I’ve been pretty lucky. I understand that. In my lifetime, I’ve had the opportunity to witness some pretty awesome sporting events in-person at arenas and stadiums across the country. I’ve felt the electricity of the NBA playoffs. I’ve survived the drama of the MLB postseason. I’ve attended three BCS bowl games and a National Championship. I’ve experienced the circus-like atmosphere of Monday Night Football. I’ve witnessed two hat tricks and a no-hitter, and once watched Michael Jordan single-handedly win a game in the fourth quarter against my beloved Seattle Supersonics (That’s right, Seattle had an NBA team once. Gone, but not forgotten…). I saw Ken Griffey Jr. hit his first Major League homerun and Nolan Ryan pitch his last game. I’ve shed tears in defeat and once rushed the field like an idiot in celebration of victory (seemed like the thing to do at the time). Like I said, I’ve been pretty lucky. All of these experiences have changed my life in those very small ways that only sports fans can understand. But one event stands above them all: The Game.
“ANN ARBOR IS A WHORE”
Ranked by ESPN as the greatest North American sports rivalry, the annual meeting of Ohio State and Michigan at the end of the college football regular season (a.k.a. “The Game”) is thought by many to be the present-day manifestation of a brief territorial battle between the State of Ohio and the Michigan Territory that took place in the early 1800’s. The two schools have fought it out on the gridiron every year since 1897, and I can tell you that the hatred between the schools runs deep and spans generations. The doctrine is taught early and often to incoming students at the main Ohio State campus in Columbus and at the satellite campuses throughout the state. It’s taught in the public schools and reinforced at church. My own indoctrination started immediately after my arrival in Columbus in 2005. While standing in line at a gas station on my first day in town, I turned to see a sweet woman old enough to be my great-grandmother wearing a shirt which read:
ANN ARBOR IS A WHORE
On campus, one full hour of my dental school orientation was spent talking about the Ohio State football tradition (we even watched highlight reels), The Best Damn Band In The Land, tailgating, and “Michigan Week.” They talked about Michigan, Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr the same way we talk about Lucifer in Sunday school. We were then taught the two fight songs and the Alma Mater. At the time I couldn’t believe what I was sitting through. I just couldn’t understand how this information had anything to do with my dental education. Knowing what I know now, however, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Michigan dominated the early years of the rivalry, but things started to change after the famous “Snow Bowl” of 1950, a game that saw 45 punts and ended with Michigan winning 9-3 despite not gaining a single first down or completing a single pass (Wait–didn’t the Buckeyes win one like that this season?). The Buckeyes owned the second half of the 20th century and have simply embarrassed the Wolverines through the first ten years of this one, making Woody Hayes, Earle Bruce and Jim Tressel legends in Ohio State history.
“NOVEMBER 18, 2006
My first in-person experience with the rivalry was in 2006, when the #2 Wolverines came to Columbus to face the #1 Buckeyes for a trip to the national championship. I had attended every game at The Shoe for two years, but had never felt emotions running through my body like I did that night. I HATED that stupid team from Michigan. It was a seemingly personal hatred that made absolutely no sense, but we all felt it–all 107,000 of us. The emotion and intensity of those epic four quarters left me physically and emotionally empty for a full day afterward. Even today, the physical effects linger in the form of a ringing in my ears that I’m told will likely last the rest of my life. Yah, The Shoe can get pretty loud. Totally worth it. THE Ohio State University 42, Michigan 39. Twice more I’ve had the opportunity to witness the rivalry first-hand, and it has never failed to leave me numb with emotion. I’ve never felt anything like it, and I’m not sure I ever will.
“A LOST SEASON”
In the 2011 version of “The Game” we’ll see a struggling Ohio State squad test its youth on both sides of the ball against Michigan tomorrow in Ann Arbor (she really is a whore). The Buckeyes, under the leadership of Jim Tressel, have won the last seven in a row, but that is a streak that will likely be coming to an end as they simply lack the coaching and talent on offense to hang with a Michigan squad that can put away a game in a hurry. I’m hoping for a miracle. GO BUCKS!