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I Love Michigan, I Hate Ohio State
By Rich Thomaselli
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2011 Rich Thomaselli
All rights reserved.
Games We Love
you know, when you've won 57 of these rivalry games (13 more than Ohio State), and 11 national championships (four more than Ohio State), and more than 800 games overall (dozens more than Ohio State), the success all kind of blends together.
Yes, I just said that with a certain amount of smugness.
Nonetheless, here are 10 games that we absolutely love.
Ah, you know what they say: you never forget your first. Well, okay, no one is still alive from a game that took place 114 years ago, so we'll just have to rely on the news accounts of the day to trumpet what was the very first game in the great rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State.
By this time, U-M had been playing football for almost 20 years, while OSU was relatively new to the game, entering its eighth season of organized play. And it showed. According to the student newspaper, Michigan Daily:
Michigan had no trouble in defeating the Ohio State University representatives in Saturday's game. Two halves of 20 and 15 minutes, respectively, were played, and the score was 34–0. It was not so much Michigan's strength as Ohio's weakness that brought about the score. The visitors lined up with three of their best players absent, while Michigan put her best team on the field. While the form of the varsity team was not on the championship order, it showed an improvement over the Saturday before that was most encouraging.
Indeed, the Wolverines were coming off a scoreless tie from the previous week against that noted football power, Ohio Wesleyan.
Against the Buckeyes, it was no contest. Why the game was played with one half at 20 minutes and the second at 15 is beyond me, but perhaps it was better in this case. Michigan not only dominated, but actually had a 50-yard touchdown run called back on a penalty.
It should be noted that the Michigan Daily made mention that, "The entire team played gentlemanly and not a single wrangle arose to mar the game."
Good to know.
This game came in the midst of the Fielding Yost coaching dynasty in an era known as the "Point-a-Minute" teams, and it could have been worse.
Obviously, this was the biggest blowout, the largest margin of victory for either team in the storied rivalry. And to think, if it wasn't for a new rule enacted by Stanford University that allowed only graduates to coach its football teams, Yost might never have made his way to Ann Arbor. But he did, and the rest is legendary, glorious history.
So, how does it get any worse than 86–0? Well, according to OSU historian Jack Park in a story written on bucknuts.com, "You have to remember that in some of those games, touchdowns were only worth four or five points, so it's really even worse than it sounds."
And the Ohio State game wasn't even the highest scoring game of the 1902 season for Michigan. The Wolverines beat Iowa 107–0 and slipped past Michigan State 119–0.
Oh, by the way, some interesting notes about the 1902 game as reported by the Michigan Daily. Some 6,000 people attended the contest, which seemed like a whopping crowd at the time, and 2,000 of them came up from Columbus via train. The paper noted that Michigan fans shouted: "What will we do? What will we do? We'll rub it in to OSU! That's what we'll do!" Clearly, the banter back and forth between the fans has been enhanced since then.
Something else happened that most certainly sums up the values and modesty of the time as compared to today. During the game, an Ohio State player had his jersey completely torn off. Players from both teams formed a human screen around the player while he changed into a new jersey so nobody from the crowd could see him.
Finally, there was something of a silver lining that came out of an 86–0 loss for OSU — somebody wrote the godawful Ohio State "Carmen Ohio" on the train ride home to Columbus.
In the long and famous history of Michigan–Ohio State, there have been many incredible individual achievements. One of the first, and maybe still the greatest, was that of Tom Harmon.
Harmon was Everybody's All-American long before Sports Illustrated writer Frank Deford wrote his book of the same name, which was loosely based on former Louisiana State star Billy Cannon.
Harmon, the father of actor and NCIS star Mark Harmon, was Michigan's first Heisman Trophy winner. In 1940 he rushed for 852 yards, passed for 506 yards, and had 21 total touchdowns. His season was punctuated on November 23, 1940, against the Buckeyes at Ohio Stadium when he scored two rushing touchdowns, threw for two touchdown passes, rushed for 139 yards, passed for 151 yards, kicked four extra points, and intercepted three passes, including one he returned for a touchdown.
"Old 98" broke the all-time college scoring record held by the legendary Red Grange of Illinois.
"I saw Tom Harmon play, and he was no doubt a pure Heisman Trophy winner," former Michigan tackle Alvin Wistert said in the 2003 Pat Summerall–produced and –narrated documentary, Rivalries: The History of Michigan–Ohio State. "He did everything. He punted, he passed, he received kickoffs, he received punts, he played both offense and defense. ... He was a great football player and a great person."
Added Michigan All-America halfback Bob Chappuis in the same film: "Tom Harmon was my idol. He was a senior at Michigan when I was a senior in high school. He was probably the best all-around football player that I ever saw. He did the whole thing. And he was fast."
For his efforts in that 1940 game against the Buckeyes, Harmon not only clinched the Heisman Trophy but received something that, to this day, is extraordinary — a standing ovation from the Ohio State faithful at Ohio Stadium.
