseased enough to be Buckeye fans, I hate the school and want nothing more than to see them lose.

This year takes on added significance for me since it’s being played over Thanksgiving weekend. I’ll be with my mom’s side of the family in Tennessee, my mom being the only one of which who is a Michigan fan. The rest are Ohio State grads. It will be my first time actually watching The Game with them and a win by the boys in blue would make for the perfect Thanksgiving.

My first child is on the way in March. It’s a girl, and I know I’ll have the same battle as my parents did to bring her up as a Michigan fan. My wife is a Notre Dame fan, so she’ll try to sabotage her fandom, but I’m thankful for my mom doing that to me, so if that’s what happens, then so be it as long as my dad doesn’t get revenge and turn her into a Buckeye.

I’m sure you have stories just like these, stories of how you became a Michigan fan and how your hatred for Ohio State grew. So while we probably don’t know each other, we’ll be family on Saturday as Michigan goes for an upset that could turn a lot of young kids into Michigan men (and women).

Go Blue!