Saturday Ohio State and Michigan play for the 106th time. As has been the case for decades, their game is the last game of the season, and in Columbus, Ohio it is and will forever be The Game. According to Wikipedia, Michigan leads the series 57-42-6. Ohio State fans will say those numbers are a bit misleading, because Michigan dominated the early years of the series, encompassing the Fielding Yost era, 13-0-2. (The Wikipedia list of the results is here.)
I cut my teeth on The Game in the 1970s, when Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were locked in what came to be known as “The Ten-Year War.” It seemed as though each year the teams came to The Game with the Big Ten title on the line, and the results were low-scoring, brutally hard-hitting classics like the 10-10 tie in 1973. I remember that game well, because I had to work at Big Bear that day. Although Saturdays were normally our busiest day of the week, no one — and I mean no one — came to the Kingsdale Big Bear that day. We baggers were kept busy doing menial chores like mopping and shelving, and every so often we would try to find an excuse to visit the butcher shop at the back of the store, where they had The Game on the radio. The 10-10 tie was a bitter disappointment for Ohio State fans; I remember a picture of Woody Hayes walking off the field that day with an immensely sad and disappointed expression on his face. The next day, that game turned into an even bigger disappointment for Michigan fans because the Big Ten decided that Ohio State, rather than Michigan, should go to the Rose Bowl.
The Game is where legends are made and players can assure their legacy for all time. Fans remember the bitter defeats with crystalline clarity decades after they occurred. The tide of success in the series ebbs and flows. The 1990s, for example, were the long, dark night of the soul for Buckeyes fans. Michigan dominated the series during the Cooper era, going 10-2-1. More recently, Ohio State has come out on top more often than not.
This year, Michigan has had a tough season, and the Buckeyes will be favored. In The Game, however, you can throw the teams’ respective records out the window. Crazy things often happen, and sometimes the underdog that has nothing to lose plays their hearts out and brings home an improbable victory. I’m hoping that this is not one of those years.