Growing up in New York I didn't really start to understand how big Ohio State-Michigan really was until I started to have interest in attending Ohio State around 11th or 12th grade. Not that Western New York is a hotbed for college football fandom, but it seemed like the majority of people from my hometown were Penn State fans. Linebacker Shane Conlan went to the same small high school I attended, so that helped to pretty dramatically increase the Nittany Lions rooting interests.
As my academic intrigue by Ohio State increased, so did my knowledge of the history of The Game and just how much these two
programs states hated each other. From the "Snow Bowl" to the "Ten Year War" or Jim Tressel's introductory speech at the Michigan/Ohio State basketball game. I was astounded as to how many times that The Game decided the Big Ten Championship and had implications on the national title race.
On September 15th, 2005, I moved down to Columbus from Western New York (south of Buffalo) and moved into a house at the intersection of 13th & Summit. I purchased student football tickets that year and actually had to drive down to Columbus and get hotel rooms for the Miami and Texas games since our lease didn't start until the 15th. The Game was in Ann Arbor that year so my first year at Ohio State didn't involve seeing the Buckeyes and Wolverines tangle in person, but that wasn't going to take away from my excitement for it.
A bone chilling jump into Mirror Lake the Thursday before The Game really clinched it for me. Even though I wasn't a born Ohioan, I had fully embraced the Buckeye side of the rivalry. Standing in a freezing lake with thousands of other Buckeyes, bonded by our hatred of That State Up North, takes you a place you can't really match any other way.
The morning of November 19th, 2005, I went with a friend to a house of some friends of his on Woodruff Avenue for kegs and eggs and to watch The Game. The friend it turned out was actually from the same small town in New York as me, and he moved down to Columbus to go to Ohio State, just like I did. Small world.
Going into The Game I had some nervousness as to what I would see on the field. Ohio State had shaken off loses to Texas and Penn State earlier in the year and was riding a 5-game winning streak into Ann Arbor. Troy Smith had established himself as starting QB and a Buckeye offense with a lot of weapons had really started gelling together.
Michigan, which began the season ranked in the top 5, was also coming into The Game on a winning streak, winning their previous four after alternating wins and losses in their first six games. They had the weapons to beat the the Buckeyes, and spoil any of Ohio State's aspirations for a BCS at-large bid.
By kickoff I was fueled by your standard fare crappy college keg beer which only put me even more on edge. Some of those nerves were calmed as Troy Smith drove the Buckeyes 80 yards in 13 plays, capped off by a 4-yard TD run by Smith. That relief was short lived as the Buckeyes proceeded to miss the extra point, and lose Bobby Carpenter to a leg fracture on Michigan's first play from scrimmage.
Going into halftime Ohio State was ahead 12-7, but it felt like the lead should have been larger than that. Michigan's only touchdown was setup by a Maurice Wells fumble, giving the Wolverines a short field. Ohio State answered with a field goal before the half, but it could have been a touchdown as the Buckeyes were inside the 10. As a Buffalo Bills fan, I have learned to expect the worst to happen in football. I had that all too familiar feeling at halftime, worried that the miscues could come back to bite the Buckeyes.
The 3rd quarter and first half of the 4th quarter brought those fears to life as a early Troy Smith fumble gave the Wolverines the ball at the Ohio State 20. The Silver Bullets held solid and forced Michigan to settle for a field goal. From there, the conditions deteriorated rapidly as a Kevin Grady TD run and Henne 2-point conversion, Josh Huston missed 46-yard field goal (early in the 4th), and another Garrett Rivas field goal had given Michigan a 21-12 lead with 7:49 left.
When the Rivas field goal made it a 2 possession game, I felt like I had gotten kicked in the stomach. I knew that 10 points in less than 8 minutes was possible, but with the way the Ohio State offense was playing in the 2nd half, I was beginning to think that it wasn't probable.
5 plays, 67 yards, 1:05. That's all it took for the Buckeyes to get right back into it. Santonio Holmes scored on a 26-yard pass and catch, but a murky unsportsmanlike conduct penalty gave Michigan the ball near midfield after the kickoff. The defense held and the Buckeyes got the ball back with 4:16 left on their own 12. This felt like the Buckeyes' last chance.
Troy Smith didn't disappoint, going five-for-six on the drive before htting Anthony Gonzalez for one of the most memorable catches in Ohio State history to put them at the Michigan 4. Two plays later Antonio Pittman ran into the endzone to give Ohio State a 25-21 lead with just 24 seconds left. It was like a scene out of some terrible, cheesy commercial where I was watching the game. Everybody yelling, jumping around, hugging, and high-fiving. It may have been cliche, but it was real, spontaneous excitement.
As Ohio State went on to win, I walked back to my house on 13th from Woodruff and the scene outside was like nothing I had seen before. Excitement and celebration filled the air with "O-H" chants and people singing "We Don't Give A Damn For The Whole State Of Michigan". My first Ohio State/Michigan game living in Columbus was beyond a success. Not only that, but, as a purveyor of fine tastes and fancy living, i also happened to hit a very nice progressive parlay on games through that day (with Ohio State included, naturally). As If it was even possible for there to be any icing on that cake, there it was.
This year will be the 8th Ohio State/Michigan game since I moved to Columbus, and I have a lot of great memories from past editions of The Game and the weekend surrounding it. Words can't describe 2006. In 2007, the night before The Game, my step-brother's band brought me on stage at Park Street Tavern to lead a packed bar in "We Don't Give A Damn For The Whole State Of Michigan". It was my Almost Famous moment. But it at all really started in 2005 for me, That's why I'll always hold that game in particular near and dear to me.
Go Bucks. Michigan sucks. Help is on the way.