Best Moments of the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry

David KenyonFeatured ColumnistMay 5, 2020

Best Moments of the Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    Whether you bleed scarlet and grey, maize and blue or are a neutral observer, it's easy to appreciate the centurylong rivalry between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines.

    Ohio State has dominated the series recently, winning eight straight games and posting a 17-3 record since 2000. Michigan still holds a 58-52-6 advantage in the all-time records because of its early excellence and surge in the 1980s and '90s.

    From the Snow Bowl to the Ten-Year War to a Heisman Trophy pose and a Game of the Century, the rivalry has featured contests that define the history of college football.

    The results have decided Big Ten championships, Rose Bowl appearances and national titles. The Game is one of the most exciting events on the college football calendar every year, and B/R is looking back through some of its greatest moments.

    Before we get started, everyone say "thank you" to Miami University for facilitating a decade of legendary games too.             

1950: The Snow Bowl

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    There is a difference between "football weather" in the Midwest and, well, whatever the 1950 Snow Bowl was.

    According to the Toledo Blade, Wolverines and Buckeyes played in a temperature of 10 degrees, with snow falling at two inches per hour and winds gusting to 28 miles per hour. Neither Michigan head coach Bennie Oosterbaan nor Ohio State coach Wes Fesler wanted to play the game.

    However, Michigan's refusal to postpone the contest led OSU athletic director Dick Larkins to refuse the offered forfeit. The Buckeyes, after all, had a Big Ten championship at stake.

    Ohio State scored first on a 38-yard field goal. Michigan blocked a punt, and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety.

    The defining play happened right before halftime. The Wolverines scored a touchdown after Tony Momsen blocked and recovered a punt in the end zone. Michigan took a 9-3 lead, and neither team scored any more points in a game that included 45 punts.

    The Wolverines went on to win the Rose Bowl, but the bigger result was Fesler resigned after dropping to 0-3-1 in the rivalry. Ohio State then hired little-known Woody Hayes from nearby Miami University.

    That became a legendary decision.     

1968: Woody Hayes Goes for 2

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    After Hayes' hiring, Ohio State claimed national championships in 1954, 1957 and 1961 while dominating its rivalry with Michigan for the first time. From his debut in 1951 through 1968, the Buckeyes went 12-6. They'd managed 12 wins in the previous 48 matchups.

    In 1968, second-ranked Ohio State enjoyed a 50-14 dismantling of the No. 4 Wolverines. But what happened in the closing moments only contributed to what makes the rivalry so great.

    Whether it was because of an injury to the snapper or good-ol' rivalry hate, the Buckeyes attempted a two-point conversion. True or not, the legend says Hayes, when asked why he went for two, stated "because they wouldn't let me go for three."

    Ohio State ultimately won the Rose Bowl, finished 10-0 and claimed the fourth national title of Hayes' career.

    As for Michigan, head coach Bump Elliott soon took an administrative role in the athletic department. The Wolverines then swiped Bo Schembechlera former Hayes assistant and then the Miami University coachto replace Elliott.

    That's when the rivalry took off.

1969-78: The 10-Year War

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    Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes
    Bo Schembechler and Woody HayesAssociated Press

    Fueled by the disrespectful two-point try in 1968, Michigan upset the top-ranked Buckeyes in 1969 and prevented a claim for Hayes' title. The matchup served as the beginning of the Ten-Year War, in which Michigan managed a 5-4-1 edge.

    During those 10 years, The Game featured a pair of Top 10 teams in seven contests with five Top 5 matchups. Ohio State earned two outright Big Ten titles, Michigan secured one (plus a share with Michigan State in 1978), and the programs shared the conference crown six times.

    Ohio State won the 1970 tilt and claimed a national title despite losing to Stanford in the Rose Bowl.

    In 1973, both Ohio State and Michigan were undefeated with a trip to Pasadena at stake. The game ended in a 10-10 tie, but Big Ten athletic directors voted the Buckeyes would represent the conference in the Rose Bowl. Schembechler accepted the decision gracefully and congratuoh, no, everyone in maize and blue hated it.

    The Buckeyes won the 1974 and 1975 clashes as running back Archie Griffin became the first (and only) two-time Heisman Trophy winner. Michigan rattled off three straight wins from 1976-78.

    Ohio State fired Hayes after he punched a Clemson player in the 1978 Gator Bowl, ending the Ten-Year War.

1991: Desmond Howard Strikes the Pose

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    Schembechler retired after the 1989 season. For the first time in nearly four decades, The Game would not have Hayes or Schembechler leading one of the programs.

    Perhaps fittingly, the next great moments of the rivalry shifted from the coaches on the sideline to the players on the field.

