COLUMBUS — At the most fundamental level, there are two types of seasons at Ohio State.
Depends on how the Buckeyes do against Michigan.
“It’s everything,” right tackle Reid Fragel said on Monday. “We’ll be remembered by this week, and this week only, I feel like.”
Fragel was just adhering to the company line.
The attitude starts from the top.
Think Urban Meyer is energized for his first time leading Ohio State against Michigan on Saturday?
As fourth-ranked OSU places its perfect season on the line, the new Buckeyes coach made it clear he’s been preparing his entire life for this opportunity.
Born in Toledo and raised in Ashtabula, Meyer, 48, grew up in the throes of The Ten Year War, when Woody and Bo were king and nothing seemed to matter more every autumn than his Buckeyes beating Michigan.
“This is all I know,” Meyer said. “It’s all anybody knew. In the era when I grew up, there really wasn’t much other than three channels on your television and this game. It was Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Pete Johnson, Archie Griffin. I remember the games. I remember it coming down the pipe. I remember everybody talking about it. Incredible memories.”
Now he’s living it and, like Jim Tressel before him, exalting this game as The Game.
Meyer wants his players to live the rivalry. His staff continued the tradition of holding Michigan periods during training camp, posted signs throughout the Woody Hayes Athletic Center instructing, “Beat That Team Up North,” prohibited blue attire at the facility (Meyer has asked guests at practice to leave and change), and barred players from publicly referring to their rival by name.
There was even a poster board in the football facility earlier this year that tweaked Michigan’s academic reputation. Headlined “Major Comparison: Ohio State vs. The Team Up North,” the sign noted OSU’s football program had an 8-0 edge in business majors, an 8-2 lead in engineering majors, and a steep deficit in “general studies” majors.
Meyer learned first-hand of the rivalry’s defining — and all-consuming — nature as a graduate assistant under his mentor, Earle Bruce.
In 1987, a season that began with the Buckeyes ranked fifth nationally fell apart. They lost three straight before President Edward Jennings, defying the wishes of athletic director Rick Bay, fired Bruce the Monday before the Michigan game.
Meyer recalled entering an unusually quiet facility as he reported for a coaches meeting that day.
“Rick Bay was leaned up against the wall, looked at me and said, ‘Close the door. Are you the last one?’” Meyer said. “I said, ‘Yes, yes sir.’ As I sat down, I saw a bunch of coaches with their arms on the table, with their faces in their arms, and tears and the whole deal. [Bay] said that coach Bruce will no longer be the coach after this game, and I have resigned as athletic director.”
Bruce, who was 81-26-1 in 10 seasons at OSU, then met with his players. He decided to stay aboard for one final chance to beat Michigan.
“Coach comes into the meeting room, and he just starts crying,” said linebacker Derek Isaman, a Fremont Ross graduate. “Everyone was stunned. He tells us he’s been let go and the most important thing to him was to beat Michigan. That said a lot about his character and him as a coach. He was obviously crushed. He didn’t have a place to go, yet his main goal that week was to beat the team up north.”
With the players wearing “Earle” headbands, the 5-4-1 Buckeyes upset Michigan 23-20 in Ann Arbor. Meyer watched from the press box as players carried Bruce off the field.
“Just an incredible moment in Ohio State history,” Meyer said.
“Gets the goosebumps going just talking about it,” said Isaman, who now lives in Lebanon and works as a relay planner for a trucking company.
Isaman said Bruce’s passion for the rivalry “definitely rubbed off on” Meyer, who a generation later wants to push aside Michigan just as badly.
“It's electric in here when you start talking about this game,” Meyer said Monday, standing at the front of the team meeting room. “Will we be defined by this one game? You usually are. Regardless of what happens, this is the game. Our kids know that.”
MILLER HONORED: OSU’s Braxton Miller was named one of three finalists for the Davey O’Brien Award given to the nation’s top quarterback. The sophomore joins senior Collin Klein of Kansas State and freshman Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M. The winner will be announced Dec. 6.
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