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Gold pants: An Ohio State football tradition

It's common knowledge that Ohio State players and coaches receive a gold pin in the shape of football pants following a victory over That Team Up North, and there's an interesting story behind this tradition.

The Ohio State University's football program was founded in 1890, and when a program has been in existence for that long, there are bound to be some rich traditions that have, over time, become critical parts of that football culture.

The most important game of the regular season, obviously, is the annual matchup with That Team Up North. The first game between the Buckeyes and the Wolverines was held on October 16, 1897, and, unfortunately, Ohio State ended up on the losing end of that first contest. Michigan leads the all-time series as well, with 54 wins, 44 losses and six ties. In more recent history, however, Ohio State has the edge, with 11 (one additional win in 2010 was vacated) victories over That Team Up North over the last 20 years.

One of the traditions that has developed from this rivalry is the distribution of pins in the shape of gold pants to the players after a win over the Wolverines. The tradition developed in response to the dominance of Michigan's program in the early days of the rivalry, with just six wins for the Buckeyes, and two ties, in 30 games from 1897 until the end of the 1933 season. Francis Schmidt became the head coach of the Buckeyes prior to the 1934 season, following his very successful five-year tenure at Texas Christian University.

When Schmidt accepted the head coaching position, the local media had many questions about how Schmidt expected the Buckeyes to fare against the rest of the Big Ten, and particularly their most bitter rivals. Schmidt was never afraid of the Wolverines. He replied with a saying that was prevalent in Texas at the time, saying, "They put their pants on one leg at a time, just like the rest of us." Schmidt is generally credited with popularizing this now-common phrase outside of Texas.

The statement, establishing Schmidt's belief that That Team Up North wasn't at all invincible, prompted local businessmen Simon Lazarus, president of--as his surname suggests--the Lazarus department store, and Herb Levy, president of the Union Company department store, to form what is still known as the "Gold Pants Club," and create a tangible expression of the sentiment expressed by Schmidt in the form of gold lapel pins shaped like football pants. Each player and coach on an Ohio State team that beats Michigan receives the Gold Pants, inscribed with the player or coach's initials, the date of the victory, and the score of the game.

In Schmidt's first season as Ohio State's head coach, the Buckeyes beat That Team Up North 34-0 to kick off four consecutive years of shutout games against the Wolverines. Their largest margin of victory in the history of the rivalry came the first year after the commencement of the Gold Pants tradition, as the Buckeyes won that year's matchup 38-0. They also beat Michigan 21-0 in 1936 and 1937, respectively.

Perhaps the shift in fortunes had much more to do with Francis Schmidt's approach to offense--he implemented what was described as a "razzle-dazzle" offense, with unusual formations and trick plays, and his nickname was "Close the Gates of Mercy," because he did not think twice about running up the score on opponents. It's very possible, however, that Schmidt's attitude about the Wolverines, and their mortal nature, expressed in the now-famous "one leg at a time" statement, was a catalyst for Ohio State's success against Michigan after his arrival in Columbus.

Beating That Team Up North continues to be a priority in every season, and the Gold Pants tradition endures today.

Which recent Gold Pants clinching victory was your favorite?