Coach's Corner: The Real War Between The States

Former OSU assistant coach Bill Conley is back with his latest column for Today, he looks at the "true origins" of the war between Ohio State and Michigan. He discusses this year's game, his best memories of the rivalry and also his take on the Maurice Clarett saga. Click here for more.

The only blood drawn in the Toledo War of 1835 came from the leg of a Michigan sheriff. The sheriff, Joseph Wood, was stabbed in the thigh by an Ohioan named, Two (he had a brother named One) Stickney, whose dad was arrested by Sheriff Wood for surveying disputed territory between the two states. This encounter actually took place in a tavern.

Ohio had been a state since 1803 with a much larger population than Michigan, which was still a territory. Both Ohio and Michigan had conflicting claims on the land around the mouth of the Maumee River. Whichever state would acquire this area would guarantee themselves a valuable port on Lake Erie.

In 1835, Michigan petitioned to become a state, thus the conflict grew to a feverish pitch. Ohio Gov. Robert Lucas and Michigan Gov. Stevens Mason sent their militaries to the disputed area. Eventually, the two armies found each other, shots were fires, but no one was hurt.

President Andrew Jackson stepped in and sided with Ohio and a compromise was reached between the two states. Toledo became part of Ohio, but Michigan, till this day, claims it was poor officiating.

This year marks the 101st battle between the traditional national college football powers. David Edwards was the first Ohio State coach to face off against Michigan in 1897. Unfortunately, the Wolverines won that game. So I guess that made each state's record 1-1 for the 19th Century. (We're counting the Toledo War as a victory for the Buckeyes.)

The two universities didn't play again until 1900 and, with the exception of a stretch from 1913-17, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry has flourished. Since 1935, the classic battle has been the final regular season game -- with the exception of 1942, when Ohio State finished the year with the Iowa Seahawks military team during World War II.

The Ohio State-Michigan classic was taken to new heights starting in the late 1960's when The Game became not only a rivalry between two outstanding institutions but two outstanding coaches, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler. The stories are timeless. The great victories, the devastating losses and even the ties are immortal.

Woody was the master of psychology. Whatever it took to motivate his troops to perform to their optimum level was the goal. It might mean punching a chalkboard; claiming the team from up north was trying to poison his warriors when the Buckeyes lodged in Ann Arbor on away trips; concern that the enemy was scouting practice; fear that good looking co-eds were serving the team meals and thus trying to keep the players' minds off the game; countless pep talks in the locker room; pushing and shoving in the shared tunnel at The Big House. Those were just a few of the mastered tricks to give the Buckeyes an extra reason to play just a little bit harder in the number one rivalry in all of sports.

On one occasion, Woody made the bus driver stop on the interstate from Detroit to Ann Arbor. He had picked up a copy of the Lantern, the Ohio State student newspaper. In that edition, the sports editor picked the Wolverines to beat the Buckeyes. Woody stood up and proceeded to give the team a lecture on the "fall of the Roman Empire" and how it was torn apart from within.

The bus driver watched in amazement as Woody took Roman history to a new level, as the bus just sat in the middle of the interstate. Eventually, the master of psychology threw the paper on the floor of the bus, opened the door, and kicked the crumpled copy of the Lantern on to the road. He then sat down, looked at the bus driver and said, "What are you waiting for? Let's go!"

Even though the game this Saturday is a matter of pride for the Buckeyes, the intensity level needs to be at a peak level. The Wolverines have been an improving team, and even with a rookie quarterback, have learned how to win in the fourth quarter.

The Buckeyes defense must do the obvious, pressure Chad Henne -- stop the running attack of Michael Hart, and keep the ball away from Braylon Edwards and Steve Breaston.

It's imperative that the OSU offense control the clock. The Buckeyes need long drives to wear out the Michigan defense and keep the ball away from the potent Wolverine offense.

Special teams may indeed be the key to victory. A big Mo Hall kick return or Ted Ginn punt return is just what the doctor ordered to break the back of the team up north. Nothing would be better than a 50-yard Mike Nugent field goal as time expires to send the Wolverines back to Ann Arbor licking their wounds – and possibly to Orlando instead of Pasadena.

For the Buckeyes to pull the biggest upset in the 2004 Big Ten season, they must play every quarter, every minute and every second with great effort and intensity. That's what the Ohio State-Michigan battle is all about and that's the way it should be.

Although there may be those who try to sell the name, The Game will remain as sacred as the stadium it will be played in Saturday.

Two Stickney may have taken it a little too far, but one thing's for sure, for 60 minutes this Saturday afternoon, the war continues. How sweet it is!!

The Memories: Good and Bad

Every year at this time, people ask me about my favorite Ohio State-Michigan games.

I think as a player there really was one that was special. That was the 1970 game. We won that game 20-9 in Columbus. We had been upset up there the year before. That game in 1970 put us back in the Rose Bowl against Stanford. That was really a special game.

They fumbled the opening kickoff and we recovered and, really, from that play on we pretty much controlled that game. The guy who caused the fumble was a walk-on named Rich Ferko.

While working for Earle Bruce, of course, for me the best game was his last game in 1987. That was because of the kids. Coach Bruce (and all of us, really) had been fired the week of the game.

We were outmanned in that game, but the kids played their hearts out and we won 23-20. Matt Frantz kicked the winning field goal after missing one that would have won it the year before. They had those headbands that said "Earle" on them. That was really neat for them to do that for the coach.

And, of course, the victory at home a couple of years ago was also really something. That game, which we won 14-9, sent us to the national championship game at the Fiesta Bowl.

Of the disappointments – and as you know, there were a few – the biggest was probably the 1995 game, which Michigan won 31-23.

We had the best team in college football, but we lost up there. That game right there was the most upsetting that I have ever been involved with. We were 11-0 and we just had better people. We had Eddie George, Bobby Hoying, Terry Glenn, Rickey Dudley, Orlando Pace, Shawn Springs, Mike Vrabel and so many other really good players.

We didn't play well in the first half. We just could not stop Tim Biakabutuka. That was probably the difference. He had over 300 yards against us. We made some adjustments at halftime to get them slowed down, but by then it was too late.

Whatever the stakes are, it doesn't matter. The Game is always a big game.

The Maurice Clarett Saga

I have sat back and watched what has been reported and said about the latest controversy involving Maurice Clarett.

From my viewpoint, I have heard of people digging their own grave. But he not only has dug his own grave, he's pulled dirt down on top of him. That has really hurt his cause.

The second thing, in terms of him playing professionally, is he has never been full healthy. Going back to his freshman year of high school, he has only made it through one full year – his senior year in high school – where he hasn't missed any significant amount of time due to injury.

I understand he showed up at the scouting combine last year and wasn't in shape. He hasn't played football in two years. Then, you count all of his other baggage.

I would use the word that I think Clarett is going to be a tragedy of athletics. He had the whole world in his hands and he threw it all away.

Regarding the NCAA and his allegations, I think there is probably very little truth to it. The NCAA will come in and do their investigation and they will do a thorough job. They will be thorough as the FBI would be with something like this. If there was anything going on, they'll get to the bottom of it.

I don't see any way Ohio State will be held responsible for any wrongdoing.

EDITOR'S NOTE -- Bill Conley spent 17 years on the Ohio State football staff, including the last 11 as the recruiting coordinator. Look for his columns on and he will also host Chat sessions. He will recap the Michigan game in his Chat scheduled for Monday at 3 p.m. Eastern time (check the home page Monday for access details). You can also listen to Coach Conley on WTVN-AM (610) each Sunday morning from 9 a.m. to noon.

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