In what is perhaps the greatest rivalry in all of college sports, the Ohio State-Michigan game is steeped in traditions. Throughout the years, traditions have come and gone.
One such tradition was the Phantom Band, a practice in which the band led students through campus on Wednesday or Thursday during Michigan Week. It had been fading for years by 2002 after a history of vandalism, according to previous Lantern reporting.
Here are a few rituals that have withstood the tests of time and change:
Michigan-beating Buckeyes earn more than pride after a win against the Wolverines. They also receive a gold pants charm, symbolizing Michigan’s yellow pants, to commemorate the victory.
The relic dates back to 1934, after a phrase used by the newly appointed head coach Francis Schmidt was taken at face value. The Wolverines led the rivalry 22-6-2 heading into the season, but Schmidt was confident the Buckeyes could win.
“He basically told the team, ‘Hey, I don’t care what anybody says. They put their pants on one leg at a time just like we are, and we’re every bit as good, and we can beat them,’” Larry Romanoff, a 43-year Ohio State athletics employee who has attended every rivalry game since 1969, said.
That year, Ohio State beat Michigan 34-0, and the tradition was born.
“It was the first pair of gold pants ever presented to the winning team. The Team Up North doesn’t get those. Only Ohio State gets those. That’s how it all started,” Romanoff said.
Since the 1934 season, 43 more Buckeye teams have received their own pairs of gold pants. If Ohio State’s fifth-year seniors garner a victory, they will be the seventh group in 85 years to earn five pairs of gold pants.
The Best Damn Band In The Land has made its mark through a variety of traditions, but none more iconic than the cursive spelling of “Ohio” across the field at each home game. Though Script Ohio has become a staple of Buckeye culture, it first appeared up north in 1932 and was performed by Michigan’s marching band, according to University Archives.
“They didn’t march like you’re actually writing a cursive ‘Ohio.’ It was just a static formation that didn’t move. So that’s the big difference,” Christopher Hoch, director of the marching band, said.
Four years later, the Ohio State Marching Band brought the tradition home and made it its own. Rather than forming it all at once as Michigan’s marching band had, Ohio State’s band first “wrote” the state’s name across the field in its now-famous fashion on Oct. 10, 1936, according to University Archives and Hoch.
As a former band member and lifetime Buckeye who grew up in Westerville, Ohio, Hoch said Script Ohio was “one of the proudest things” he does.
Today, Hoch said the band performs it at every game TBDITL attends.
“Our fans expected it, and it is the signature of college football here. So it’s that important to us,” he said.
Crossing Out M’s
The bitter rivalry runs deep, and even utterance of the first letter of “Michigan” is taboo in the week leading up to The Game. Every “M” on campus is covered with a red tape “X” during Michigan Week, and no sign is safe.
Even former Ohio Gov. John Kasich joined the jeering in 2013, when he started declaring the game day “Scarlet Letter Saturday” to implore Ohioans to avoid using the letter in spirit of the rivalry.
“Michigan hasn’t won in Columbus since Myspace was a thing, gas cost $1.51 and hanging chads dominated the news in Florida,” the 2018 resolution read.
Just exactly who takes to the night to cross out the letter of every building, street and dorm sign, is unknown, but it is no small task. There are more than 170 M’s just in Ohio State building names listed on Ohio State’s website — the tip of the iceberg on a campus where many buildings have more than one sign, and there are countless other instances of the 13th letter of the alphabet in the off-campus area that fall victim to the X.
Though this tradition has become characteristic of Michigan Week, some think it may be time for a change. In a 2018 letter to the editor in The Lantern, Wexner Medical Center staff member Kyle Hartman said the red tape that is left faded and peeling is unattractive and can damage the surfaces to which it’s applied.
“This day in age, with our incomparable ability to innovate, we need to develop a better way to show our Buckeye pride — either by utilizing electronic technology, using or developing an adhesive-based product that allows us to continue this custom in a way that does not conflict with our dedication to sustainability and elimination of waste,” the letter said.
The way the X’s are removed varies each year, university spokesperson Nicole Holman said in an email. Some years, facilities teams remove the tape, while other years, it is left in place.
For the past two years, Ohio Staters, Inc., a student faculty and staff service organization, has partnered with the facilities team, Mitch Radakovich, OSI vice president and a third-year in data analytics, said.
Though the process of removing all of the tape takes hours, he said it is part of keeping the tradition alive.
“I just love seeing the creativity of where some of the M’s get placed and everything like that. I think that it’s a very clean and fun part portion of the rivalry,” he said.
It seems the scarlet X’s aren’t going anywhere soon, as they reappeared Monday morning.
Lantern sports editor Griffin Strom contributed to this story.