They’re putting a Michigan-Ohio State football game on this Saturday, right on schedule. The third Saturday in November, usually. You used to circle the date. Now you happen upon it, by accident.
“Oh, is THAT still playing?”
Michigan-Ohio State creeps up on you now, like your wedding anniversary, or a dentist appointment. It used to be a must see. Now it’s a “MUST we see?”
Michigan vs. Ohio State. Time used to stand still for this one. Woody Hayes would bring his brood up from Columbus and he’d start to get a nervous twitch somewhere around Monroe.
There weren’t any namby-pamby Bowl games back then—the 1970s in case you were wondering. It was Rose Bowl or bust. One of those teams would play their hearts out for 11 games and only one of them was going to Pasadena. The other went home—with a 10-1 or 9-2 record.
Now, they hand out Bowl berths like numbers at the deli on a Sunday. Just wait till it’s your turn and find out whether you’re going to Mobile or Tampa or (gulp) Detroit. With a 6-6 record.
Michigan is 5-6, and we should stop right there. They shouldn’t allow them into Michigan Stadium with such a record, to play Ohio State and still pass it off as a “big game.” Unless they make the Buckeyes play with one hand tied behind their backs.
Where has this game gone, anyway?
When Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were prowling the sidelines—and that’s as good a verb as any—the game was a tug of war. No one went on a basketball-like run of victories.
Michigan and Ohio State. You felt like it was the only game being played that Saturday. At least the only one worth a hill of beans. Like Monday Night Football.
It made the Hatfields and the McCoys look like an episode of “Family Feud.”
Always the Big Ten title was on the line. The season was a 10-game tune up. They used to call it the Big Two and Little Eight in those days. Occasionally Iowa or Purdue or Minnesota would give one of the Big Two a scare but sure enough, come the third Saturday in November, there the conference championship belt dangled, waiting to be claimed.
It started in Ann Arbor in 1969, when Bo was a rookie at Michigan and the year before, Woody’s team blew the Wolverines out of Columbus and halfway to Toledo.
1968 was the year Woody had the penultimate U-M/OSU line. The Buckeyes won, 50-14, and late in the game Woody went for a two-point conversion. Afterward, they asked him why.
“Because I couldn’t go for THREE,” Woody snarled.
But the next year Billy Taylor ran wild and Michigan upset Ohio State and it was, as they say nowadays, ON.
This was genuine hatred. Nothing contrived or forced. The schools would rather lose their accreditation than lose to each other. Woody refused to even buy gas in Michigan, or so he said. I believe him.
Kids from Michigan’s campus drove their jalopies around with bumper stickers that read “WOODY IS A PECKER.”
Then Woody got fired and OSU started hiring coaches who, if Michigan was a wet paper bag, couldn’t fight their way out of it.
Someone named Earle Bruce was brought in and it was like going to the theatre expecting to see Olivier and getting his understudy.
Bruce did last nine years, though, then John Cooper came in and even the names of these guys were getting worse. John Cooper? What was this, a Disney movie?
Bo beat Cooper’s brains in until he grew bored and retired. Then Gary Moeller took over and immediately got Cooper into a headlock, too.
Cooper was a good football coach—until the third Saturday in November. Then he turned into someone Matt Millen would have hired for the Lions.
Bruce and Cooper were the ones who threatened to euthanize this rivalry. Now Jim Tressel looks to be the one to finally pull the plug.
They did it in different ways, of course—Bruce and Cooper by losing all the time, and Tressel by turning the tables.
Tressel stormed into Columbus when he was hired, led a pep rally in the basketball arena, counted the number of days until the Michigan game, and guaranteed victory. Woody and Bo wouldn’t have dreamed of doing such a thing. They had hate but some decorum.
But Tressel’s kids backed up their coach’s words and decided that this beating Michigan thing was pretty cool. So they kept doing it. And doing it, until they’ve damned near killed the game entirely.
There’s no reason to think it’s going to be any different this time around. Michigan has a defense that’s offensive. They jog onto the field and if the wind is blowing wrong you can smell the stench.
The Wolverines don’t have anyone on their roster who knows what it’s like to beat Ohio State. Literally. The last Michigan victory was in 2003. In college football rivalries, that’s a generation. It also gets coaches fired.
Cooper couldn’t beat Michigan—he went 2-10-1 against them—and that became his legacy at Ohio State. Bruce, before him, did alright (5-4). But that’s a combined 7-14-1 after Woody and before Tressel. And so the rivalry teetered, and now it’s about to fall entirely.
Today, Michigan’s biggest rival seems to be itself. The program is so busy with the in-fighting that you half expect the team to forget to show up to play the Buckeyes. Of course, it wouldn’t be much different than the past five years, so who could tell?
Everything was better back in the day, wasn’t it?
Gas prices. McDonald’s. The “Tonight” show. And Michigan-Ohio State.
It wasn’t a game, it was High Noon. It was the fight with the kid after school. Be there or else. They didn’t finish it, they reconvened. The winner went to the Rose Bowl and the loser’s intestines got gnarled for 364 days.
MichiganOhioState. It was a two school rivalry said in one word. You could empty a crowded theatre in Ann Arbor or Columbus by saying it, more so than if you yelled “Fire!”
Now it’s been reduced, like a sauce that’s been sitting on the stove for too long. Its stock has fallen faster than General Motors. Ohio State so outclasses Michigan anymore that it’s not a rivalry, it’s a chore—something that has to be done before you can close up the cottage for the winter.
This pairing has all the drama and suspense of a “Brady Bunch” episode. They should put it on “Nick at Nite,” not ABC.
Michigan-Ohio State. I have one question for you.
That show’s still on?