Perhaps it was for the amazing game or for the amazing career. In three games against Ohio State, Harmon accounted for 618 yards — 238 more than OSU as a team.
One of the most remembered games of the series, recalled less for the outcome or memorable plays — there weren't any — but instead for the simple fact that the game took place in one of the worst blizzards in Ohio history. It has come to be known as the Snow Bowl.
First, as much as we hate to say it, give Ohio State credit. The weather was truly awful — dangerous might actually be the better term — and since it was OSU's home game, the school had the option of postponing the contest or even cancelling the game and retaining the Big Ten championship. OSU was ranked eighth in the country at the time; Michigan was unranked. Still, the winner was heading to the Rose Bowl.
To their credit, the Buckeyes decided to play — although Fritz Crisler's very clear admonition certainly had something to do with it. Crisler, then Michigan's athletics director, told his counterpart at OSU, "If we don't play today, I'm not coming back next week."
It was certainly nothing to write home about. The game, that is. The weather certainly was. The contest was played in near whiteout conditions with temperatures at 10 degrees at kickoff with a 29 mph wind, making it feel like 12 below zero.
The referees desperately tried to sweep and shovel snow off the yard lines, but the blizzard was relentless. It resulted in a whopping 45 punts between the two teams. Michigan didn't complete a pass, didn't gain a first down, and gained 27 yards on the day. Ohio State had three first downs and gained 41 yards.
Special teams proved to be the difference. Ohio State's Vic Janowicz, that year's eventual Heisman Trophy winner, kicked a 27-yard field goal to give the Buckeyes a 3–0 lead. But the Wolverines came back and blocked one of his punts that squibbed out of the end zone for a safety, trimming the deficit to 3–2.
Late in the second quarter, Ohio State coach Wes Fesler decided to punt on a third down. It wasn't unusual — the weather was so bad and field position was so key that both teams had actually punted on first down on occasion during the game. In fact, Michigan quick- kicked on the first play of the game.
But this particular decision to punt proved disastrous.
"I'm sitting up there because I'm kind of a redshirt guy and not dressed for the game," recalled former Ohio State player and coach Earle Bruce in the documentary Rivalries: The History of Michigan–Ohio State, "and I'm sitting behind a little old lady about 83 years old, and she jumps up and says, 'Don't you punt that ball, Fesler! Don't you dare punt that ball!' I jumped up and said, 'I'm with you, lady. Don't punt the ball!' We punted the ball. They blocked it. We lost the game 9–3, and Fesler never coached another game."
Of course, the game simply could not be remembered without having a classic Michigan–Ohio State twist attached to it. Brothers Robert and Tony Momsen were squaring off against each other in the game and, as fate would have it, both played pivotal roles.
Robert "Buckeye Bob" Momsen recovered a blocked Michigan punt early the game that set up Janowicz's field goal that gave OSU a 3–0 lead. But it was Michigan's Tony Momsen who scored the game's decisive, and only, touchdown, when he chased down the punt that the Wolverines blocked on OSU and fell on it in the end zone for the score.
This is arguably the greatest game in the history of the rivalry.
The backstory — there's always a backstory with Michigan–Ohio State, right? — was what led to this not only being considered the greatest game of the rivalry but also one of the greatest games in college football history and, ultimately, a game that ABC television announcer Bill Flemming ended by saying, "There it is ! What has to be the upset of the century!"
Ohio State came into the game as the defending national champion under Woody Hayes and with a 22-game winning streak. The Buckeyes were considered unbeatable. More importantly — and this can't be stated enough — just the year before, OSU had beaten Michigan 50–14 — and, late in the game, Hayes made the decision to go for a two-point conversion with his team up by five touchdowns. When asked by reporters afterward why he went for two, Hayes replied, "Because I couldn't go for three."
It was also the first season of coaching at U-M for a former Hayes assistant who went on to make his mark as a head coach at Miami of Ohio, drawing the attention of the University of Michigan — Glenn E. "Bo" Schembechler.
And the new guy never let the Wolverines forget what happened the year before.
"When we went to our locker room to get our equipment, we saw the number '50' everywhere," former Michigan offensive lineman Dick Caldarazzo said in the Michigan–Ohio State documentary. "Bo had put '50' on everything you could see. All the shower curtains were '50,' there was a '50' on everybody's locker."
"That stuck in the craw of the Michigan players," Schembechler said in the documentary. "You know, when you have an intense rivalry that's very close and one game gets out of hand and you rub it in like that, it'll come back to haunt you."
Legend has it that Schembechler told his players, "Get me through the first 30 minutes with a lead, and I'll beat the old man in the next 30 minutes."
And that's how it played out. All 36 points were scored in the first half. Ohio State drew first blood when it pinned Michigan deep in its own half of the field, got the ball back in good field position, and scored on a one-yard run by Jim Otis to take a 6–0 lead on a missed extra point.
