Rob Oller | A sports world lacking normalcy needs Scarlet and Gray vs. Maize and Blue

Rob Oller
Buckeye Xtra

This will come as a surprise to exactly no one, but sportswriters can be a cynical bunch. Masters of the skeptical eye roll, we are jaded by years of witnessing the same tired stories play out in rinse-and-repeat fashion. 

I’m no Bible scholar, but am convinced that King Solomon spent his nights moonlighting as a sports scribe. It is the only explanation why the author of Ecclesiastes would conclude, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

Been there, written that. Except … 

The Game is different. Every time. And yet also the same. Every time. And that combination of new and normal is what makes Ohio State vs. Michigan the best sporting event to cover every year.

I won’t declare it the best rivalry in sports, because it is presumptuous to think that Scarlet and Gray vs. Maize and Blue is any more captivating than the folks who fawn over Alabama crimson vs. Auburn orange or get amped for Army mule vs. Navy goat. 

But speaking as someone who has spent more than 35 years in the wordsmithing business, there is nothing like seeing the rare sliver of autumn sunlight splash off Ohio State’s silver helmet and brighten Michigan’s yellow.

Simply put, Ohio State vs. Michigan – or Michigan vs. Ohio State for those in the mitten – is special. 

A decade ago, I sat next to since-retired Dispatch columnist Bob Hunter in the Michigan Stadium press box. We studied the pregame warm-ups in silence, which if you know either of us is a miracle in itself, when Hunter turned to me.

“This still matters,” he said.

It absolutely does, which is why more than ever I am ready to kick 2020 in the teeth. This one hurts, not anywhere near like losing a loved one to COVID-19. Perspective, people. But if you don’t feel empty over Michigan canceling Saturday’s game because of too many positive COVID tests – the Wolverines also canceled last week’s game against Maryland – then you are a national title snob. 

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You know exactly who I am talking about, the fan who dismisses 2-4 Michigan as mostly meaningless to the Buckeyes’ chances of making the College Football Playoff.

It’s all about the playoff now, right? National championship or bust. That reminds me of our nation at the moment, which has become all or nothing with little appreciation for nuance.

Well, I like nuance. I like best-of-friends Woody and Bo barely speaking to each other for months before and after the game. I like Jim Harbaugh promising a Michigan win in 1986 and Marcus Hall’s double bird in 2013. I like the Spot in 2016 and the no-call on Thom Darden’s interception in 1971 that made Woody lose his mind.

I like Jim Tressel’s basketball halftime promise in 2001 and Lloyd Carr staring into space while refusing to answer a question during rivalry week. 

I like asking Harbaugh during game week if he is crazy – yeah, I went there – and Ohio State defensive co-coordinator Kerry Coombs if he has paid attention to what’s being said about Harbaugh’s future in Ann Arbor.

“I’m not even aware of the soap opera stuff,” Coombs said Tuesday. 

Of course he’s not, because it is – was – Michigan week, and state secrets are at stake.

I like the cold of November and would have reveled in the freeze of December. And the hitting. Oh, how I love the hitting. I compare the sound of OSU and UM pads smashing together the same way I describe the crack of Tiger Woods’ driver a decade ago. It was just different, man. 

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Really, that’s the best way to describe Ohio State vs. Michigan. A different type of noise: From the field. From the crowd. Even from the press box. 

You are not alone if you feel lost with no game to watch, but maybe something can still be found? I wrote on Monday that if Michigan could not play on Saturday then the Big Ten should rework the schedule so The Game could be played on Dec. 19. Instead of changing the rules to allow the Buckeyes into the Big Ten championship game or pitting them against Iowa or Wisconsin in a crossover game, match them against the Wolverines.

Hang convention. This needs to happen. And it still can, as long as player safety is not compromised. The silver vs winged helmets define our differences but also make us one collective in need of normalcy.

The damn virus has done enough. Time to get one back. It matters.

roller@dispatch.com

@rollerCD