Monday, January 3
Rivalries: Venom and vigor in 60 minutes
By Bob Harig
Special to

  We tend to take notice when there is something huge on the line, such as a conference championship, a trip to a bowl game, even the national title.

But rivalries in college football transcend what is at stake. The game itself is often more important than its ramifications, which simply serve to heighten the intensity.

Michigan vs. Ohio State
There is nothing like the Wolverines and Buckeyes battling for bragging rights.

The campuses at each school vibrate with anticipation, and when teams that love to hate each other collide, the records hardly matter.

Still, having something to play for makes the outcome all the more delicious, simply because the winner knows that the loser's suffering is magnified. And what would a great rivalry be without the joy of standing over the vanquished, the feeling of superiority?

That is what makes the annual Michigan-Ohio State showdown, which is remarkable for its level of hatred, so emotional. The added irony of how often the combatants have met with something at stake makes the game the best rivalry of the century.

Consider this. Since the game between the Wolverines and Buckeyes was moved to the final Saturday of the regular season in 1935, Michigan and Ohio State have met 36 times when the outcome had an impact on the Big Ten race. And in 17 of those encounters, the winner has gone on to represent the Big Ten in the Rose Bowl.

One of the best matchups occurred in 1973, when Ohio State was ranked No. 1 in the country and Michigan was No. 4. Both were undefeated. At the time, the Big Ten champion went to the Rose Bowl and the rest of the conference stayed home. The Rose Bowl was at stake, of course.

"It was like time stood still that week," recalled OSU quarterback Cornelius Greene. "Saturday took forever to get there."

"The campus got real, well, silent as the game got closer," said OSU linebacker Randy Gradishar. "You could sense there was something different about this week. You could feel the intensity building. Not just the players and students. The faculty, the whole city of Columbus. It was the perfect record, the polls, the conference championship and the Rose Bowl trip, and of course the whole Bo (Schembechler) and Woody (Hayes) thing."

The greatest rivalry
A year-by-year rundown of the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry beginning in 1969, the year Bo Schembechler took over as the Michigan coach. Records, with rankings in parentheses, are of each team heading into the yearly matchup:
Year Mich. Ohio St. Score
1969 7-2 (12) 8-0 (1) M, 24-12
1970 9-0 (4) 8-0 (5) O, 20-9
1971 10-0 (4) 6-3 (16) M, 10-7
1972 10-0 (3) 8-1 (9) O, 14-11
1973 10-0 (4) 9-0 (1) T, 10-10
1974 10-0 (3) 9-1 (4) O, 12-10
1975 8-0-2 (4) 10-0 (1) O, 21-14
1976 9-1 (4) 8-1-1 (8) M, 22-0
1977 9-1 (5) 9-1 (4) M, 14-6
1978 9-1 (6) 7-2-1(16) M, 14-3
1979 8-2 (13) 10-0 (2) O, 18-15
1980 8-2 (10) 9-1 (5) M, 9-3
1981 8-2 (7) 7-3 (-) O, 14-9
1982 8-2 (13) 7-3 (-) O, 24-14
1983 8-2 (8) 8-2 (10) M, 24-21
1984 6-4 (-) 8-2 (11) O, 21-6
1985 8-1-1 (6) 8-2 (12) M, 27-17
1986 9-1 (6) 9-2 (7) M, 26-24
1987 7-3 (-) 5-4-1 (-) O, 23-20
1988 7-2-1(12) 4-5-1 (-) M, 34-31
1989 9-1 (3) 8-2 (20) M, 20-18
1990 7-3 (15) 7-2-1(19) M, 16-13
1991 9-1 (4) 8-2 (18) M, 31-3
1992 8-0-2 (6) 8-2 (17) T, 13-13
1993 6-4 (-) 9-0-1 (5) M, 28-0
1994 7-3 (15) 8-3 (22) O, 22-6
1995 8-3 (18) 11-0 (2) M, 31-23
1996 7-3 (21) 10-0 (2) M, 13-9
1997 10-0 (1) 10-1 (4) M, 20-14
1998 7-2 (13) 9-1 (4) O, 31-16
1999 8-2 (8) 6-5 (-) M, 24-17

Dennis Franklin, the Michigan quarterback, said: "I remember this one German professor; she taught calculus and she couldn't stand athletes. If you were an athlete, she wouldn't even talk to you and if you came in unprepared you were going to suffer. That particular week, she smiled at us. That's about it, but it was a major victory."