The two teams traded scores on the next two possessions. Michigan went up 7–6, but the Buckeyes came right back and drove down the field to take a 12–7 lead (the Bucks kicked the PAT, but when Michigan was called offside, Hayes went for two and failed).
Then the key sequence. The Wolverines started the next possession at their own 33-yard line and methodically drove to OSU's 33. Schembechler called for a tailback draw, and Billy Taylor gained 28 yards on the play to set up a touchdown that put U-M ahead for good, 14–12.
Michigan held OSU to a three-and-out on the next possession, forcing a punt that Barry Pierson returned 60 yards to OSU's 3-yard line, setting up another score that made it 21–12.
After stopping Ohio State yet again, Michigan drove from its own 36 to OSU's 3-yard line again, settling for a field goal and the final points of the half — and the game.
Legendary broadcaster Bob Ufer said at the end of the broadcast, "Ripley couldn't have written it any better than this!"
"We played a tremendous game at Iowa the week before, and not many people realize that Iowa is not that bad a team," Schembechler said after the game. "In the locker room, we talked about beating Ohio State even before we took our uniforms off. ... We took the field against Ohio State, and that was the most enthusiastic football team I've ever been associated with."
At a 40-year reunion of the game in 2009, Schembechler's widow, Cathy, said, "Of all the boys Bo coached, the '69 team was the one he was closest to and remained close to forever. He meant a lot to them, and they meant a lot to him."
Call it the Jim Harbaugh Game.Fans remember this game for what was, at the time, a rather brash statement in the college ranks — Harbaugh's guarantee that the Wolverines would beat the Buckeyes in their annual encounter.
Harbaugh made the statement in the aftermath of a shocking loss to Minnesota the week before, the team's first of the year, and he backed it up by going 19-of-29 for 261 yards against the Buckeyes.
But in reality, it became the Jamie Morris game.
Morris rushed for a career-high 210 yards — 150 in the second half — and scored two touchdowns.
"You know, you have to go back to the week before," Morris recalled. "We went to Minnesota and got caught looking ahead to Ohio State. We watched film of Minnesota, but, you know, as young kids sometimes do, we saw it and thought that Minnesota wasn't that good and it would be easy. And we got beat."
It was something that head coach Bo Schembechler actually feared, Morris said.
"He saw how we had practiced before the Minnesota game and he said it in his pregame speech —'I hope this week doesn't hurt us,'" Morris recalled. "The funny thing that not many people know about that game is, this was going to be Bo's [166th] victory at Michigan, the most of any Michigan coach. So we got a plaque already, before the game, and we were going to present it to Bo. But we lost, so we had to scrape off the 'Minnesota' and put 'Ohio State' in there."
When Michigan went into Columbus a week later, "We were all very quiet, very somber, very serious about the game," Morris said. "We had just lost our undefeated season and our No. 2 [national] ranking. We knew we were a better team than what we showed against Minnesota."
Morris said Schembechler came into his hotel room the night before the game and said, "I need you to visualize. I need you to see yourself doing good things with the ball." Morris paused and then laughed and said, "And, of course, we got down 14–3 right away."
Michigan was still down 17–13 when Morris took over. His 52-yard run set up his own eight-yard TD run to put U-M up 19–17 after a missed two-point conversion, and Morris had the bulk of the carries on an 85-yard drive that resulted in Thomas Wilcher's seven-yard score for a 26–17 advantage.
As for Harbaugh's bold prediction of victory, Morris said the team backed their senior quarterback 100 percent.
"As a player, you like to see your leader making a statement like that," Morris said. "He believed in that team. That was his senior year. He made a statement that we were going to win. Bo was pissed because it was bulletin-board material that would fire Ohio State up. In the pregame meeting, Bo said, 'Our quarterback shot his mouth off, so we have to go out there back it up.' He didn't like it, but we needed that kick in the pants. We needed Jim to say that."
These games are grouped together because, well, you can't love one without loving the other. And it marked the beginning of the end for Ohio State coach John Cooper.
In both seasons, Cooper took his Buckeyes into The Game with an undefeated record and a No. 2 national ranking. Any hopes of a national title in either season were dashed by the Wolverines. And, really, isn't that the best kind of victory? To beat a team so deliciously close to the pinnacle, only to pull them back at the last second and make their heartbreak even more maudlin? Yeah, it is.
The 1995 game was basically a one-man show, while the 1996 game was a collective effort on the part of the defense.
In 1995 it was all Tshimanga "Tim" Biakabutuka, who rushed for a whopping 313 yards — still a record for most individual rushing yards in a Michigan–Ohio State game — and the Wolverines beat the Buckeyes 31–23.
Excerpted from I Love Michigan, I Hate Ohio State by Rich Thomaselli. Copyright © 2011 Rich Thomaselli. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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