- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

COLUMBUS, Ohio It doesn't need a silly moniker like "Red River Rivalry" or "Apple Cup" or "The Big Game."

It's always just been Ohio State-Michigan, no subtitle necessary.

It's certainly no cocktail party. Wear a sundress, and you'll either freeze or be frozen out by looks of disgust.

And there's no silly totem at stake. Win this brawl game, and you walk away with a psychological scalp, bragging rights and the occasional goal post, not a bourbon barrel, an old oaken bucket or a plastic ax.

Quite simply, today's meeting between the No.2 Buckeyes (12-0) and No.12 Wolverines (9-2) isn't just the Big Ten's game of the year, every year. Here are 10 reasons why it's the definitive rivalry in all of college sports.

1. Style of play The game embodies the essence of football. It's pigskin primeval. These are not two spread offenses playing pitch and catch in the sunshine. These are always throwback, smashmouth squads who usually line up with two tight ends and try to trample you with power tailbacks running behind massive offensive lines. Given the late-November date, the game is usually played in unpleasant weather it snowed in Columbus yesterday by players who often seem to masochistically relish the miserable conditions. Ohio State-Michigan games are often as much a test of manhood as they are a testament to talent.

Two other major rivalry games approach the Ohio State-Michigan fervor in this fundamental, violent regard: Oklahoma-Nebraska and Alabama-Auburn. Alas, the Cornhuskers play on turf, a blasphemy to all things Lombardi. And the Iron Bowl well, the only thing Alabama's finest have been proficient at forging lately are the manacles of probation.

2. Longevity Ohio State and Michigan met for the first time in 1897. Fans arrived for the game in horse-drawn carriages. And James Naismith was still using his empty peach baskets for dirty laundry. Sorry hoops fans, North Carolina and Duke didn't start doing their thing down on tobacco road until 1920. As for similarly ancient gridiron rivalries like Harvard-Yale, Brown-Fordham or Army-Navy, when is the last time one of those teams showed up in the Top 25, much less the national championship picture?

No rivalry in college sports has been so meaningful for so long.

3. Woody and Bo Ohio State's Woody Hayes and Michigan's Bo Schembechler, two indomitable characters, ratcheted up this rivalry in the late '60s with their personal history. Schembechler, a Hayes assistant, left the Buckeyes for Ann Arbor after the 1968 national title season. In his debut season as Michigan's coach, Bo's Wolverines dropped Woody's top-ranked Buckeyes 24-12. Hayes never forgave him, and the Buckeyes haven't won a national title since.

Call us when Rick Pitino spanks Kentucky on a regular basis and brings a title to Louisville. Until then, the Bluegrass state scandal ain't close.

4. Traditions Ohio State-Michigan gives us Script Ohio, "Hail to the Victors," and the Senior Tackle, a final tackling dummy drill for Buckeyes seniors on the eve of the game that was broadcast live in Columbus as recently as 1996. Texas A&M's bonfire (pre-tragedy) and 12th man traditions are comparable, but the Aggies are rarely in the title hunt.

5. Players Michigan and Ohio State have accounted for nine Heisman Trophies between them. No two schools who meet in what you could call a true rivalry game can claim as many. In recent years, of course, the Florida State-Miami and Florida State-Florida games have often boasted as many future NFL players. But the three Florida schools were barely fielding teams when Michigan's Tom Harmon (1940) and Ohio State's Les Horvath (1944) collected the first Heismans for the maize and blue and scarlet and gray.

6. Stadiums Michigan's "Big House" is not only one of the oldest stadiums in the country, it's still the biggest (seating more than 110,000). In terms of sheer aesthetics, however, perhaps only Notre Dame Stadium and Husky Stadium (see Puget Sound and Mount Rainier) can compare to Ohio State's fabled "Horseshoe," with its marble rotunda and 140-foot flagpole. And if you haven't noticed, Notre Dame and Washington don't tangle on an annual basis. Compared to such glorious old gems, shiny new structures like North Carolina's Dean Dome or Florida State's Doak Campbell Stadium are history-bankrupt eyesores.

7. Drama Despite the wanton incompetence of former Ohio State coach John Cooper, who compiled a parity-mocking 2-10-1 mark against the Wolverines, few rivalries have produced more close games over the years. Since 1919, Michigan has just a 43-36-4 edge in the series. And in those 83 games, the Wolverines have outscored Ohio State by an average of just 1.2 points. Translation: Ohio State-Michigan tickets should be stamped with a warning from the Surgeon General.

8. Uniforms The Wolverines have the most identifiable helmets in college football. Why? Because when new coach Fritz Crisler arrived in Ann Arbor in 1938, he decided a garish design would help Michigan quarterbacks spot their receivers downfield. He painted their helmets with gold wings, and the Wolverines have responded by sending more wideouts to the NFL than any other school.

As for Ohio State, it was the first major college to implement the helmet-sticker incentive program. Hayes began awarding buckeye leaves for big plays in 1968.

Unless Penn State and Alabama decide to crank up a yearly showdown, don't argue with us on this one.

9. Timing Since 1935, the Ohio State-Michigan game has taken place on the last week of the Big Ten schedule. Hoops is out entirely on this count, because no truly crucial game takes place before the NCAA tournament. As for college football, the two biggest rivalry games of the year (Florida State-Miami and Oklahoma-Texas, according to preseason rankings) took place in October. Great stuff, but later is better.

10. Stakes Ohio State-Michigan is almost never meaningless. The game has decided the Big Ten championship, just as it will today, in 11 of the past 13 seasons. From 1995 to '97, the game had a direct impact on the national title, just as it will today. And only once since 1988 has there been an Ohio State-Michigan game when both teams weren't ranked in the Top 25 (1993).

"It's indescribably important," said second-year Ohio State coach Jim Tressel, who is so obsessed with the rivalry that no matter the month he literally can tell you how many days until his team meets Michigan. "It's just always there. I guess that's one of my idiosyncrasies. Maybe that's all you have to know to understand the magnitude of this rivalry."


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