COLUMBUS — During a break early in Saturday's game against Michigan, Ohio State honored a handful of players from its 1942 national championship team and unveiled a new permanent banner on the fa ade of the upper deck memorializing its coach, Paul Brown.
This was no little thing. There has been one coach — and one coach only — hanging, so to speak, from the upper deck in the ancient Horseshoe for years and years.
Woody Hayes, he of the 13 Big Ten championships and five national titles, the guy who would have worn a short-sleeve white dress shirt on a day like Saturday (not jackets and gloves as both current coaches did), the Michigan-hater who would never have taken a knee in the waning seconds when there were more points to be had, the hot-head whose answer to some unappreciated officiating might have been to turn the first-down sticks into javelins, he has long been in the hearts and memories, some might say the souls, of Buckeye fans.
Now, Woody has some company up there over the railings. And what it means, of course, is that Jim Tressel will be up there someday too. He has one national championship notch on his belt, and after Saturday's 37-7 win is 9-1 against TSUN — that school up north — while capturing a share of a sixth straight conference title.
Tressel said earlier last week that regardless of all other successes or failures, OSU players and coaches are defined by how they fare against Michigan. That being the case, Tressel is well defined.
So too is UM coach Rich Rodriguez, although his 0-3 record by a combined score of 100-24 against the Buckeyes is just a slice of his recent professional life and strife. Some Wolverine fans might suggest it's time to dangle him from some stadium rafters too. Literally.
Rodriguez watched his team compete, maybe even outplay the Bucks early on Saturday, then fold like a house of cards when some adversity set in. UM pulled within 10-7 midway through the second quarter and Ohio State's Jordan Hall returned the ensuing kickoff 85 yards. Anybody who suggests the Wolverines played real hard from that point is just making small talk.
UM is 7-5 and is headed for a bowl game for the first time under RichRod, but his overall record of 15-21 and, without doubt, his 6-18 record in Big Ten play has fanned the flames of speculation.
Dave Brandon, the UM athletic director, has said he will review Rodriguez's performance after the season without specifying if that means now or after the bowl game. When asked if he had any thoughts Saturday, Brandon said, “Nope,” and didn't break stride while climbing onto a team bus.
The guess here is that Brandon has to make a change providing there is a candidate out there – as in Jim Harbaugh, currently of Stanford – who Brandon is sure would be both an improvement and someone who might whip Michigan fans out of their funk and into a frenzy.
It doesn't figure the Wolverines can continue with the status quo, although Rodriguez seems eager to soldier on.
“I'm going to work tomorrow, as always,” he said. “I worry about my future every day. … But nothing's going to change how we work. I took this job to make this the best program in America.”
It isn't the best program in Michigan these days. It wouldn't be the best program in a lot of states, including, of course, the one to the immediate south.
RichRod said the building is going slow, slower than he'd like, slower than UM fans would like. But, he added, “I'm not deterred one bit. I think the worst part is behind us. I know it is.”
Maybe, maybe not. He did acknowledge that, just perhaps, there are people out there who “don't want me to have success. [But] I would think most people who follow Michigan and love Michigan do because they love our school and love our program.”
It's a tough love these days, though, and Brandon is surely hearing from the maize-and-blue's heavy hitters that the program they love and the program they are witnessing are two different things.
Rodriguez got a little feisty Saturday when asked about his mood. He said he was “ticked” and then went off on some goofy tangent about stepping outside, holding hands with Buckeye fans, and “singing Kumbaya.”
No need for that. The Wolverines have been plenty friendly to Ohio State in recent years. Just ask Jim Tressel, who will someday, like Woody and Paul, be fondly hoisted onto the Ohio Stadium fa ade for perpetuity, if for no reason other than his ability to nail, not hail, the victors.
Rodriguez's legacy, not to mention his future, in this rivalry is much more precarious.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.