The OSU – UofM Rivalry: Rooted in History, Only Getting Better

Julie ReichlmayrContributor INovember 20, 2009


The late 1960’s and early 1970’s marked the heyday of what would become the ultimate showdown in college football—appropriately referred to as “the game". 

In a decade which signified Bo Schembechler’s initial head-coach season at Michigan in 1969, and ended with Woody Hayes last year as head-coach for Ohio State, the rivalry was intensified into the ultimate showdown in college football—events from an era would shape both teams’ future programs.

Twice within the ten-year war, the Michigan–Ohio State game would decide the Big Ten championship for the two undefeated teams.

The Michigan–Ohio State rivalry was not nationally renowned early on. Michigan’s decisive 34-0 victory in the first game against Ohio State in 1897 was little more than another win, quite a departure from today’s life and death game sentiment.

The importance of the Michigan–Ohio State rivalry was virtually non-existent until the Buckeyes won the 1934 game.  Ohio State Coach Schmidt was asked how the Buckeyes would fare against the Wolverines in the 1934 match-up: “they [the Wolverines] put their pants on one leg at a time just like everybody else.” Thus began the tradition to provide a gold charm replica of a pair of football pants to players and coaches following wins over Michigan.

Since 1935, the Michigan–Ohio State match-up has decided the Big Ten championship 23 times, and has been played on the last game of the season ever since.

It wasn’t until Woody Hayes was hired in 1951 that “the game” was elevated to rivalry status.  From thereon, the Michigan–Ohio State rivalry gained momentum with each season.

The 1969 showdown, with protégé Bo Schembechler at the helm of Michigan’s football program, and a remarkable win against undefeated Ohio State, set the rivalry as the most remarkable in the nation. From 1968–1982 Michigan or Ohio State won or shared the Big Ten title, the same is true 19 out of 22 years between 1984 and 2008.

The ten-year war during the decade of the 1970’s enlivened the Michigan–Ohio State rivalry like no other period of time. There is no doubt the impact the individuals who met faithfully for the yearly November battle had on the intensity of the rivalry.

Schembechler’s impressive first season with the Wolverines, and long-lasting impact on Michigan tradition, is truly legendary. Hayes’ eccentricities and abhorrence with all things maize and blue has become his legacy. 

Beginning in 1969, “the game” quite literally defined the season for both teams. Arguably the most important game during this span of time, the 1969 game ruined a near-perfect seasons for the Buckeyes.

Woody Hayes would say throughout his coaching career, no team was better. With an 8-0 record, this was hardly refutable. Luckily for the Wolverines, Coach Schembechler knew Hayes’ strategies, and Michigan won 24-12.

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is deeply rooted in tradition. Sure, the media promotes the game to garner attention and to ensure viewer-ratings. But unlike other rivalries that have traded tradition for monetary means, Michigan and Ohio State have remained the last game of the season since 1935.

Even when “the game” implications were not as critical to either team’s national standing (as can be said this year), the energy and game hype remained.

“The game” not only thrives… it continues to get better.

Despite the misgivings and disappointments for the Wolverines’ 2009 season, the rivalry remains just as intense. Students are passionate about this match-up, and this trend will not waver anytime soon.

“Remember 1969” seems an appropriate reminder for a struggling Wolverine squad. In a match-up that marks the 40th anniversary of this infamous showdown, it is important to remember the history rooted in this rivalry and tradition; the individuals who made this game what it is today; the moments that defined it.

The repercussions of “the game” are more pronounced this season for a disheartened, but not spiritless, Michigan team. Win or lose, the intensity of this rivalry will remain.

For a 1969 Michigan team, amidst a “ten year war”, things did not look promising for the Wolverines. Coach Bo Schembechler’s reflections on this match-up are as relevant today as ever.

If anything means anything in the football business, it is the way a team – a collection of men – can perform the way we did against Ohio State in 1969.  It doesn’t happen very often.  Sometimes it never happens – not in a whole lifetime.  Everything has to be right. The time. The place. The conditions. The setting. And the men. We had it all – just once maybe – but we had it that day in November of ’69 .”

Certainly, the Michigan–Ohio State rivalry would not be the way it is if it weren’t for the Hayes-Schembechler era. For every “Michigan Man” or crazed Ohio State Buckeye, this rivalry is truly as big as it gets. Even today, this rivalry is truly as good as it gets.