Everybody knows that one of the best parts of being a sports fan is debating and dissecting the most (and least) important questions in the sporting world with your friends. So, we’re bringing that to the pages of LGHL with our favorite head-to-head column: You’re Nuts.
In You’re Nuts, two LGHL staff members will take differing sides of one question and argue their opinions passionately. Then, in the end, it’s up to you to determine who’s right and who’s nuts.
This week’s topic: What is your favorite memory from The Game?
For starters, Gene, I feel the need to defend and reiterate the fact that Ohio State vs. *ichigan (football) is the greatest rivalry in sports. I think the Yankees and Red Sox rivalry deserves a seat at the table, but they play too often. North Carolina vs. Duke (basketball) means less and less each year — especially with the one-and-done rule and loss of Coach K. The Buckeyes against the Wolverines, at the end of the regular season, with everything or nothing on the line… it always matters.
Throughout the years, each team has endured rough patches. Let’s skip past our great grandparents’ heyday(s) in this instance, and just bring up the fact that OSU was never a serious contender during the late 1980’s, into the early nineties. *ichigan has largely struggled for the majority of the 21st century. Struggle is relative, but the Wolverines have at least two losses in each season since 1997. For a perceived blueblood, that’s rough.
But guess what? It doesn’t matter. This game always means something. It gets television ratings. It receives national media attention, year in and year out. The tradition, the pageantry, the hatred — Ohio State vs. *ichigan is the preeminent rivalry in all of sports, and this week is a reminder of that.
Getting back to the topic at hand: we don’t have to argue, Gene! No wrong answer here. We can simply be united by our shared hatred of TTUN. I am going to age myself here, and also cheat just a little bit. I can’t choose just one “favorite” memory or experience. I have a ton of great memories from this rivalry, and I could probably come up with one for each year I can remember watching the game. But for the sake of “You’re Nuts”, I’m narrowing it down to two. I attended The Game in back-to-back years during my first two years of college (I’ve attended a small handful of these games in total) and am unable to choose between those two, for different reasons.
In 2002, I was a freshman at The Ohio State University. I am Columbus born and raised, so I had always been a Buckeye fan, but I had never attended a *ichigan game before. I got season tickets as a student, and I was beyond jacked for this one. The Wolverines came to town looking for an upset, and they had a decent team. They were 9-2 at the time, led by John Navarre and Chris Perry.
The game itself: not great. It was a rock fight throughout, with UM only mustering three field goals. Yet Ohio State was trailing in the fourth quarter, and it took a late TD from Columbus high school hero, Maurice Hall, to put the Buckeyes ahead. The last play of the game was an intercepted Hail Mary, and then we rushed the field. OSU had just capped off an undefeated regular season and we knew there was a chance this team could play for a championship. So of course, we celebrated like idiots. What else are you supposed to do?
As we ran down the stadium stairs, my leg got pinned against a guardrail of some sort. I thought it was going to break, and I still didn’t care. Eventually we made it onto the field, and I distinctly remember running into Maurice Clarett amidst the chaos. Standing there in the middle of the field, jumping around and yelling and celebrating with my friends and fans (and Mo Clarett!) is something I’ll never forget.
I will also never forget the feeling of pepper spray. If I recall, it became a bit unruly on the field, and the spray came out. Maybe it was outside the stadium, after people had cleared. What I definitely remember is that I did not enjoy the pepper spray experience. Regardless of what transpired after the final whistle, capping off an undefeated regular season against TTUN was worth it. And you know how that season ended. I experienced a special part of that season in-person.
The following year, Ohio State was in position to potentially make it back to the BCS Championship, and they were going on the road to face fifth-ranked *ichigan. My best friend and I decided to join them. We paid $250 for what we thought were decent seats in The Big House, and we made the drive to Ann Arbor. The drive was long, the traffic sucked, and the game sucked even more.
