Cody Cousino / Photo editor
Despite the fact that it was the prelude to the first Ohio State loss to Michigan in nearly 3,000 days, even the most patriotic of Buckeye fans can agree on this much: the first 59 minutes of Saturday’s edition of “The Game” were more entertaining than anything that has happened between the two teams on the field in the past five years.
Michigan junior quarterback Denard Robinson, OSU freshman quarterback Braxton Miller, and several other players — mostly on the offensive side of the ball — were responsible for what was witnessed on Saturday in The Big House. But if one man deserves credit for the most exciting edition of “The Game” since 2006’s “Game of the Century” (which unlike this year’s LSU vs. Alabama game, featured double-digit scoring), look no further than the pudgy, headset-less, sunglasses-wearing coach who was pacing the Michigan sideline on Saturday — Brady Hoke.
Buckeye fans won’t admit it, because it goes against everything Woody Hayes and Jim Tressel taught them, but OSU’s past three meetings with the Wolverines were nothing more than a formality for the Buckeyes. There was no hatred, no passion, and no doubt that OSU was going to beat what had become just another subpar Big Ten team for the past three years.
If you don’t believe me that “The Game” had teetered on irrelevancy lately, look no further than “Tattoo-gate,” where multiple OSU players sold the gold pants charms that they’re rewarded for beating the Wolverines. They simply didn’t care about beating Michigan the way former Buckeyes did, and the Wolverines never gave them a reason to care.
It’s not a coincidence that the past three seasons — the worst three-year streak in Michigan history — came with Rich Rodriguez as the team’s head coach. Although not entirely his fault, Rodriguez reduced both the Michigan program and its rivalry with OSU to their lowest respective points.
But then Hoke — a “Michigan Man” (whatever that means) — was hired in January to replace Rodriguez and change everything in just one press conference. Being introduced to both the Michigan media and the national spotlight, Hoke spoke of his hatred for OSU and his passion for “The Game.”
Instantly, Buckeye fans were annoyed by Hoke’s refusal to use his Hulk Hogan-sounding voice to call OSU anything more than “Ohio.” But also, they secretly liked it.
In sports, you want to hate you’re opponent, not feel indifferent to them. As much as they tried to and as much as they mocked the Wolverines over the past three years, Buckeye fans didn’t hate Michigan, they were simply indifferent to them. Hoke, however, OSU fans seem to truly hate, and considering he has taken Michigan from irrelevancy to a likely BCS bowl bid, they have good reason to.
This rivalry has been defined by its coaches. Some, such as Rodriguez and John Cooper have chosen to ignore it, while the successful ones — Hayes, Bo Schembechler, Tressel, and Lloyd Carr — chose to embrace it.
Here’s hoping Urban Meyer does the same.