“The Game”

Bo and Woody

It has come to be known as not only the best rivalry in college football, but as the most exhilarating rivalry in all of college sports.Each year, The Game is played on the last Saturday of the regular college football season in late November, frequently with Big Ten Championship implications on the line. Even if one team loses every game in a season except for The Game, their season will be considered a success. For the other team, the next 365 days are focused on one goal – win The Game. It does not matter what happened in other games, as people will always be remembered for their performance during The Game. When the University of Michigan and the Ohio State University football teams take the field, whether at the Big House in Ann Arbor, Michigan or the Horseshoe, in Columbus, Ohio, The Game will provide an electric atmosphere in what is now the most watched game in either professional or collegiate sport.

Early History

The University of Michigan began playing intercollegiate football in 1879, against Racine, Wisconsin, winning 1-0 (scoring was different when college football was first established). Only eleven years later, the Ohio State University played Ohio Wesleyan University, winning the contest 20-14. As the two institutions evolved and intercollegiate football became more popular, the University of Michigan and Ohio State University met for the first time in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1897, with the Wolverines defeating the Buckeyes 34-0. Michigan would win twelve of the first fourteen meetings with Ohio State (the other two games were ties), including an 86-0 trouncing in 1902, mainly because of Michigan head coach Fielding Yost’s “point-a-minute” teams, which were the first to popularize the forward pass, an innovation in collegiate football that was seldom used.

In 1907, the University of Michigan left the Western Conference (now known as the Big Ten), and a rule was implemented that teams who were not in the conference could not play teams who were in the conference. The two schools played each other in every year from 1900 until 1912, the year Ohio State joined the Western Conference. As a result, the next Michigan/Ohio State game (the first conference game between the two) would not be played again until 1918 after Michigan rejoined the Western Conference in 1917. Ohio State would achieve their first victory against Michigan in 1919, a 13-3 win in Ann Arbor.

In 1922, Ohio State had scheduled Michigan to play in the dedication of Ohio Stadium, more commonly referred to as the Horseshoe for its “U” shaped design. In front of a crowd of 72,500 in Columbus, Ohio, the University of Michigan won 19-0. As an eternal reminder of the loss, OSU painted the stone-carved flowers in the rotunda of Ohio Stadium maize on a blue background. When Michigan Stadium opened in 1927, now called the Big House because of the overwhelming capacity, Ohio State was looking to return the favor at the dedication in Ann Arbor, Michigan in front of a crowd of 84,401, but was unsuccessful as Michigan won 21-0.

Francis Schmidt took over as the head coach at Ohio State in 1934 and proceeded to shutout Michigan in four straight meetings, with scores of 34-0, 38-0, 21-0, and 21-0. In 1935, Michigan and Ohio State played each other on the last game of the season, a tradition that still stands to this day. Schmidt is also credited with creating the Gold Pants pendant, a small ornament that is given to every Ohio State player and coach that defeats Michigan. Each pair of Gold Pants has the recipient’s initials and the score of The Game inscribed upon it.

Perhaps the most interesting match-up between the two opponents occurred in what has been dubbed the “Snow Bowl” in 1950 at the Horseshoe. In the midst of a blizzard with bone-chilling temperatures and whistling snow and wind, Michigan won the game 9-3 with a brave 50,503 in attendance. Although The Game was played in less than ideal conditions, it was essential that they played because the affair had bearing on who would win the Big Ten Conference and travel to the Rose Bowl. The strategy for this meeting was different than any other game, as the teams combined for 45 punts. Michigan did not complete a pass or achieve a first down, and only rushed for 27 yards in the victory. As a result of the Snow Bowl, Michigan advanced to the Rose Bowl.

 

The Ten-Year War

The most bitter and intense period of the rivalry between the University of Michigan and the Ohio State University occurred between 1969 and 1978, known as “The Ten-Year War.” At the time, the other schools in the Big Ten were so weak that the conference was often referred to as “The Big Two and The Little Eight,” as Michigan or Ohio State won the conference title, with the other school coming in second eight times. The catalysts behind the eruption in the rivalry were head coaches Wayne “Woody” Woodrow Hayes of Ohio State and Glenn “Bo” Schembechler of Michigan. While the two men respected each other, they considered the season a failure if they were not the champions of The Game.

