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Friday, November 18, 2005

A Few of My Favorite Games

There's no doubt most Michigan-Ohio State games rank right at the top of the greatest sports memories that I have. Saturday's game will be the 33rd straight game that I will be able to recall vividly. It will only be the 7th game in the rivalry that I've attended - I know someone who's been to 25 in a row - but each game is pretty much seared into my mind. No other matchup in any sport has that kind of hold on me.
My sports fan teeth were cut from 1973-1975 on a number of early heartbreaking losses (and a tie) that made me question why anyone would ever be a sports fan. The 22-0 shellacking of Woody and the Bucks in '76 made me finally believe that my team could win. I remember in 1978 watching the Flint boys - Rick Leach and Gene Johnson - dominate the Buckeyes while I was spending Thanksgiving weekend in New York City. I remember inveterate gambler Art Schlichter run for a winning TD with snow piled high on Canham's carpet in 1981. My college years were highlighted by Jim Harbaugh backing up his guarantee in 1986 - thanks to Matt Frantz pushing a FG just wide. Thanks Matt, I enjoyed my trip to Pasadena. And we can't forget about John Kolesar saving Michigan from a massive collapse in '88.
I have to admit, the rivalry lost a little luster in the '90s during the John Cooper years. I'm happy we were on the right side 10 out of 13 years, but many of those years tOSU just wasn't that good, and many others they were a lot better than us and it was frustrating to play so well against them, only to be left to wonder how we could have lost four games.
The last few years, the hatred for tOSU has rekindled, both because I've actually gone to Columbus for a couple of games and experienced the culture that could breed such boorish behavior and also because they've beaten us three times out of the last four years, including a couple of years we were higher ranked.
While looking over that past 30 some games in this rivalry, there were five games I could single out above the rest. In adcending order, my favorite Michigan-Ohio State games are:

  • 5. Coming off two straight losses to the Buckeyes in 2003, there was a lot of pressure on a senior-laden team to show that Tressell didn't have some sort of whammy over us. We jumped out to a quick lead and held on for dear life thanks to a warrior-like effort from Chris Perry.
  • 4. I mentioned 1976 above and post it here because it was the first time in my life I remember beating Ohio State. And to do it in such convincing fashion, in Columbus was extremely gratifying. I can still remember safety and holder Jerry Zuver running in for a two-point conversion on a PAT.
  • 3. Harbaugh's guarantee in 1986. We were coming off a pretty inexplicable loss at home to a middling Minnesota team, knocking us from #1. We've all debated Harbaugh's value as a human being, but there's no doubt he was a Michigan man. Thomas Wilcher's fumble almost cost us, but for once the other kicker's inability to make a FG won us a great game.
  • 2. The 1997 game has to be near the top of any Michigan fan's list. It was the first time since '73 that one of the teams entered the game ranked #1 and the first time for Michigan since 1948. What often gets forgotten is that tOSU was ranked #4, with only a four-point loss to Pennsylvania State keeping them from being undefeated. In perhaps the most intense Michigan game I've ever seen, Charles Woodson put on a show for the ages and we were on our way to the National Championship.
  • 1. My second favorite Michigan team (after '97, of course) was 1980's squad. We lost the Harry Oliver game in South Bend, then the next week at home to a coked up George Rogers and South Carolina. But around mid-season our defense just said no one's going to score on us. And they pretty much didn't. No TDs over the last five games. This was Anthony Carter's only win over tOSU, and somewhere in my crawl space I have an autogrpahed picture of him right after he scored the lone TD in this game. A missed PAT kept the Buckeyes alive, but Robert Thompson's sack of Art Schlichter on tOSU's last drive sealed the deal as this team finally went on to give Bo a win in the Rose Bowl.
Now that I've gone on and on about my favorite M-tOSU memories, I'd be interested to read about what others remember best about this rivalry and where they'd rank some of the games. It would even be interesting to hear from some of the civilized Buckeye fans to hear the other side.


LAGuy said...

If you're old enough, there's still nothing that can compare with Bo beating Woody's invincible team 24-12 in 1969. That really started the whole thing.

Yost said...

Civilized Buckeye fans? What's that?

Ok, it's late. I have to catch my flight first thing tomorrow morning to go back to A2. Going to try to put something up as a post instead of comment b/c I have a little graphic and poll for my best memory.

Great topic, Benny.

Katie said...

WOW....both posts are incredible reads. I have attended only 3 games at the big house..so I am in total awe of your experiences.

You should check out a post on my blog for an interesting comment that a friend of mine from Columbus made last night. The football poll post from last night.

mayday said...

A couple others that I attended and remember fondly: the incredible yet inevitable 1996 win over the undefeated Buckeyes -- especially memorable because OSU just dominated the first half, yet kept getting stuffed inside the 10, and only led 9-0; and then, when Michigan scored on the first play of the second half, you could just FEEL the entire team and stadium turn into deer in the headlights, just silently bracing themselves for the impact.

The gimlet-eyed comeback by Major Tom in 1999; the quintessence of something we saw a lot of that year. After doing not much for three quarters, Brady leads two long drives to suck up the clock and win. Brady is my favorite Michigan quarterback ever because of the eerie feeling I'd always get through that senior year -- he'd usually start slow and the fans would get restless, but Brady seemed oblivous and unchanging in his demeanor. Like a blackjack player who was counting cards, he seemed 100% CONVINCED that the next pass was going to start the tide turning. And if not that one, the next one. And after a while. And inevitably, he'd be right. By the time the OSU game rolled around, I didn't question it any longer -- I just sat tight and waited for the Billy Baroo.

(Digression: I still blame Lloyd for not sticking with Brady in the MSU game. He poured it on in the 4th quarter like always -- except that just before that, Henson had thrown an awful INT that led to a quick TD. Which turned out to be just enough padding for MSU to ride out the remainder.)

Another couple that I only know about from ESPN Classic or the history books: 1971 to clinch the Rose Bowl as Woody lost his mind more than usual, tearing apart the down markers, and 1940, featuring All That Is Man, Tom Harmon. The poetic symmetry of his performance -- 3 running TDs, 2 passing TDs, 2 FGs, 4 extra points for a 40-0 score -- always seemed cool. The game also ended the tenure of Francis Schmidt, the Buckeyes' first great coach and for a few years the Wolverines' nemesis until Harmon and Fritz Crisler turned the tide.

One more anecdote I heard Keith Jackson mention -- after Michigan forced a fumble in the red zone to seal the win in '77, Woody started punching himself in the jaw with both fists. A couple of Wolverine defenders noticed this and waved hail-and-farewell to Woody as they passed him on the way back to the sideline.

LilTippin said...

I feel like a horrible person for not knowing that Jerry Zuver did that. I'm best friends with his youngest daughter and I knew he was an awesome player but I had no idea he did that! Wow... I have an even bigger respect for him. Go Mr. Zuver and GO BLUE!