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Michigan Football 101-Michigan vs. Ohio State

Monday, November 16, 2009 - Tony Bolton

This week the greatest rivalry in college sports will be renewed when Michigan hosts Ohio State in Ann Arbor. Let me rephrase that, this week the greatest rivalry in sports will be renewed. Some people say Yankees/Red Sox or Duke/North Carolina are the best rivalries but there is something Michigan/Ohio State has that the others don’t, and that is scarcity. Michigan and Ohio State play once year and only once a year. If you win that game you have bragging rights for the entire year. The Yankees and Red Sox play numerous times a year and then can meet in the playoffs. Same goes for Duke/North Carolina. They meet twice a year, and could also meet in both the ACC and NCAA tournaments. It is also possible for one of those team to lose all their games to their rivals and still claim the championship. Not so in Michigan/Ohio State.

 

But how did this rivalry get started? Many point all the way back to 1835 when Michigan and Ohio were actually at war. What were they fighting over? A 468 square mile strip of land located on the border of the two states known as the Toledo Strip. Ultimately the United State’s government awarded the piece of land to Ohio and giving Michigan the Upper Peninsula. Another piece of history came from this war between the two states; the nickname “Wolverines.” During the fighting the members of the Ohio Militia described the hard fighting members from Michigan as wolverines, and the name stuck.

 

So what makes this the best rivalry? Both teams are storied with history and success the two teams have combined to win 18 National Championships, 75 Big Ten Championships, 14 Rose Bowl Championships, 327 All Americans, and 10 Heisman Trophies winners. The two teams have dominated the Big Ten since both joined-Michigan in 1896 and Ohio State in 1913.

 

The first battle on the gridiron took place in 1897 in Ann Arbor and the Wolverines took the game 36-0. Over a hundred years latter the battle still wages on. On Saturday, November 21st the 106th meeting between these two schools will take place with Michigan currently holding a 57-42-6 advantage.

 

Perhaps no two men did more to put the rivalry on the map than Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. This was a rivalry made in football heaven. You had Woody’s protégé Bo leaving Hayes staff to coach Michigan (after a short stint at Miami, OH), a word Woody refused to even say. Bo learned football from Woody, he was going to mold his new Wolverine team into the power team that Ohio State had perfected. It was like looking in a mirror. Both teams dominated the line of scrimmage and loved to pound the ball between the tackles and would rather punt and play defense than ever throw the football. During the 10 years they coached in the Big Ten their teams splitting 10 conference titles and 8 second place finishes. It really was the “Big Two and Little Eight” conference.

 

These two coaching legends took part in perhaps the most famous game in the rivalry in 1969. It was Bo’s first Michigan-Ohio State game as the head coach of Michigan and he had been preparing his team for this game since the day he took over. The Buckeyes came into Ann Arbor as the number one team in the country and riding a 22 game winning streak. Woody had pasted Michigan 50-14 the year before and was a 17 point favorite in this one. The Buckeyes were so good that many people said the only team that could beat the Ohio State was playing in the NFL. Michigan pulled the upset 24-12 in what was described as the biggest upset in college football history. After the game Bo was carried off the field on the shoulders of his players and Michigan was Big Ten Champions and off to Pasadena to play in the Rose Bowl. Hayes told Schembechler after the game, “Damn you Bo, you will never win a bigger game.” Bo would later remark, “He was right.” Years after Hayes had retired he still said that the 1969 Buckeyes was he best team. The two battled it out 9 more times before Hayes retired. The final tally went to Bo by a 5-4-1 margin.

 

The two bands even get into the rivalry. Ohio State’s self-proclaimed “greatest tradition” is the Script Ohio that the band performs before every game. However, the first Script Ohio ever performed was done by The Michigan Marching Band in Columbus, and Michigan’s band director gave the formation plans to Ohio State after the game. Even to this day the Ohio State band will not stay in the state of Michigan. They are bussed up to the game in Ann Arbor the morning of the game and leave after. They also bring their own lunches, lest they spend a dime in the state of Michigan.

 

The Michigan-Ohio State week is a week fans of both schools look forward to the most. It only comes once a year and it is where Wolverine and Buckeye legends are made. If you have been to a game you have been part of history, part of something people have talked about for generations and will continue to do so as long as these two schools battle it out. The atmosphere at these games is something you cannot describe, the air is electric as soon as you step on campus, everyone knows what is on the line, and it is usually the best two teams the Big Ten has and they are about to decide who is supreme in 60 minutes. Freshmen are told that they haven’t been hit until they take one in this game.

 

On Saturday the two universities will fight for the 106th time. If you are lucky enough to be attending the game take a moment to appreciate what you are about to see. Think of all the legends that have walked that very sideline in Michigan Stadium and the players you have walked out onto the gridiron. Think of the millions of fans who have sat in that very stadium, that very seat to watch the two best teams in the conference.

 

Enjoy the atmosphere. Enjoy the Game. Enjoy the history. You know Bo and Woody will be watching together doing just that.


Tony Bolton
Columnist, UMGoBlue.COM

 
 
 
 
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