It was funny but one of my biggest motivations about the Michigan game was I always wanted to enjoy Thanksgiving.
I always told my mom that if I lost the game, I wasn’t going to come home for Thanksgiving. I didn’t want to come home and deal with anything. I didn’t want people asking me what happened, what went wrong.
Back in the old days, this past week would have been Michigan week because we used to get done before the holiday. We didn’t have two open weeks. So that was the big motivation, and when you grow up and you see the 1993 team, the ’95 team, the ’96 team all fall in that game and it wrecks their whole season, it kind of screws up your childhood. 1995 and ’96 were the big ones, and then there was Charles Woodson on 1997.
Those are like the first games I can really remember, and you just remember how bad it felt when Eddie George lost that game as a senior and the teams that should have played for national championships, none of them got to and it was all because of that game. You always remember how that sucked when you were a kid.
There were so many fair-weather Michigan fans in Ohio back then. It was kind of a bad-boy thing to wear Michigan stuff. I’d go shopping at Christmas and see Michigan stuff in the mall, and now you can’t find a rack of Michigan clothes. I actually am proud of how little Michigan stuff I see nowadays because of how much we’ve owned them over the past decade. They used to beat Ohio State every year so it was sweet to wear Michigan stuff because Ohio State fans couldn’t say anything to them. We’ve beat them like the new guy in prison for the last 10, 15 years.
I played in four games under Jim Tressel and coached in one under Urban Meyer, and they’re both really intense. The good thing about picking up a guy like Coach Meyer as our new coach is he really gets the game. He grew up a big Woody Hayes fan, then he cut his teeth under Earle Bruce so he gets how important this game is. He’s beyond intense this week.
It’s nuts, man. They blast music in the facility 24 hours a day the entire week – like, blast, so loud you can barely think. This is the only week Coach Meyer does it because that’s just how it is. He wants everybody who steps in the building to have the juice flowing and the whole nine yards. It’s really cool and it’s fun to be a part of. It’s fun to be a player and it’s fun to be a part of a staff who gets how important it is to beat Michigan.
I always liked to be a part of this thing. You have Mirror Lake and you have all the cool traditions. You have students who walk around with the red tape and put tape over every “M” on campus, and I always thought that was really cool. That’s one of the most underrated things people don’t see is how they cross off every M for one week. I always got a kick out of that. It’s really cool.
Then the band comes to Woody Hayes on Sunday night and they’re all paired up with somebody, and they walk through Script Ohio. I would always pick the lightest thing, like a flute or something that weighed like two ounces so I didn’t have to carry something heavy around, and that’s a cool little detail.
It’s funny because your senior year game is the one you remember more than any of them. My senior year, I was in the dumps because we lost on our Senior Day against Illinois, but then a bunch of the guys came up to me and said we were going to win this game.
In all seriousness, I didn’t like a lot of their players at the time, and when Mike Hart was talking at the Big Ten Media Days about how they came back to beat Ohio State, it didn’t sit well. After we beat them, I said, ‘A funny thing happened on the way to the sunset,’ about their return, and I couldn’t want to get to the postgame media room to say that because they said they were going to beat Ohio State and that’s all they came back for.
That was the best, honestly, and I think it was a really underrated game because it literally was like Woody Hayes ball. We didn’t throw the ball in the second half because it was freezing rain and 35 degrees. It was the coldest football game I’ve ever been a part of. We just kept running it, and Beanie Wells had a big day and we blocked them well. They knew we weren’t throwing it and we were running it every single play. When you know we’re not throwing it and you still can’t stop it – that was really cool.
That was the last year where it seemed like it was two really good teams playing in The Game. Obviously in 2006 it was two undefeated teams, but in ’07 they still had talent. They had Jake Long and Mario Manningham and Hart and Chad Henne. They had a lot of NFL guys, but since ’08 it’s been pretty one-sided either way.
I wish Michigan would get it together. This game needs to be the showcase game for the Big Ten, and it hasn’t been that way since 2006. People always give me crap about this, but I want them to be good. It’s like playing Madden and beating somebody on rookie mode.
There’s no sense of accomplishment when you beat a bad Michigan team. When you beat them to go to the national title game and they’re still gonna go to the Rose Bowl, that’s an accomplishment. When you beat them and they’re going to go to the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, it’s still fun to beat them but it’s not the same.
It seems even more important in this era now that the computers are gone and the BCS is gone because it’s all about the eyeball test. It’s kind of like you need those consecutive games to springboard into the playoff, so beating a good Michigan team and then beating the best team from the other half of the Big Ten, that would be huge in the eyes of the committee. It would make you feel like one of the top four teams since it’s all about the eyeball test now.
A team captain in 2007, Kirk Barton was named an All-American that same year as a senior. After earning his MBA from Ohio State, he is now a sales executive with Oswald Companies in Columbus. He works in the area of business development with a focus on property and casualty coverage. He can be reached at email@example.com or you can follow him on Twitter @Kirk_Barton.