Woody Hayes began his head-coaching career at Ohio State in 1951 after coaching at Miami (Ohio) from 1949 to 1950, where he coached player Bo Schembechler. From 1952 to 1953, Bo was a graduate assistant coach at Ohio State before moving onto other programs. Bo returned to be the assistant coach to Woody at Ohio State from 1959-1963 before accepting the head-coaching job at Miami (Ohio) from 1964-1968. In 1969, Bo accepted the same position at the University of Michigan, as the protégé would face his master Woody from across the sidelines.

In 1968, Ohio State thrashed Michigan 50-14 at the Horseshoe, and Woody led his team to a Rose Bowl and a National Championship. Although the game was well in hand, Woody went for two instead of kicking an extra point, which he did not convert. When a reporter asked Woody why he went for two when he knew Michigan would not make a comeback, he responded, “Because I couldn’t go for three.” When Bo arrived in a disheartened Ann Arbor, he wanted to make sure that Woody would not think about trying those antics again. Thus, the Ten-Year War had begun.

When the heavily favored Ohio State Buckeyes came to Ann Arbor in 1969, Bo’s first year of coaching at Michigan, they were riding a school-record 22-game winning streak with the hopes of achieving a second consecutive national title. However, the underdog Wolverines defeated the Buckeyes 24-14 in one of the biggest upsets in Big Ten history. Bo Schembechler had successfully defeated the man he learned so much from, Woody Hayes, on his first attempt, thwarting Ohio State’s National Championship hopes. The next year, Ohio State avenged their loss, defeating Michigan 20-9, and advancing to the Rose Bowl and a share of the national title. This game is significant because it was the first time in the history of the rivalry that both teams were undefeated and untied.

In what can be considered one of the most controversial games in the history of college football, the number one ranked Buckeyes traveled to Ann Arbor to challenge the number four ranked Wolverines in 1973. This was the second time that both teams entered The Game undefeated and untied. At the time, an NCAA record 105,233 filled Michigan Stadium to watch The Game with the Big Ten Conference Title, a trip to the Rose Bowl, and a potential National Championship on the line. After a well-fought game, the teams battled to a 10-10 tie. The next day, the Big Ten Athletic Directors held a secret vote to determine who would represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl. When the Ohio State Buckeyes received the nod, Bo Schembechler was outraged. Although he protested the vote, the Buckeyes still advanced to the Rose Bowl and defeated the University of Southern California 42-21.

The Ten-Year War was so evenly matched, that from the years of 1968-1980, both Michigan and Ohio State had lost to other Big Ten opponents other than each other only five times in that span. Against each other, their record was 6-6-1. During the Ten-Year War, Bo and the Wolverines had a record of 5-4-1 against Woody and the Buckeyes. During their respective careers, Bo had accumulated a record of 11-9-1 against Ohio State, while Woody had a record of 16-11-1 against Michigan. Although they hated their rival schools with a passion and would do anything to win The Game against their most hated opponent, both Bo and Woody remained best of friends until Woody passed away on March 12, 1987.

 

Recent History 

2003 marked the 100th meeting between the two schools, as the Buckeyes made the trip to Ann Arbor. Led by Heisman finalist Chris Perry, the Wolverines defeated the Buckeyes 34-21. This win gave Michigan the outright Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl. A then-NCAA record of 112,118 watched the centennial game.

In what has been declared the “Game of The Century,” the unbeaten, national number two overall ranked Michigan Wolverines traveled to The Horseshoe to try to dethrone the unbeaten, national number one overall ranked Ohio State Buckeyes in 2006. This was the first time in the history of the rivalry that the game was between the number one and number two ranked teams in the nation. As 105,708 people (an Ohio Stadium record) were on hand to watch an epic battle, Troy Smith, who would win the Heisman Trophy, led the Buckeyes to a 42-39 Ohio State victory. The Buckeyes advanced to the BCS National Title Game, where they lost 41-14 to the University of Florida. An estimation of nearly 22 million people watched the nationally televised game on ABC.

Two days before the “Game of The Century,” Bo Schembechler, gave his traditional pre-Ohio State speech to the Michigan football team. Although he was not feeling well and was advised to stay at home by Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr, Bo proceeded with his speech. The next day, on the eve before the game, Bo collapsed in a television studio and passed away, giving The Game even more significance in 2006.

 

Brett Smith

About: Brett Smith

Brett hails from the great state of Delaware, and is a recent University of Michigan graduate, earning a degree in Sport Management. While at UM, Brett served as the Vice President of Michigan's Club Baseball team. Go Blue!