- The Washington Times - Friday, November 21, 2003

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jim Mandich played on the NFL’s only perfect team, won three Super Bowl rings and was honored as an All-American tight end. Yet nothing in his football career compared with beating Ohio State in 1969.

“It was the signature event of my life,” said the former Michigan star, who went on to play for the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers.

High stakes, drama and emotion almost always have been a part of the big game — aka the Big Game and the 100-Yard War — among the greatest rivalries in sports. This year, when the Buckeyes and Wolverines meet for the 100th time, the buildup has been as big as ever. And after they take the field at Michigan Stadium today, an automatic BCS bid goes to the winner. So does the Big Ten title.

And for the sixth time in nine years, the Ohio State-Michigan game carries national championship implications.

“This is going to be the biggest event going on in the world on Saturday, here in Ann Arbor,” said Michigan’s Chris Perry. “There’s not going to be another place in the world that has 110,000 people in one place watching a game, plus millions on TV.”

With a win, No. 4 Ohio State (10-1, 6-1) may have a chance to defend its national title at the Sugar Bowl. A victory would give the Buckeyes their first outright conference championship since 1984.

“It would be a lot better than last year, and we won the national championship,” said Ohio State’s Rob Sims. “It was kind of funny [hearing], ‘Oh, you guys won the national championship, but you were the co-Big Ten champs.’”

If No. 5 Michigan (9-2, 6-1) wins, it would be a long shot to play in the BCS title game. But the Wolverines wouldn’t be disappointed to play in the Rose Bowl for the first time since winning the 1997 national championship.

“You couldn’t write a better story than this,” Michigan’s Tony Pape said. “This is what you come to Michigan for and why you go to Ohio State. This is the game. This is it.”

Ohio State coach Jim Tressel and quarterback Craig Krenzel, a Michigan native, are 2-0 against the Wolverines. The Buckeyes haven’t won three in a row against Michigan since taking four straight from 1960 to 1963.

“I’m not thinking about losing,” said Michigan coach Lloyd Carr, 5-3 against Ohio State and 13-3 against top-10 teams.

If Michigan doesn’t go to the Rose Bowl, it will have gone six years without playing there for the first time since 1965.

“We do have a lot riding on this game, so we need to go out and get it done,” Michigan fifth-year senior Dave Pearson said.

Since the matchup was moved to the last Saturday of the Big Ten schedule 68 years ago, “the Game” has had an impact on the Big Ten championship 41 times. The conference’s outright champion will be determined in today’s game for the 19th time.

“It’s amazing to see how many times this game has been the deciding factor,” Pearson said. “It’s just going to be a great thing to be a part of.”

Michigan has a 56-37-6 edge in the series, which has been incredibly even if you take away the Wolverines’ 13-0-2 start and the John Cooper era. Ohio State fired Cooper, who was 2-10-1 against Michigan, after the 2000 season. The Ohio State-Michigan game was voted the greatest rivalry — in any sport — of the 20th century in a fan poll conducted by ESPN.com.

“There’s nothing quite like the colors, the noise, the bands, the crowds,” Carr said. “Looking into the eyes of your players, knowing all the preparation, all the goals and all of the hard work and effort that they have put into the season, and now they get an opportunity to play in the greatest game. The guys across the field that you’re coaching against, knowing that they want to win every bit as bad as you do.”

Michigan has won its six home games this season by an average of 34.5 points, but few expect another blowout. The Wolverines are favored by a touchdown against a team that has consistently displayed a knack for winning close games. The Buckeyes, who have won five games by a touchdown or less, beat N.C. State in three overtimes and Purdue in one overtime.

“No matter how ugly or in what fashion we win games, that’s what we do,” Ohio State’s Ben Hartsock said.

For both teams, it will be an emotional experience when they walk down a long, steep tunnel and emerge onto the field in front of more than 110,000 fans.

“The emotion will be pouring out of our helmets,” Ohio State’s Branden Joe said. “There’s going to be a lot of boos. We’ll still have our faithful. There’ll be that corner of red out there, and that’s all we’re going to need.”

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