    In 1991, Desmond Howard helped Michigan cruise to a 31-3 victory over the Buckeyes. Beyond his three catches for 96 yards, Howard returned a punt 93 yards for a score and celebrated the touchdown by displaying the Heisman Trophy pose.

    "I told my friends from Ohio State that if I got in the end zone, I'd do something special for them," Howard said.

    He would officially bring home the hardware three weeks later.

1997: Charles Woodson Seals the Heisman

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    DUANE BURLESON/Associated Press

    Six years later, another punt return catapulted Michigan to a rivalry win and another player to a Heisman Trophy.

    Charles Woodson raced 78 yards for a score, and he added an interception as the Wolverines snatched a 20-14 triumph. He would go on to edge Tennessee quarterback Peyton Manning for the Heisman, and the finalist group also featured Washington State quarterback Ryan Leaf and Marshall wide receiver Randy Moss.

    "After the Ohio State game, that's when I started thinking I might have a chance," Woodson said of winning the award.

    In the Rose Bowl, Michigan defeated Leaf and Washington State to finish 12-0 and claim its first national title in 49 years.

2006: The Game of the Century

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    AMY SANCETTA/Associated Press

    While the rivalry has dozens of clashes between two ranked sides, only the 2006 showdown pitted the nation's Nos. 1 and 2 teams against one another. Both squads entered the matchup at 11-0.

    And it's remembered as the Game of the Century.

    Michigan took an early 7-0 lead on a Mike Hart touchdown. Ohio State, though, tallied the next 21 points and never surrendered the lead. Michigan had a chance to even the score at 28 following an interception, but the Buckeyes only allowed a field goal. Two plays later, Antonio Pittman scampered 56 yards for a back-breaking score.

    Michigan trimmed the lead to 35-31 and 42-39, but an unsuccessful onside kick with two minutes remaining sealed the result.

    Immediately after the game, clamors for a rematch in the BCS National Championship Game began to grow. It didn't happen, of course; Florida ended up demolishing the Buckeyes for the title, and Michigan lost to USC in the Rose Bowl. Still, the Game of the Century actually lived up to the hype.

2014: Forget the Rivalry

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    Jay LaPrete/Associated Press

    Wear the jersey, fly the flags, cheer for your favorite team and poke your friends because of the result. The bitterness, however, is so overrated. Devin Gardner offered a perfect reminder of why a rivalry should not transcend kindness.

    In 2014, Michigan found itself in the final year of the Brady Hoke era while the Buckeyes chased a College Football Playoff berth. Ohio State entered The Game at an improbable 10-1; it had lost star quarterback Braxton Miller to a torn labrum in late August, but redshirt freshman J.T. Barrett had thrived as the replacement.

    During the fourth quarter, though, Barrett fractured his right ankle. As the roughly 100,000 in attendance went quiet, Gardner knelt beside his opponent to encourage him.

    "It was sort of like having a little brother get hurt," Gardner told reporters after the game. "I didn't like to see that at all, so I just let him know that I'm praying for him and told him to keep praying, and that everything will be alright."

    Cardale Jones replaced Barrett, helping Ohio State to a 42-28 win over Michigan and later Big Ten and national titles.

2016: The Spot

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Two years later, controversy ruled the day.

    Ohio State held a 10-1 record and No. 2 ranking, while Michigan was 10-1 and third. Although the Wolverines mostly outplayed their rival, three horrible turnovers kept Ohio State in the game. The Buckeyes kicked a game-tying field goal in the closing seconds of regulation to force overtime.

    After the teams traded touchdowns, Michigan went ahead 27-24. What happened next is remembered simply as The Spot.

    Facing a 3rd-and-9, Barrett hit Curtis Samuel on a swing route. The play looked dead as Jabrill Peppers cut off his path to the sideline. Samuel turned back and ran to the left hash, paused, continued left, retreated nine yards behind the line of scrimmage and somehow managed to gain eight yards to set up 4th-and-1.

    Barrett faked to Samuel and sprinted forward. He absorbed a hit from Delano Hill but bounced off a teammate, falling to the ground at the first-down marker.

    Maybe he was an inch ahead or right on it; perhaps he was an inch behind. Any number of videos or armchair mathematicians have claimed to know whether Barrett truly picked up the yard needed, but the officials ruled he did. First down, Ohio State.

    Samuel ran 15 yards to the house on the next snap, ending Michigan's hopes of a Big Ten title or CFP appearance. Ohio State lost to Clemson in the CFP, but The Spot may have changed the trajectory of Jim Harbaugh's tenure at Michigan.