The Game, 2015 Edition

Today football fans the world over get to watch, once again, the greatest rivalry game in college sports.  In a few hours Ohio State and Michigan will square off at the Big House for The Game.

IMG_1835Don’t believe those who say this contest has lost some of its luster after Ohio State’s stunning loss to Michigan State last week.  If anything, that makes The Game even more important.  Ohio State does not want to end its season with two soul-crushing losses — and the Wolverines would like nothing more but to send Ohio State back to Columbus, whipped and beaten and clearly knocked off the top of the Big Ten pedestal.

I have no idea what to expect from this match-up — other than that it will be hard-hitting and hard-fought, because The Game always is.  Jim Harbaugh has turned Michigan around quickly, and made them a tough, power team with a good defense.  His old coach, Bo Schembechler, would be proud.

As for Ohio State, you wonder where the Buckeyes are, mentally.  Are they still reeling from a bad game, or are they primed to go out and show the world that last week’s dismal offensive showing was a rain-soaked fluke?  This is a week where Urban Meyer earns his paycheck.

Go Bucks!

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It’s Michigan Week! (IV)

We’re less than 24 hours away from The Game.  It will be a noon start tomorrow, which is the way it should be, because it’s the way it has always been.

The Game will be at the Big House in Ann Arbor.  Like the Horseshoe in Columbus, Michigan Stadium is one of college football’s most fabled venues, a huge, cavernous bowl dug out of the ground.  It’s where Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler prowled the sidelines during the 10-Year War.  It’s where the Buckeyes tore down the “M Club” banner in the early ’70s, sending the Michigan radio announcer into a frenzy.  The field is thick with memories and legends.  Tomorrow the members of Buckeye Nation will try to fill a significant part of that colossal edifice, cheering on the Men of the Scarlet and Gray.  Michigan fans have experienced a tough and disappointing season, and many of them have put their tickets up for sale.  Ohio State fans have been very willing buyers.

What will happen?  The Wolverines have struggled this year, while the Buckeyes have won every game.  The statistics and records will tell you that Ohio State clearly has the better team and should win the game . . . but in The Game, records and statistics often don’t matter.  Fans of both teams who have watched The Game will remember surprising triumphs and devastating losses.  The shocks and upsets are what have made The Game the greatest rivalry game in college football.

Casual fans can be overconfident, but I don’t know of any true member of Buckeye Nation who is expecting an easy game tomorrow.  We know that it will be a tough, brutal battle, filled with bone-jarring hits and hard runs to pick up crucial first downs, and we’re starting to feel that surge of adrenalin as The Game draws nearer.

Let’s go, Bucks!

It’s Michigan Week! (II)

I would call the rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan during the week of The Game a friendly rivalry — except it really isn’t.  Deep down, every Buckeyes fan wants to crush Michigan like a cockroach.  We want to punish them, humiliate them, and leave them wailing forlornly to their misbegotten gods. Michigan fans share this perspective.

But, since we aren’t fighting with broadswords, we need to make do with humor.  When I was a kid, and Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler were fighting the 10-Year War, the battle was waged with bumper stickers.  I remember one of the Michigan bumper stickers said:  “Save Fuel.  Burn Woody!”  And I thought — boy, Michigan fans are about as funny as, say, Jerry Lewis during the MDA telethon.

The Ohio side of the humor equation, however, isn’t appreciably better.  Consider these two representative efforts:

1.  “A University of Michigan fan walks into a doctor’s office and removes his hat to reveal a frog sitting on his head. The doctor asks, ‘How can I help you?’ The frog replies, ‘I was wondering if you could help me get this wart off my butt.'”

2.  “Two University of Michigan grads are laughing it up on their way into a bar.  The bartender asks:  ‘Hey, why are you guys so happy?’  One of the Wolverines says, ‘Well, to be honest with you, we’re proud of ourselves.  We just finished a puzzle in a week, and when we were done we noticed the box said 4 to 6 years.'”

In Ohio, we try to make our statements on the football field.

Welcome To Michigan Week

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.