COLUMBUS, OHIO - Following tradition, someone used red tape to cover all the M’s on the Woody Hayes historical marker outside the Ohio State football building.
This is one of the great parts of this Michigan-Ohio State football rivalry — all of the different, quirky layers and how it takes on a life of its own. And when Michigan fans noticed that the Buckeyes missed one of the M’s, they pounced, right on cue.
“They don’t go there to play school, so that’s probably how they think things should be spelled,” someone tweeted.
“They didn’t do a very good job. Typical OSU.”
“They’re really not good at this!”
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The sparks already are flying around this game, which will be played Saturday in Ohio Stadium. This year’s game is back in the national spotlight — Ohio State is ranked No.2, Michigan No.4 — and the stakes are enormous. This game will affect who goes to the Big Ten championship game — if Michigan wins, the Wolverines are heading to Indy.
It will affect who goes to the College Football Playoff — OSU is in the strange position of potentially winning “The Game” and getting a pass directly into the College Football Playoff, avoiding a detour to the Big Ten championship game if Penn State beats visiting Michigan State on Saturday.
And this game is, simply, the biggest game of the year in college football, at least to this point.
It’s all because both teams have great coaches ... again.
Just like the days of Bo and Woody.
Even if the folks in Columbus think Jim Harbaugh is crazy.
Through the doors, inside the building, Meyer stood at a podium Monday, talking about this great rivalry, about the fierce competition that stems from mutual respect.
“I think that came from Coach Hayes and Bo Schembechler,” Meyer said. “I just think that was the classiest — both programs had a tremendous respect for each other, both coaches did, and they played so damn hard. So, I just remember that. So, I have a great appreciation for rivalries.”
This is how rivalries should be. Rip each other all you want. Despise each other even. Watch the fans go crazy on Twitter. But respect each other. That respect is important.
“There is a mutual respect,” Meyer said of Michigan without, of course, using the dreaded M-word. “I didn’t say like, but there’s a mutual respect. And I learned it from those two — two of the greatest coaches of all time.”
It’s wonderful, isn’t it?
How Bo and Woody have had such a profound influence on both of these coaches?
It’s like the Ten Year War is alive again, the next generation. Round 2.
“They handled themselves with incredible class, toughness, demanded of their players, and you got to see that every time those two teams played,” Meyer said. “So, that’s my memory, and that’s how we go about our business here.”
Yes, as Meyer talked about the days of Bo and Woody, it was like he was describing both teams today.
Meyer told an interesting story, about how he talked to Schembechler on the rivalry.
“This is where I think it’s the greatest rivalry in all of sport,” Meyer said. “You’re darn right it was tough, but I know very well that there are two coaches who never respected each other more, and that’s the head coach of our rival, Bo Schembechler, because I talked to him about it. I had great conversations with Coach Schembechler.”
Meyer was born in Toledo and grew up in Ashtabula, a small town on Lake Erie, northwest of Cleveland. His earliest recollection of The Game came in the 1970s, during the Ten Year War.
“In the ’70s, Bo, Woody,” he said. “My mother, for some reason, I still to this day don’t know why, grabbed me and said we have to go run an errand. What the hell we talking about? You don’t leave that game. In Ashtabula, Ohio, outdoor mall walking ... and over the loudspeakers I just kept stopping and listening to the game. In the ’70s, the Ten Year War. I remember that.”
Michigan enters Saturday’s game with uncertainty at quarterback, and Ohio State is about a touchdown favorite says Las Vegas.
But Meyer is wary of Michigan’s experience.
“The difference is there’s 47 seniors or something, some crazy number of experience,” he said. “These guys have been there for a while. They’re grown men that have been playing for a while. So, very, very good team, very talented. Has the gap closed? I don’t know if I’ve ever considered a gap. I always looked at these two teams, and if there is, it doesn’t matter.”
And so, we are in Year 2 of this battle between Meyer and Harbaugh.
And hopefully, it lasts a good, long time.
Ten years would work just fine.
Up next: Buckeyes
Matchup: No.4 Michigan (10-1, 7-1 Big Ten) at No.2 Ohio State (10-1, 7-1).
When: Noon Saturday.
Where: Ohio Stadium, Columbus, Ohio.
TV/radio: ABC (Channel 13 in Grand Rapids); WWJ-AM (950), WTKA-AM (1050).
Line: Buckeyes by 6
(2016 © Detroit Free Press)