COLUMBUS - Like any kid, Jim Tressel treasured the time he spent with his father. And because his dad was a coach, that time did not come until the football season was over.
Lee Tressel was the head coach at Division III Baldwin-Wallace near Cleveland, and the schedule at that level usually ended in mid-November, just before the week of the Ohio State-Michigan game.
Tressel's reunion with his father was usually celebrated watching the Buckeyes play the Wolverines. The younger Tressel will be on the sideline as Ohio State's head coach here on Saturday, when the top-ranked Buckeyes host No. 2 Michigan.
"So that was about the first time I saw my dad in the light of day," Tressel said about sitting in front of the television with his father, who died in 1981. "And we got to watch the game together, and he was a huge Buckeye fan. So probably the most important thing to me was I got a chance to be with him and watch it, and of course, here he was rooting for his team, so that became my team."
Tressel was an Ohio State fan first, then an assistant coach with the Buckeyes, and after a highly successful stint as head coach at Youngstown State, where he won four Division I-AA national championships, he took the top job here. Along with a robust resume, Tressel brought with him a deep understanding of the magnitude of the Ohio
"It's the one I know the best," he said. "Growing up with it, having been an assistant coach within it, and now being a part of it, I can't fathom anything else being like it, from my perspective."
Tressel's players say they immediately recognized just how important this contentious series was to him. The same week he was hired at Ohio State, Tressel spoke at halftime of a Buckeyes basketball game against Michigan and told a packed house that they would be proud of their football team in 310 days in Ann Arbor. The following November, Tressel beat Michigan 26-20, and he has won four of the five games against the Wolverines in his tenure as head coach.
"The traditions here are tremendously important to him, and you notice that very early - during the recruiting process," Ohio State junior wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez said. "He has a genuine reverence for the history of the program, and those traditions, and certainly putting a major emphasis on the Michigan game is part of that."
Tressel recalled his first experience in the Ohio State-Michigan game day atmosphere in 1983, when he was on the staff of former head coach Earle Bruce.
"I remember my first game as an assistant, thinking I was preparing for just another game as a coach," Tressel said, "and then all of a sudden you get into the environment, and I wasn't worth a hoot for probably the first quarter, because I was just in awe of the feeling.
"I probably wasn't worth a hoot in the fourth quarter either, but it's just a tremendous feeling to be a part of something that so many people are excited about and so many people count it special."
Tressel said he felt a kinship with an Ohio State fan who emailed him recently to tell Tressel he would be flying to Las Vegas to watch the game with his son, since the man could not get tickets for them to see the game in person.
The emailer said he'd fly home that same night, but the quick trip was worth the trouble since it was important to be with his son to watch Ohio State-Michigan.
"I can relate to that, and it's special," Tressel said. "It's a tremendous feeling. You can feel the electricity and the energy and you can't quantify it, but you can feel it."
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