Ohio State football coach Ryan Day was doing an interview on “The Rich Eisen Show” in August when he faced a bit of goading.
“Do you say the word Michigan?” Eisen asked.
Day replied that he does not. As if to eliminate any uncertainty, he responded “no” at least four times.
“Come on,” Eisen sighed.
“We can't do that,” Day said.
Eisen pressed him more, “Even if you take a trip there, how do you refer to the state?”
Day never cracked.
“We'll say the state up north,” he said. “We'll say Ann Arbor. We'll say the blue team. Maybe even say the Wolverines. But we certainly can't say the M-word.”
One of the most visible links between Day and his predecessor, Urban Meyer, who led the Buckeyes for seven seasons, is the avoidance of any public mention of their bitter rival by name.
Inside the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, the lexicon remains. Michigan is the “Team Up North,” among other references.
When offensive right tackle Branden Bowen visited Ohio State as a high school recruit in 2014, he uttered “Michigan” in Meyer's presence. Meyer made Bowen, a native of Utah, immediately do pushups, right there in his office.
“It was a fun experience to learn, I guess,” Bowen said.
Other players reported similar experiences with Meyer's coaching staff from their recruiting days.
“It's the 'Team Up North' from the get-go,” said Jashon Cornell, a fifth-year senior defensive tackle. “Coaches stressed how much we don't say that name around here. That's how popular the rivalry is.”
Meyer even continued the practice in his new role as an analyst at Fox. In most on-air references to Michigan, he calls them the Wolverines.
During an interview with The Dispatch last week, he said that a mention of Michigan was a bridge too far in his eyes.
“That's a Woody Hayes-ism,” Meyer said.
Hayes' legendary Ohio State coaching tenure spanned almost three decades, including the height of the rivalry in the 1970s. His contempt for Michigan was thought to be so deep that he referred to the archrival only as the “Team Up North” or the “School Up North.” He couldn't bear to utter its name.
Day followed Meyer's lead after spending two seasons as one of his offensive coordinators. He grew up in Manchester, New Hampshire, about 800 miles east of where The Game is rooted, but became indoctrinated like the other assistants and players after arriving at Ohio State.
Jeff Hafley, in his first season as Buckeyes defensive co-coordinator, took note of the references for Michigan at the football facility in January. He said he spotted one of the abbreviations, “TTUN” for “The Team Up North,” on a poster that displays Meyer's 7-0 career record vs. Michigan.
At first, Hafley was puzzled.
“You just learn right away,” Hafley said.
The phrase's frequent use under Meyer coincided with a time when Ohio State became a recruiting juggernaut, pulling in more prospects from other regions of the country who were often less familiar with the rivalry than instate prospects.
It offered them a brief history lesson, if not conveying the significance.
As Day has continued the custom, it's difficult to find any instance in which he has uttered Michigan in public. He kept other rivalry traditions, too, including “Team Up North” periods in practices in which the team prepares for Michigan.
“We live it every day,” Day said. “The 'Team Up North' is something that we talk about every single day. And the best way to respect a rivalry is to work it every day. And we do.”
The latest remarks came after a win Saturday over Penn State when Day said his focus had moved ahead.
“To that rivalry game,” he said, “which means everything to us.”