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Published: 11/13/2007

HBO documentary examines the border

A Michigan fan planted this
sign in the yard of an Ohio
State fan in Ida, Mich., in a
photo appearing on HBO.
<br>
<img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> VIEW: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20071112&Kategori=SPORTS04&Lopenr=1112006&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b>Past OSU-UM matchups</b></a> photo gallery

A Michigan fan planted this sign in the yard of an Ohio State fan in Ida, Mich., in a photo appearing on HBO. <br> <img src=http://www.toledoblade.com/graphics/icons/photo.gif> VIEW: <a href=" /apps/pbcs.dll/gallery?Avis=TO&Dato=20071112&Kategori=SPORTS04&Lopenr=1112006&Ref=PH" target="_blank "><b>Past OSU-UM matchups</b></a> photo gallery
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

ANN ARBOR - Those in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan know the battle lines run deep in the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry.

A new college football documentary about "the greatest rivalry in sport" has taken note of that and refers to the border between Michigan and Ohio as the "70-mile line of scrimmage" between the two schools with so much shared hatred.

Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry debuts on HBO at 10:30 tonight, four days before the Buckeyes and Wolverines do battle for the Big Ten title for the 65th time.

HBO premiered the hour-long film in Columbus two weeks ago and here last week, with a standing-room only crowd of nearly 1,500 taking in the screening at the Michigan Theatre.

"I've always felt that the Toledo area and the border played an important part in this rivalry, where allegiances are sort of formed on both sides," the documentary's director, George Roy, said before the Michigan premiere.

"We went into the schools [in Perrysburg] the week of the game [last year], and you see the kids dressed up in the Ohio State uniforms and the Michigan uniforms. It's all good-natured of course, but you don't see that in many other areas of the country."

The film also highlights the Toledo War, a boundary dispute in 1835 between the two states over a thin area of land called the Toledo Strip.

To this day, this part of the country is the dividing point between conflicting loyalties.

HBO cameras focused on Perrysburg to illustrate this point and even paid a visit to the Buckeye Wolverine Shop at 26580 Dixie Highway, along with a few schools in the suburb.

"Perrysburg ended up being the Switzerland of the Midwest with half the population being Ohio State fans and half being Michigan fans," HBO Sports president Ross Greenburg said. "It's a bizarre area. It was important to go there, and to see why this developed.

"Toledo became the most well-known city in that area, but it certainly gives you a real feeling of the intensity of the Border War and the roots of why this rivalry surpasses all others."

Each piece of the film ultimately points back to the two key figures in the rivalry for so many years - Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler.

The documentary spends a great deal of time going in depth on the famed "Ten Year War" from 1969-78 between the two schools and what became almost a Cold War-type atmosphere in Ann Arbor and Columbus during that time period.

Those interviewed by HBO for the special each had specific examples of the paranoia that enveloped both coaches, even forcing the teams' practice fields to be guarded by police to keep away aspiring spies.

Yet when it was all said and done, Schembechler and Hayes maintained a friendship after their coaching days were done, as a touching scene at the end of the film illustrates.

"The understanding that I hope folks will have, and I know that I was able to get in doing the film, was the real relationship that Bo and Woody had," Roy said. "They fought each other tooth and nail their entire careers. That Ten Year War, every moment of that meant something, and those two guys were the symbols of their two programs.

"But when they both got off the stage, there's a realization that they were more like brothers than anything else. There was a love and a respect that they had for one another basically for one simple reason: There was no one else on Earth really that could understand what the other guy was going through."

Of all the great rivalries in college football, and even across all sports in America, the question still remains why HBO would highlight the Border War between Ohio State and Michigan.

"This one transcends college football," Greenburg said. "This one is a national event. I grew up in New York, and I was very aware of this and watched this constantly having grown up during the Ten Year War.

"It was obvious at that point that the Big Ten would be up for grabs but usually the No. 1 ranking in the nation would be up for grabs and here we are in 2007 and we're seeing that that can happen all over again, so that's why."

-Zach Silka



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