No Ohio State will fan ever take The Game against Michigan for granted — at least, no Ohio State fan who lived through the ’90s. For Ohio State fans, the ’90s were the long, dark night of the soul.
Ohio State was coached by a cordial, good-humored gentleman named John Cooper. Coop wasn’t an Ohio native, but he could recruit great athletes and get them ready for early season games. His record at Ohio State was 111-43-4. He beat Notre Dame twice, and won a Rose Bowl and a Sugar Bowl. But when it came to The Game, Coop turned into a fingernail-chewing, watery-eyed wreck. His teams were 2-10-1 against That Team Up North, and it got so bad that the Ohio State President described the tie as one of the greatest victories in Ohio State history.
During the Cooper era, Ohio State played Michigan as the favorite and as the underdog. It played the Wolverines at home and away. It played Michigan when the Buckeyes were highly ranked and when they were struggling. And all of that made no difference, because the result — inevitably — was another soul-crushing loss. Whether it was a record-setting performance by a previously unknown running back or a slip and fall by a defensive back or some other disaster, Michigan always found a way to win. Eventually, the Buckeye Nation had had enough, and Coop was gone and Jim Tressel was in.
Whenever Ohio State goes to The Game as a favorite, I think of John Cooper and his struggles with the Wolverines. It’s left me permanently scarred, and I will never forget. John Cooper taught me to never take The Game for granted.