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Michigan - Ohio State: The Ultimate Rivalry

Updated on October 30, 2018

Troops Showing Their Colors


Where it All Began

On October 17, 1897, two college football teams met on the field in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Ohio State Buckeyes had made the trip North to Ann Arbor to play the Michigan Wolverines. The game garnered little attention at the time, the Wolverines defeated the Buckeyes 34 to 0 on that day. None of the players involved in that Fall contest could have imagined, but they were all a part of the opening salvo of one of college football's greatest rivalies.

Over the course of the following 114 years, Michigan and Ohio State would face each other on the gridiron 108 times. As of the time of this writing, the University of Michigan holds the lead with a record of 58-43-6, not that I am counting. The "game", as it is often called by residents of Michigan and Ohio, is played on the final weekend of the Big Ten schedule and the date is circled on calendars in Columbus and Ann Arbor.

The Toledo War Never Ended!

History buffs know the "Toledo War" was a boundary dispute between Ohio and Michigan that took place in 1835-36 and most believe the war ended with Ohio getting Toledo and Michigan getting the Upper Peninsula. Having grown up in Toledo, I know the war still rages on each November.

It was tough growing up on the front lines of one of college football's greatest rivalries. I lived in Ohio, but Ann Arbor was closer than Columbus. One weekend each November the entire city divided into two camps. Flags and banners went up in front yards and normally friendly neighbors would stop speaking. Excitement and tension filled the air, all questions would be answered on the field Saturday afternoon.

I had a front row seat to one of college football's greatest rivalries. Each November, as the game alternated between Ann Arbor and Columbus, the visiting team and their supporters all passed through Toledo. The increased traffic along Interstate 75 and U.S. 23 was punctuated by signs and banners displayed on cars, RV's and buses.

For Those In Ohio and Michigan, It Is "The Game"

In many years, the Ohio State - Michigan game decided the Big Ten Conference and there was a trip to the Rose Bowl on the line. In other seasons, one team would be playing the spoiler, attempting to derail the other's Rose Ball plans. Regardless of the circumstances, fans of both schools wanted one thing, a victory over their hated rival. Many fans felt that it did not matter if their team only won one game all season, as long as that win was against their hated rival across the border.

The Schembechler - Hayes Era

No article on the Ohio State - Michigan Rivalry would be complete without mentioning the Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes era. The "Ten Year War" took place from 1969 through 1978 and saw Schembechler's Wolverines go 5 - 4 and 1 against Hayes' Buckeyes. The rivalry grew so big that some people began referring to the Big Ten as the Big Two, Little Eight. After years of domination by Ohio State, Michigan had finally returned to the tradition of winning football.

Woody Hayes

Woody Hayes served as the Head Coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes from 1951 until 1978. During his tenure as Head Coach, Woody Hayes lead Ohio State to 13 Big Ten Titles and 5 National Championships. Indeed, Hayes' fiery personality and intense dedication had built the Ohio State Buckeyes on top of the national football picture.

In the early years, Woody Hayes served as mentor to the younger Bo Schembechler. Schembechler played under Woody Hayes for two seasons at Miami of Ohio in 1949 and 1950. A few years later, Schembechler would serve as assistant coach to Woody Hayes at Ohio State in 1952 and then again from 1958 until 1962.

Ultimately, the fiery personality that Woody Hayes brought to Ohio State would prove to be his downfall. Many of his tirades were smoothed over, until the Gator Bowl on December 29, 1978 against Clemson. Trailing by two points in the final minutes of the game, Ohio State was driving deep in Clemson territory when the Clemson defense intercepted a pass. The Clemson player was run out of bounds on the Ohio State sideline and as he stood up, Hayes struck him in the throat.

Following the game, the Ohio State Athletic Director and the school President held a meeting. Woody Hayes was offered the chance to resign, but he declined. The following day, Woody Hayes was officially fired as Head Coach.

Bo Schembechler

Bo Schembechler was hired as the Michigan Wolverines Head Coach following the 1968 season. The former student of Woody Hayes was tasked with returning Michigan Football to respectability after years of less than competitive performances.

Bo Schembechler took over a team that had been embarrased by their rivals from the South at the end of the prior season. Ohio State had beaten Michigan by a score of 50 to 14. Adding insult to injury, late in the game, with a big lead, Ohio State had went for a two point conversion. When asked why he went for two, Hayes replied "because I couldn't go for three".

The first matchup between student and mentor took place in 1969 and featured a #1 Ohio State, defending National Champions and riding a 22 game winning streak. Woody Hayes considered it to be his best team ever and they were heavily favored, but Schembechler's Wolverines played hard. When the clock ran out, Michigan had defeated the Buckeyes by a score of 24 to 12. It was one of the greatest upsets in college football history and Michigan Football had returned.

In the ten head to head matchups between Schembechler and Hayes, Michigan would post a 5-4 and 1 record. Yet, despite the level of the rivalry, Schembechler and Hayes held a mutual respect and friendship that lasted the rest of their lives. It is almost symbolic of the rivalry itself, as that respect shows through in the fans of both schools. The rivalry has never been marked by violence and hatred, instead centering on passion and respect.

We Hope to See You in November

So, when you are flipping through the games on television in late November and you come across the Ohio State - Michigan game, we all hope you will hang around. Become a part of two great football programs and enjoy what a sports rivalry should be about. In the process, you will see a good football game.

© 2012 Christopher J Wood


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