Michigan has to win The Game one of these years. Right?
Wrong. Statistically, the Wolverines could keep losing forever. Just as an ant never defeats a shoe, Michigan has no guarantee of beating the Buckeyes again.
Ohio State has won five straight against UM, and 14 of the last 16 (counting the vacated win of 2010). No cosmic law exists to get Michigan off the schneid. Only spacey Jim Harbaugh and the maize and blue can accomplish that for themselves.
Anecdotally, however, the Wolverines are sitting pretty. History has a way of humbling the proud, and Buckeye Nation naturally is getting a wee bit close to becoming cocky. At least among the younger fans.
Who can blame them? Many were not yet born or too young to remember how Ohio State fans felt during the 1990s, when Michigan was 10-2-1 against the Buckeyes during the John Cooper era (1988 to 2000). In the thick of that morass, more than one OSU fan wondered, “Will we ever win this thing again?”
I know several Michigan fanatics asking the same question today. Realistically, they know they will. But it has to actually happen before they can allow themselves to believe. On the flip side, just this week I heard this from an Ohio State fan: “We got this one. No problem.”
Oh ye of too much faith. Perhaps a history lesson is in order? But first, allow me to fill you in on what it feels like to be a Missedagain fan today. If the Wolverines wore an alternate uniform, it would feature sackcloth and ashes, because one truism of The Game is that the losses hurt more than the wins heal.
Former Ohio State receiver Dee Miller played during the Cooper era (1994 to ’98), and though he owns two sets of gold pants — OSU won during his redshirt year as a freshman, and again in his senior season — it is the three losses in between that prevent him from enjoying a restful sleep this week.
“Every time I go and speak somewhere, people ask, ‘Did you play for Tress?’ ” Miller said. “And I tell them, ‘No for Coop.’ And then they give me this look like, ‘Aw, man, you didn’t do well against Michigan.’ ”
At least Miller got to experience those two wins against TTUN, because if he had not …
“My peers who don’t have any gold pants, it still affects them,” he said.
Mike Stock was an assistant coach under Cooper from 1992 to ’94. During those three seasons the Buckeyes defeated Michigan once, tied once and lost once, but Stock mostly remembers the tie and loss.
“The game we lost (1993) was the one we were supposed to win,” said Stock, who spent most of his coaching career in the NFL. “We would have gone to the Rose Bowl, but we laid an egg. And Michigan had four losses that year.”
You paying attention, young’uns?
Stock vividly recalls the 13-13 tie in 1992. “Our kids fought hard to come back in that game,” he said, also remembering that OSU president E. Gordon Gee said, “this tie is one of our greatest wins ever,” presumably since it was the first time in his first five seasons that Cooper had not lost to UM.
But the 28-0 loss to the Wolverines in Ann Arbor is burned even more into Stock’s brain.
“As both a player and a coach, that was one of the most disappointing competitions I’ve ever been involved with,” he said.
Like today, the Wolverines were underdogs. Like then, that label mostly is meaningless.
“You’ve got to understand it’s a different game in Michigan, in the Big House,” Stock said.
But different enough for the Wolverines to pull the upset?
“It ebbs and flows,” Miller said of the rivalry. “Unfortunately, when it ebbed and flowed in the ’90s, we were on the wrong side of that.”
Much has been written about Ohio State’s inability to find much success against Michigan in that decade. Miller’s own view is that The Game almost meant too much to the Buckeyes, which sounds ridiculous given the importance of the rivalry. But he explained how players got tight during the week because they were too intense.
“You hear, ‘You can’t overprepare for Michigan.’ I get that, but as athletes you still want the normal flow of (practice),” Miller said. “It’s the Michigan game, OK, but let’s stay in our mode, what got us here.”
Miller recalled wincing in 2001 when Ohio State coach Jim Tressel announced at halftime of an OSU basketball game that fans would be proud of the Buckeyes “in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan.”
“I was like, ‘Don’t jinx yourself.’ But Tress was an Ohio guy. Not to say that Coop didn’t understand what the rivalry meant, but Tressel’s focus was a little different. I’m not sure what he did, but he started it and it has been going ever since.”
Will it keep going? Even Cooper’s teams beat Michigan twice. It happens, even when few think it should.