ANN ARBOR, Mich. (Michigan News Source) – Growing up in Northwest Ohio, “The Game” was what I looked forward to every single year. It make or break your entire year in with a three-hour game. Nothing happened on those Saturdays except grilling out, pizza and chips, lots of finger foods, and the television on at 12 p.m. for “The Game.”
Living on the border, it was a split between Ohio State and Michigan fans. Parties at school on Friday before “The Game” were always fun filled with your favorite Buckeye or Wolverine gear and lots of food for the Ohio State/Michigan party. Family became enemies drawing lines in the family room to watch “The Game.” One year my father asked to go to the other room to watch “The Game” because I was getting to emotional and throwing my foam brick at the television. I listened as a good son and went to the other room continuing to throw my foam brick at the TV.
I remember enduring the John Cooper years and having the Chicago Cubs attitude of “wait until next year” which I had to wait a lot. I endured this into college, too, as my voice mail was full in 1996 after Michigan defeated Joe Germaine and in Columbus with Tai Streets being the name in that game and Brian Griese coming off the bench.
Then came 1997. I was a junior at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill., as the college manager on the football team after my career ended due to knee injuries. One of my good friends was Casey Young from Springfield, Ohio. When he first came to ONU in the Fall 1995, he was a Buckeye fan. That soon changed when his brother, Cyle, committed to Michigan a year later to play football and wrestle for the Wolverines. Their entire family traded in the scarlet and gray for the maize and blue.
Casey and I had become close friends playing football together at ONU and sharing the Ohio bond. I got to know his family well from a couple visits to their place in Springfield and seeing them at our ONU games. ONU had a successful football season and was invited to the inaugural NCCAA (National Christian Collegiate Athletic Association) Victory Bowl in Canton, Ohio, at the Hall of Fame Stadium. Our game fell the Saturday after Thanksgiving which gave us a free weekend after the regular season was completed. That year, before “The Game” was changed to after Thanksgiving, was on the Saturday before Thanksgiving break which meant we had a free Saturday.
That Monday, Casey called me and said he had an extra ticket for the game for $100. So what did a poor, college student do … charge it to the credit card! There was no way I was going to miss a chance to go to “The Game” in the Big House and see Heisman favorite Charles Woodson play against Ohio State’s David Boston. It was a dream come true to go “The Game” after growing up watching it since I was a child.
Casey and I drove to Ann Arbor, Mich., the Friday before the game to meet his family. Cyle, his younger brother, was a freshman on the team and lived in an on-campus dorm. We would be staying with him for the weekend. For me, I was going into enemy territory for the biggest game of the year and staying with a Michigan football player. It was awesome! Although, I almost had 10 Michigan students jump out to get me in the hall when Casey’s mother yelled, “Who’s that Ohio State fan in the hallway?” I jumped to the nearest bathroom and stayed in there for 10 minutes until the coast was clear. That was a very scary moment (not really) and one I will always remember.
“The Game” was all it was hyped up to be – Charles Woodson vs. David Boston. It was a cold Saturday morning but I didn’t care because I was going to “The Game.” I was a kid in a candy store taking in every moment and cherishing everything that was around me. Walking into the Big House and thinking ‘Man, from the outside this place doesn’t look that big’… and then walking through the gates to look at this enormous bowl of a stadium! It was a site I will never forget.
My seat was about three rows from the top of the stadium but I didn’t care because I was at “The Game.” After a scoreless first quarter, it was anybody’s game. But, there was the Charles Woodson factor that came into play.
Charles Woodson! From Northwest Ohio, Toledo, in fact, that left Ohio and went to Michigan. I had followed Woodson his entire career at Michigan because we were the same age. His football highlights from Fremont Ross High School were always on before the team I played for in Montpelier in 1993 when both of our teams were making late season runs to the Ohio State High School Playoffs. I always liked Charles Woodson and knew he was going to be a player. He proved that at Michigan that day on November 22 stamping his name into Wolverine glory and setting up Heisman highlights for the voters.
The second quarter of that game changed the way “The Game” went that day. Midway through the second quarter, Michigan had a third-and-12 from their own 47-yard line. On the very next play, Brian Griese found Charles Woodson for a 37-yard pass to the Ohio State 16-yard line. Two plays later Anthony Thomas ran in from one-yard out for the first score of the game with just over six minutes left in the quarter. Michigan’s defense then forced a three-and-out and the Woodson factor took over again.
Receiving the ball at the Michigan 22-yard line on a 55-yard punt, Woodson did his thing, weaving and bobbing around tacklers, going 78-yards for a punt return touchdown. Within three minutes it went from a scoreless game to 13-0 Michigan. That is all the Wolverines needed to hold off the Buckeyes. Woodson one reception, one interception for 43-yards, and one punt return for a touchdown. He sealed the Heisman in that game and his name would be forever etched as a Michigan legend.
Yes I was sad that the Buckeyes had lost but I had just seen one of the greatest football players of all time take over a game (Charles Woodson), shut down one of the best receivers in college football (David Boston), and watch the greatest rivalry of all time in one of the best college stadiums in the world. It was a great day!
That night Cyle took us around Michigan’s campus watching as roses were all over the ground and fans celebrating their big win and undefeated regular season. One place Cyle took us to, in which we were not there very long because there were so many people, was Brian Griese’s house. We walked through, said hello to some people, and then left. I could say that I had been at Brian Griese’s house now. It was a weekend that I will never forget and still talk about to this day.
Michigan went on to win the national championship and Cyle had a four-year career for the Wolverines winning several rings. Yes, I did put on the Michigan national championship ring a few years later when I went to visit Cyle in Ohio. Casey and Cyle became good friends and I cherish the family that they came from.
Since this is the 25th year since that game, the 2022 date of November 26 could be another game that the Michigan fans remember. I have since toned down my craziness as a Buckeye fan and became friends with Wolverines. I really like Jim Harbaugh and the men that he is shaping and molding into the “Men of Michigan.”
As I get older, “The Game” is a date to cherish every year – the traditions, the razzing of each other about who is going to win, the talk between the two teams, the hype videos, the X on M’s in Columbus, and the making of Buckeyes. You really have to grow up in it to understand it. If you know, you know and it’s hard to tell somebody about “The Game” if they haven’t really experienced the rivalry of Bo vs. Woody, the John Cooper years, RichRod, Urban Meyer, and now Jim vs. Ryan.
Now, we will have to wait and see what the 118th meeting between these two teams will bring. Enjoy “The Game” but remember to love both sides of the rivalry as it really is “The Best Rivalry, Ever!”