COLUMBUS – Both Ohio State`s Jim Tressel and Michigan`s Lloyd Carr did their first bit of coaching this week when they instructed their players to not say anything negative about the other team on the eve of 104th meeting of the Buckeyes and Wolverines on Saturday at the Big House.
Idle talk has inflamed The Game, in a history of controversies before, after and during the annual grudge match:
No. 1 Ohio State and No. 4 Michigan met in 1973 with both teams unbeaten (the Buckeyes in nine games, the Wolverines in 10). Michigan had outscored its opponents 320-58, Ohio State by a margin of 361-33. After an epic struggled, they ended up in a 10-10 tie.
In those days, only one Big Ten team got to go to a bowl, and the only bowl was the Rose. Since the teams ended up tied in the league standings, the Big Ten athletic directors met and voted who should represent the conference in Pasadena.
Ohio State had gone the year before, which normally would have favored Michigan. After some deliberation the ADs picked the Buckeyes. Whether it was because Michigan quarterback Dennis Franklin broke his collarbone in the game, or because the Wolverines failed to win on their home field, Ohio State was the choice. Many Michigan people believed that Michigan State, which the Wolverines had humiliated 31-0 earlier in the season, voted against their in-state rival out of spite. Some also said that two former Michigan men who were ADs in the conference betrayed their alma mater.
The Buckeyes did go on to wallop Southern Cal 42-21 in the Rose Bowl to (somewhat) vindicate the choice.
But on Nov. 13, 2006, just four days before dying of a heart attack, Michigan`s coach in 1973, Bo Schembechler, was still angry about it.
“It was the greatest disappointment of my career. Everybody, including (Ohio State coach) Woody Hayes, congratulated me after the game and said, â€˜Oh, you`ll do a great job in the Rose Bowl` and all that,” he said. “It was strictly a political thing. The whole thing upset me to no end. I think that team, that 1973 team, is the reason that we`re (the Big Ten) playing in other bowls today.”
Â Michigan had just sustained its first loss of the 1986 season the week before against Minnesota, prompting quarterback Jim Harbaugh to say, “I guarantee we will beat Ohio State and go to Pasadena.”
Harbaugh expected Schembechler to be extremely angry.
“The way our leader, Bo Schembechler, handled it was genius,” said Harbaugh, now Stanford`s head coach. “He just came into the team meeting and I`m kind of expecting to get an earful. He said, â€˜Well, at least I know our quarterback thinks we can win. Rally around him. Let`s go to Columbus and beat the Buckeyes.”â€˜
And they did, 26-24, to earn a berth in the Rose Bowl.
Â On Monday before the 1987 game, Ohio State president Ed Jennings fired coach Earle Bruce, a successful coach who was devoted to his alma mater but had never been truly embraced by the Buckeyes faithful.
The untimely firing shifted sentiment to Bruce, and Jennings was vilified for the decision.
In Ann Arbor that Saturday, Bruce was standing on the sidelines when he turned to say something to an assistant and noticed out of the corner of his eye his players were all wearing headbands.
“I was going to tell them to get those headbands off,” Bruce recalled. “When I looked at them, I saw that they said â€˜EARLE` and then I thought I can`t very well tell them to take them off.”
The Buckeyes won 23-20 and after the game Bruce went to the Michigan locker room to say goodbye to his friend and peer, Schembechler.
Schembechler looked up and said, “You know how I don`t like losing. But, somehow, today I don`t mind.”
Michigan captain Walter Smith, a wide receiver who had not played all season because of an injury, was asked several days before the 1994 meeting with Ohio State why he wanted to win the game.
“We want to get Cooper fired,” Smith said. “That`s what I want to do. We want to keep on beating them and beating them until he`s not there.”
Cooper was 0-5-1 against Michigan to that point and was close to being run out of Columbus on a rail.
The No. 22 Buckeyes responded with a 22-6 win over the 15th-ranked Wolverines.
Ohio State was ranked No. 2 in 1995 and had rolled to an 11-0 record.
Then the week of the game, wide receiver Terry Glenn told reporters, “Michigan is nobody.”
The Buckeyes lost 31-23 to the nobodies in Ann Arbor.
Ohio State wide receiver David Boston, ironically, was from Humble, Texas.
Yet a few days before the fourth-ranked Buckeyes played at No. 1 Michigan in 1997, he said, “If our offense and defense are clicking, we should win by two or three touchdowns.”
With Charles Woodson having a big game – a memorable photo on the cover of Sports Illustrated showed Boston upside down after being hit by Woodson, an Ohio native – Michigan won 20-14.
What a riot!
After Ohio State intercepted a pass near the goal line on the final play of the 2002 game to preserve a 14-9 victory, the fans went wild. Police had to use pepper spray to keep the crowd away from the goalposts.
“Celebrating” the No. 2-ranked Buckeyes` victory, the crowd went on a violent spree that resulted in cars being overturned, couches being burned and trash set afire. More than 60 people were arrested and eight students were expelled from school. The party-turned-riot led to crackdowns on alcohol at games and also a major public-relations push to stem any violence beforehand.
COLUMBUS – What`s brewing today with the 2007 Ohio State Buckeyes …
BUCKEYE BUZZ: Kirk Barton has visited “The Reaper` before. In other words, he`s had to sit down and talk with coach Jim Tressel after the offensive tackle has said or done something he shouldn`t have.
How do you avoid “The Reaper”?
“Pray a lot. Repent,” Barton cracked.
Barton got into his deepest and hottest pool of water when he cracked open a bottle of expensive champagne in the locker room and then lit up an expensive Cuban cigar after last year`s No. 1 vs. No. 2 showdown victory over Michigan.
“The offensive coordinator-reaper (Jim Bollman) came to me and gave me a pretty good cheering so then I sought out the head-reaper and talked to him,” Barton said to laughing reporters. “He always gets in the office at 5 a.m. or 5:15, so I was outside of his door just sitting there waiting for him. I kept checking every 15 minutes because I was watching film, then I`d go and see if he was in, then watch film. It was pretty nerve-racking waiting for him. Of course it was the time he decided to sleep in until like 8 because we didn`t have an opponent, we had just beaten Michigan, our whole team had the week off.”
Eventually, they talked. It wasn`t so bad. Tressel, or “The Reaper,” didn`t take his scholarship or his soul. He just counseled him and sent him on his way, a wiser young man.
“It`s just one of those things that you wish you had back,” Barton said.
THE NUMBERS: Michigan leads the series with Ohio State 57-40-6, including 30-18-4 in Ann Arbor. Since 1951, the Buckeyes hold a 28-26-2 lead, including a 5-1 record under Jim Tressel and wins in the last three meetings. The game – or rather The Game – has been the traditional conference finale for both teams since 1935.
THUMBIN` IT: TB Chris “Beanie” Wells wore a brace on his jammed right thumb on Monday. He said he first hurt it two weeks ago against Wisconsin and then re-injured it against Illinois. He said the injury doesn`t affect his ability to hang onto or catch the football. Asked if it would prevent Wells (a right-hander) from throwing a 40-yard pass downfield, he laughed and said, yes, that might have to be taken out of the playbook.
DEFINING MOMENT: CB Donald Washington is still a little sick to his stomach that Illinois QB Juice Williams was able to throw four TD passes against the Buckeyes secondary last week. He knows a little extra is riding on this weeks noon start at Michigan.
“This week will define us,” he said. “Last week things didn`t go how we wanted it to and it kind of shattered a dream for us but at the same time we know we have the biggest game of the season still yet to play. If we just hang our head on one loss then it could be the same results this week. We have to put that loss behind us and get ready for Michigan.”