OSU jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but Michigan rallied in the fourth quarter, tying the game on a 10-yard run by Franklin, shortly before he broke his collarbone. The game ended 10-10 -- ties were not decided in overtime then -- so the Rose Bowl trip came down to, of all things, a vote of Big Ten athletic directors.

The vote went in favor of the Buckeyes, with Big Ten commissioner Wayne Duke indicating that OSU got the nod because the Wolverines would likely be without Franklin for the Rose Bowl.

What makes a game such as Michigan-Ohio State so important?

Perhaps it is because familiarity breeds contempt. Just like in the annual Florida-Florida State matchup, or Auburn-Alabama, or USC-UCLA, or Texas-Oklahoma, or Georgia-Georgia Tech, the teams know each other so well.

Many of the players grew up with the rivalry, and may have even rooted for the other team. Fans and alums live near each other and work together, meaning they must deal with the outcome for a whole year until the next game is played.

In fact, sometimes the pain of losing is far greater than the joy of winning.

Just ask Florida State coach Bobby Bowden, who once endured a six-game losing streak to rival Florida. On recruiting trips, at golf outings, during speaking engagements, that topic was bound to come up.

"It's an inferior feeling," Bowden said. "When you have to travel up and down the state all year like I do and catch that all the time."

Bowden, of course, has bragging rights this year. His Seminoles knocked off the Gators for the chance to play for the national championship. They did so three years ago, too -- then had to play Florida in the Sugar Bowl, which the Gators won for the national title.

In that case, it becomes more than a rivalry.

Others know the feeling.

Johnny Rodgers, the 1972 Heisman Trophy winner, will never forget his Nebraska team's 35-31 victory over Oklahoma in 1971. The teams were ranked first and second in the nation.

"It seems like everyone I run across nowadays says they were there. And they all remember it like yesterday," said Rodgers, who had a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. "The intensity the week before the game was easily three or four times what it was the year before.

"This time, we were out to prove we were the best, and at the same time, Oklahoma, our biggest rival ever, they were out to prove they were. The whole campus was nuts the whole week. You couldn't take five steps without someone telling you to win. Not just wishing you luck; telling you to win."

Another classic came in 1967, when No. 4 USC upset No. 1 UCLA 21-20. The fuse had been lit the year before when the Trojans lost 14-7 to the Bruins in 1966. One week later, they were defeated 51-0 by Notre Dame and finished the season at 7-3 to UCLA's 9-1.

But the Pacific-8 didn't require teams to play an equal number of conference games. So the day after the loss to the Bruins, USC, 4-1 in the Pac-8 to UCLA's 3-1, was voted into the Rose Bowl by conference athletic directors.

"The (UCLA) students held this big rally on the campus, waiting for the vote," said Bruins running back Greg Jones. "Because we knew we were going to picked. When they picked SC, the students marched to the San Diego Freeway about a mile away and shut it down as a protest.

"So we had the Rose Bowl on our minds, plus maybe going to this one, plus the national championship, plus the Beban-Simpson thing. All of that riding on this one game."

In the game, UCLA quarterback Gary Beban passed for 301 yards and two touchdowns, but USC tailback O.J. Simpson ran for 177 yards, including 147 in the second half, and two touchdowns, the second one 64 yards in the fourth quarter for the winning score.

Despite the loss, Beban won the Heisman Trophy in 1967; Simpson would win in 1968.

That's what helps make these college football rivalries so great. The venom and adrenaline, ignited by years of tradition, routinely collide with the knowledge that next year promises to be even better.


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