The Buckeyes lost 35-21, and it wasn’t really even that close. Chris Perry ran for what seemed like infinity yards, and Braylon Edwards (despised Wolverine) had a huge game as well. Ohio State’s second loss spelled doom for their championship hopes, and my boy and I endured a miserable ride home.
Despite the loss, I wouldn’t trade that experience for many others. *ichigan Stadium is a hell of an environment. Wolverine fans treated us fairly, and we traded plenty or barbs and sarcastic jokes — all in good fun. The game was a disappointment, but I can still say I was there with plenty on the line. Hell, as this point, it’s almost as if I witnessed a modern miracle. I saw one of two *ichigan victories this century. Like a new Pope being announced!
I have enjoyed dozens of Ohio State victories, and plenty over TTUN. Like I said earlier, they’re all special because of the tradition. But the games I experienced in-person, regardless of outcome, will always stand out. Pepper spray and rare losses make ’02 and ’03 stand out even more. Go Bucks!
Unlike Josh, I was not born into this rivalry by any means. Growing up on Long Island, it isn’t exactly a college football-heavy region of the country. The closest team worth anything is probably Penn State, and even they are a seven hour-ish drive to the West. Needless to say, I did not consume much if any college football in my early years, and I certainly didn’t understand all the pageantry and tradition that make the sport truly special.
However, that all changed once I stepped on Ohio State’s campus for the first time in 2014. I was immediately enthralled with everything to do with Buckeye football and how serious everyone in Columbus takes it. As a kid from New York, moving to the Midwest and taking it all in was a completely new experience. My first ever game in Ohio Stadium was unfortunately a loss, as it was Ohio State’s head-scratching loss to Virginia Tech in the home opener that year, but we all know that season worked out pretty well! The Buckeyes won the national title in my first ever season as a big college football fan, and I am taking partial credit for making that a reality.
Like Josh, I also attended a pair of Michigan games in my time at Ohio State, however both of mine were at home — and both of mine were of course wins! The 2014 game was my first taste of the rivalry in-person, and it did not disappoint. I distinctly remember watching Ezekiel Elliott break away from the crowd as he scampered for a 44-yard touchdown to put the game away, as OSU would go on to win 42-28. I also, of course, remember how quiet the crowd was once J.T. Barrett go hurt, and leaving The Game was a bit bitter sweet with the uncertainty heading into the B1G title game (spoiler: It went ok!).
However, I do have a very clear and obvious No. 1 memory in my short time consuming this storied rivalry, and it came in the 2016 game.
Obviously, the 2016 game was one for the ages. Ohio State trailed for pretty much the entirety of the afternoon, needing a 23-yard field goal by Tyler Durbin with one second left to send the game into overtime. The Buckeyes scored on their first possession of OT, and Michigan would manage to match the touchdown on a 4th down play right in front of the student section. The Wolverines would only muster a field goal on the ensuing possession, and after a very correct spot by the officials on a big 4th down run by Barrett, Curtis Samuel walked it off.
You may think the Samuel game-winner was my favorite memory, and it was definitely an amazing moment and one that I will always remember, but there was a different play in that game that stood out to me, and that was the pick-six by Malik Hooker.
Hooker was one of my — if not THE — favorite player to watch in my time at Ohio State. For all the outstanding offensive players I got to watch in-person from Michael Thomas and Ezekiel Elliott to J.K. Dobbins and Terry McClaurin, Hooker played his position at another level. The safety seemed to be involved in every single play for the Ohio State defense, and absolutely showed out during the 2016 campaign with his seven interceptions — three of which went for touchdowns.
Hooker’s interception against Michigan in 2016 was a massive one. With the Buckeyes trailing 3-0 more that midway through the second quarter, it gave Ohio State its first and only lead in regulation, and it all happened mere feet in front of me in the south end zone. After so much had gone wrong for OSU offensively through the first half, Hooker came up huge as he always did and got the Buckeyes on the scoreboard. That play injected some life back into the stadium, and it was one of my favorite memories not only in previous editions of The Game, but from all the games I attended overall.