|Close friends and bitter rivals: When the press named it The Game|
Well, this year coach Jim Harbaugh was back, and he gave a dose of humiliation to the old Buckeyes juggernaut, ending an almost twenty year drought for the Maize and Blue. For the last two decades, Michigan won only two games of the storied rivalry. One of those years included a transition season following the great Tattoo-Gate scandal that left us without a coach and stripped of our previous year's accomplishments.
Because of that, the 'Rivalry", once considered one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports, was beginning to wane. Many Michigan fans I knew adopted the 'we're too cool to care about football rivalries' attitude. OSU fans were even getting a bit bored. This was a long cry from the days of the 1970s, when coaching legends Woody Hayes and his protégé Bo Schembechler took the ages old rivalry to heights few rivalries have ever experienced. After that, the national press nicknamed it simply "The Game."
There is a lot to unpack in the mentality and culture behind the rivalry and why things went south for Michigan. Perhaps some other time. But this year, the football gods were definitely for the Blue. Ours was a pass heavy offensive, almost unstoppable. Then it snowed, essentially neutering the passing game. Michigan was a run heavy offense and that worked fine snow or no snow.
Plus, we were a young team. Last year the game was canceled. We were coming off one of the strongest programs in the country. Filled to the brim with veteran players, we imagined it was going to be yet one more win against that Team up North. But Harbaugh canceled, citing Covid cases. Most of us knew it was bunk, since the numbers before and after didn't suggest they were worse off than any other program that year. Most of us guessed he was simply trying to avoid another loss.
But last year did set us up for problems. This year we began with an almost rooky lineup. Our freshman quarterback would lead a team in which many had never played before, and few had played the big games in the big lights. Despite this, after an embarrassing loss to Oregon, we came back and soon dominated the field. We didn't just win against top teams, we obliterated them. But in many cases, those games had situations that favored us: home field advantages, the right teams at the right time.
Then came Michigan. Harbaugh took a page from Oregon's playbook, with help from the weather. He gave the ball to his star running back Haskins, who our defense could not stop. He then watched us and coach Ryan Day implode. At the end, I said Michigan didn't play at some historic level, it played like a competent late season team. Unfortunately, OSU played like an incompetent early season team, and it cost us. It cost us the first legitimate loss to Michigan in two decades. It cost coach Day, a man who up until now had never lost to a Big 10 team; a string of firsts where losses are concerned. And it handed Buckeye nation a slice of humble pie.
Mostly, however, it's given OSU a new rage induced call to beat Michigan next year. Most Buckeyes were upset about the canceled game last year. Some even petitioned for the game to be played at OSU this season, as it would have been last year. That at least would have helped our novice team. That didn't happen. Somehow there is a feeling that Harbaugh gamed the system and came out winning. I think a lot of us know how that feels when a system is gamed, you know it, you lose, but there's no way to really prove the charge.
Next year it should be fun. Already Michigan is acting like the rivalry has always been the biggest thing in the world, and rightfully gloating over their earned victory. Whatever happened last year, Michigan out played us plain and simple. But now the bitterness of the rivalry is back in a way it hasn't been for years, if not decades (for before the 00s, under coach Cooper, it was OSU who couldn't beat Michigan for over a decade). We'll see what happens. But in a crazy world of crazy change, it's nice to see something go back to the olden days.
|A new chapter in the great rivalry? Only time will tell.|