"The Game": What it was, and what it's become
“The Game,” a matchup between the University of Michigan and Ohio State University is said to be the biggest rivalry in all of college sports, has added a new depth in the series.
The foundation of the rivalry dates all the way back to 1897, and has been renewed annually since 1918 but wouldn’t become relevant until 1969, when Ohio State’s head coach Woody Hayes stood across the sidelines from his former player and ex assistant of four years, Bo Schembechler,
who was brought in by the University of Michigan after Hayes had embarrassed the Wolverines in a statement game beating the maize and blue 50-14. In hopes of turning the program around, OSU’s Hayes would be forced to witness the student become the teacher, branding the end of the season matchup between the two schools as the “Ten Year War.”
Unfortunately for me and most of you readers, we hadn’t seen a lick of these two coaching legends go at it head to head, so it’s nothing more than a satisfying history lesson. However, we can reflect and take it back to the Lloyd Carr, Jim Tressel days. Oh what a lashing the Wolverines use to take, allowing Tressel to go 9-1 in the rivalry, (8-1 if you take into consideration the removal of the vacated game from the 2010 season due to NCAA rules violations). The man was just a pure genius, from play calling to game planning, beating coaches mentally, and outlasting teams with physicality. As a diehard Michigan fan, Coach Tressel made you hate Ohio State football and everything that came with it…the pregame jawing, the midfield scuffles, the hostile in-stand tensions between the two parties, and the brash character of the OSU fans you know, the good stuff.
Looking back at it, despite all the dropped games by Carr and the Wolverines during the ten year span, those games were marquee matchups. You take a few moments to recall all the household names that ushered through the two programs from 2001 – 2011 and tell me you didn’t get the best smash mouth football that college football had to offer. Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I remember my first Michigan game like it was yesterday. It was 2005 and Michigan was coming off of their 2004, 37-21 loss to an unranked OSU so I knew the revenge game was going to be one to remember, and it was, despite losing in the winding minutes, the experience was nothing short of spectacular, and essentially setting up next seasons classic which resulted as a heartbreaker loss to OSU in the “Horseshoe” when they matched up at no. 1 and 2 teams in the nation.
Coach Carr ended up going out on a high note, beating the Florida Gators in the Capitol One Citrus Bowl in 2008 and Tressel and the Buckeyes were under investigation during the 2011 season and were in the midst of finding their next successor. Fast forward to 2015 and you have a revamped rivalry between the well documented and polished Urban Meyer, and the outspoken yet trendy Jim Harbaugh.
Ahh, Coach Harbaugh, where do I begin. The voice of the people, the fuel to the fire, and the one everyone from the outside looking in loves to hate. You have to love him. It’s one thing to have a well-documented rivalry due to historical games and legendary players, but when you have a coach behind these teams who says what he wants to who he wants to regardless of your opinion, it just makes things that much greater, this rivalry in particular.
Although Meyer was blessed to come into an already well-established OSU team, it would be up to him, to carry on the success of the program. Elevating an already feared Big Ten powerhouse team, steam rolling through opponents, and dethroning Nick Saban and the Tide, there was nothing you could tell Coach Meyer, he simply sat atop the Big Ten by his lonesome. The hiring of Harbaugh was bigger than football, it was all about getting it right, not just for football, but for all of athletics. Finding a coach that was going to stay, make a statement, and piss off the world of college football while he did it, this was the new era of Michigan football.
Going into the 2016 season, I don’t think anyone would have guessed the two to play as the no. 2 and 3 teams in the nation. I said going into the game that it wouldn’t be as classic as the matchup in ’06, but would be more meaningful given everything that was on the line, but a classic it was and it was one for the books for better or for worse. After seeing that double overtime game, there was no need to watch the Big Ten title game because it had already been played in Columbus. Ohio State was playing to remain a playoff contender and Michigan trying to make its case as to why they too, should be in the playoffs, getting the first crack at Alabama. The drama was just unreal. Unexpected last second return of the starting quarterback Wilton Speight, blown pass interference and penalty calls, two consecutive missed field goals by OSU's kicker Tyler Durbin, and a controversial ball spotting, all of which made out to be a nail biting, exciting yet stress filled football game.
With the turnaround still in the works, and the new era rivalry still in the early stages, the head to head matchup between Harbaugh and Meyer will be one to get excited about for years to come. This isn’t a war, nor is it just an annual game, it was the match up of two gritty coaches poised to mark their territory in the Big Ten to claim all the honors, and all that is theirs. Most importantly, this was “The Game.”