On this Friday night, on the eve of the greatest rivalry in all of sports, I present to you the second half of my 20 Biggest Moments from The Game in my lifetime. These top ten moments are moments that are unforgettable in both Buckeye and Michigan lore.
#10. Jonathan Wells
In 2001, the Buckeyes headed to Ann Arbor as underdogs. This was coach Jim Tressel’s first year at the helm for Ohio State and they were determined to reverse their thirteen year slump in The Game. Much to the dismay of Michigan fans, running back Jonathan Wells took the team on his back and ran for 129 yards and three touchdowns as they upset the Wolverines in Ann Arbor. It was their first victory there since 1987.
2012 is a season that Ohio State fans will forever wonder…”What if?” The team was suspended from post season eligibility because of previously mentioned unjust sanctions lobbied against the program. It was Urban Meyer’s first season at Ohio State and with no bowl game to play for, the Buckeyes avenged their loss to That Team Up North from a year ago and capped off a perfect 12-0 season. Due to Ohio State not being eligible, one loss Alabama would wrongly take their place against Notre Dame for the championship and win their third title in four years in Tuscaloosa.
Legendary Ohio State coach Earle Bruce was fired the week before The Game but was allowed to coach the team in Ann Arbor. Bruce’s players rallied in support for their coach, and unbeknownst to him they all donned white head bands with “Earle” written on them. The gesture has gone down as one of the most memorable in recent Buckeye lore and was most importantly followed up with a memorable win and Bruce being carried off the Michigan Stadium turf on the shoulders of his players. This moment was simply iconic.
#7. Heisman Howard
1991. Ann Arbor, Michigan. Ohio State was looking for it’s first victory against TTUN in the Cooper Era. Instead, Michigan spanked the Buckeyes 31-3. If it weren’t for one particular moment, this game would have been a forgotten blip on the history of this rivalry. However, Desmond Howard’s punt return for a touchdown against the Buckeyes has gone down as one of the most iconic plays in football history. When Howard crossed the goal line, he celebrated by standing in the Heisman pose. At that time, that kind of celebration was pretty controversial. The legend was cemented, however, when weeks later he won the trophy.
#6. Tai Streets
Perhaps the most heartbreaking of Ohio State’s epic losses to Michigan in the 90’s was the 1996 game. Ohio State was far and away the best team in the nation that year. Michigan would find a way to steal one again, though, scoring the game’s lone touchdown on a long pass where quite possibly Ohio State’s greatest defensive back ever in Shawn Springs slipped on the wet grass. “The Slip” freed up wide receiver Tai Streets to catch the ball and run untouched for the backbreaking touchdown. Michigan would hold on to win 13-9.
I’m literally sighing right now as I think back to this game. In 1997, Ohio State went to Michigan with an upset in mind. Instead, for the second time in that decade, they gave up a punt return for a touchdown. For the second time in a decade, the person that returned that punt would go on to win the Heisman Trophy. Michigan held on to win 20-14 and once again was rewarded with a trip to the Rose Bowl.
#4. Tressel’s Guarantee
When John Cooper was fired after the 2000 season that ended with a thud in the Outback Bowl against South Carolina, the Buckeyes turned to Youngstown State coach Jim Tressel to change the culture in the Ohio State locker room. Tressel would go on to do that, but more importantly, he would give Buckeye Nation hope again. He was publicly introduced to the Ohio State faithful at halftime of a basketball game between Ohio State and Michigan. The mild mannered coach that nobody was really sure about made the following statement:
“I can assure you that you will be proud of your young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field.”
It was clear from that moment forward that things were going to start to be different. Tressel would back up that assertion and run up a 9-1 record against the Maize and Blue.
#3. Tshimanga Biakabatuka
The Michigan running back named Biakabatuka had a pretty solid career in Ann Arbor; save for one game. Ohio State brought arguably it’s best team in the Cooper Era to the Big House in 1995. That defense was stacked with talent. However, it was the Michigan offense that dominated the game. Specifically, Biakabatuka and his 313 yards rushing turned a solid career into a record breaking one. Michigan would once again ruin an unbeaten Ohio State team’s season and prevent the Buckeyes from a shot at a championship. Three hundred and thirteen is a number that haunts Columbus to this day.
In Tressel’s second year at the helm, Ohio State entered the game undefeated at 13-0. With the nightmares from the 1990’s still fresh in their minds, that week was as uneasy as any Michigan week in Ohio. Further cementing his legacy and that things were going to be different in The Game under Tressel, the Buckeyes would hold onto a 14-9 victory thanks to a Will Allen interception at the goal line as time expired. Not only did the Buckeyes get the Maize and Blue monkey off its backs, but the win also secured them a seat in the national title game. The team of destiny would go on to beat Miami in double overtime in the Fiesta Bowl and deliver Ohio State it’s first national championship in generations.
#1. Game of the Century
This was the first of two times that I have been able to attend The Game. For the first time in the 100+ year old rivalry the two teams met as #1 versus #2. The Buckeyes had been #1 for the entire season to that point and Michigan had ascended to #2. The winner would move on to play for a national championship. To further enhance the magic in the air for this game, legendary Wolverine coach Bo Schembechler passed away in the days before The Game. Schembechler was a former understudy of Woody Hayes before moving on and eventually taking over as Michigan’s head coach. Their famous Ten Year War era of the rivalry brought it’s intensity to the national stage. Like he had done the previous two years, Troy Smith would carry the Buckeyes against That Team Up North. The epic showdown went down to the wire before the eventual Heisman Trophy winner Smith and his Buckeye teammates prevailed 42-39, sending Ohio State back to the national championship game against the Florida Gators. Although, Florida would upset the Buckeyes, that Ohio State team was arguably the most talented team in school history.
So, there you have it Buckeye Nation. Do you remember these triumphs and heartaches? I remember most of them like they happened yesterday and relish the fact that tomorrow is like Christmas around here. It’s the day that Good meets Evil. The day that Ohio State meets Michigan. Script Ohio meets Hail to the Victors. Woody and Bo. Tressel and Carr. Or as we call it, “The Game”.