The chain-link between an orange, black-striped marker at the 25-yard line and an orange, black-striped marker at the 15-yard line was what everyone was watching. That and the spot of the football on which the game between No. 2 Ohio State and No. 3 Michigan rested.
One of the greatest rivalries in sports came down to the position of a ball that is 11 inches in length and 22 inches in circumference. Ohio State needed just one of those inches to reach the marker.
It did. First down.
All anyone can remember is that fourth-down play and Curtis Samuel’s 15-yard touchdown run on the next play to clinch the Buckeyes’ 30-27 double-overtime victory, which cemented him as the hero in the greatest game ever played in the 113th meeting of the rivalry.
It will torment every Michigan fan, coach and player for an eternity — because Michigan was the better team that day and everyone knew it. It was obvious.
The Wolverines dominated Ohio State for three quarters, but when it mattered most, all of a sudden Jim Harbaugh’s defense couldn’t stop the Buckeyes.
After kicker Tyler Durbin missed a 21-yard field goal that would have tied the game with 7:01 remaining, it should have been over. All Michigan had to do was gain a couple of first downs and run the clock out and it would have headed to the Big Ten championship game.
It couldn’t and Ohio State got the ball back.
The Buckeyes had a third-and-7 in their own territory. Michigan was called for pass interference on a ball that sailed over Samuel’s head and the drive continued.
With the game on the line, Ohio State had third-and-goal from the 16 with a shaky Durbin on the sideline. Michigan allowed a 10-yard completion and Durbin connected on his 23-yard field goal instead of being forced to attempt a 33-yarder.
Hysteria had set into Ohio Stadium well before the first overtime began and it lasted all the way through the moment when a sea of scarlet sang Neil Diamond’s timeless hit “Sweet Caroline.” By then, Urban Meyer was back on his feet after falling to the turf as Samuel was hoisted into the air by center Pat Elflein.
One play made that scene, but there were many plays before it that turned the game into a classic.
The reality of last year’s game will continue to torment Michigan fans and elate Ohio State fans as Fox replays Samuel’s touchdown over and over on Saturday’s broadcast. The rivalry will probably never have another game like 2016.
You’d need a book thicker than the King James Bible to write down every moment that mattered in that edition of the Ohio State-Michigan game. Parents will tell their children about how Ohio State was counted out and still beat the Wolverines. Michigan fans will pass down the story of how Harbaugh and the Wolverines were screwed over on that fourth-down play.
How do you capture a game that will live forever?
It’s simple. You play it again.