The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is one of the greatest in all of sports.
It has become so on the back of the greatest of players making the greatest of plays.
There is no surer way for a Buckeye football player to enshrine himself in Ohio State lore than to shine on this biggest of all stages.
Careers are made. Legends are born. Old men sit on their front porches speaking of such players in reverent tones.
Who from this year’s football team can etch their name on the list of OSU-Michigan heroes? Daniel “Boom” Herron? Cameron Heyward? Terrelle Pryor?
First, here’s a look at the pantheon of greats that they would be joining.
Chic Harley is widely considered the man who put OSU football on the map.
The three-time All-American played halfback, quarterback, end, safety and was both punter and kicker during his career at Ohio State.
With a resume like that, it would have come as no surprise if he had dotted the “i” at halftime.
After the 1916 and 1917 seasons, Harley left school for a year to fight in World War I. In his 1919 return season he led the Buckeyes to their first victory over Michigan. His four interceptions in that game still stand as an OSU record and his legacy was cemented. The Horseshoe is still regarded as ‘The House that Harley Built.’
Howard ‘Hopalong’ Cassady
“Hopalong” Cassady led the 1954 OSU team to a 10-0 record and a national championship. He followed with another fantastic season which was capped off with a huge performance against Michigan.
In his last collegiate game, Cassady keyed the Buckeyes’ first victory in Ann Arbor since 1937 and dashed the Wolverines’ Big Ten Championship and Rose Bowl aspirations.
After a Cassady punt return got the Buckeyes started with good field position, he scored the game’s first touchdown with a run off the right guard and continued to pound away at the Michigan defense to secure the 17-0 victory.
OSU coach Woody Hayes would call it, “The greatest game Ohio State has ever played for me,” high praise from the gruff coach.
Cassady would win the Heisman Trophy that year by the largest margin in voting history.
Jim Otis was the OSU fullback from 1967 to ‘69. From the fullback position, which is normally known for its blocking role, Otis led the Buckeyes in rushing every season of his college career.
During the 1968 Michigan game, Otis scored four touchdowns against the Buckeyes’ archrival in a 50-14 rout. It was the game made famous by Hayes’ response to a question about why he chose to go for two in a game in which he already had a 36-point lead: “Because I couldn’t go for three.”
Otis’ four touchdowns are still tied for the most scored by an individual Buckeye player in The Game.
One might think that a list of OSU-Michigan greats would be incomplete without two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin, who had a 3-0-1 record against the Wolverines.
But Klaban indisputably carried the Buckeyes in the 1974 game, when he scored all of OSU’s points in the game by kicking four field goals to give Ohio State a 12-10 victory to end Michigan’s 21-game winning streak.
Spielman, a two-time All-American during his career at Ohio State, is the prototype of a hard-nosed linebacker.
He still holds many career and single-season records for tackles at OSU. But it was his 29 tackles in the 1986 OSU-Michigan game that earned him a spot on this list.
The 1986 game, as it had many times in the past and would many times in the future, decided the Big Ten champion and Rose Bowl representative.
It was a back-and-forth affair that wasn’t decided until the game’s final minute. Even in defeat, Spielman’s performance would stand as one of the greatest defensive displays in OSU history, causing OSU coach Earle Bruce to remark, “This is the way it should be.”
As John Cooper limped into The Game in 1998 with a 1-8-1 record against the Tom Brady-led Wolverines, it was clear that the Buckeyes needed to take off the kid gloves offensively to earn a victory.
Joe Germaine, who had previously spent the bulk of his OSU playing career splitting time with Stanley Jackson, delivered.
The diminutive, fresh-faced kid who had transferred from a community college in Arizona looked to the casual observer as though he would fit in better in a physics lab. But the Rose Bowl hero threw for 330 yards against the Wolverines, 217 of which went to David Boston, in a 31-16 victory that gave Cooper his second and final victory over the team up north.
Smith, once predicted to be Justin Zwick’s backup for four years, had two of the most electrifying performances in OSU-Michigan history.
In 2004, Smith’s 341 passing yards, 145 rushing yards and two touchdowns led the Buckeyes to a 37-21 victory.
In 2006, the game meant more than perhaps it ever had. Each team carried an 11-0 record into the matchup and there was much on the line, including a trip to the BCS Championship game.
Smith paced the Buckeyes with 316 passing yards and four touchdowns in a game in which he clinched the Heisman Trophy with a nail-biting 42-39 victory.
On Saturday, OSU coach Jim Tressel hopes another of his players will step into the spotlight and join the list of heroes of The Game.