Four days prior to the annual Ohio State-Michigan game, HBO Sports will air a documentary on the rivalry. Titled "Michigan Vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry," the hour-long presentation traces the history of the rivalry back to a dispute between states over land to last season's epic showdown.
And if the first screening was any indication, it will be an absolute hit with fans of the respective schools. Shown on the campus of the Ohio State University in the Mershon Auditorium, a crowd mixed with former players and former coach Earle Bruce often cheered – and occasionally booed – the film.
With footage interspersed with interviews from everyone from former players to fans to simple alumni of the respective schools, the documentary aims to paint a fair and balanced look at the rivalry between the two schools. At the screening, producer George Roy could not help but notice that signs hanging at the Mershon were advertising it under the title "Ohio State Vs. Michigan: The Rivalry."
"This is the first time that I can remember that a host city formally changed the name of one of our films," he said.
The debate over how to title the documentary – it was decided Michigan would be listed first because it was ahead of Ohio alphabetically – underscores the point made by the documentary itself: that the annual showdown takes on more importance than a simple football game to those in the surrounding areas.
The film portrays fans of the two rivalries as coming from different walks of life yet joined by a common bond – football. Michigan fans are elitist, arrogant fans who absolutely believe they are better than everyone else, while Ohio State fans are scrappy underdogs full of passion.
Although it goes in depth on the entire history of the rivalry, the undoubted focus of the film is the storied 10-year war waged between OSU head coach Woody Hayes and his former protégé, Bo Schembechler. Former players such as Archie Griffin, Tom Skladany and others weigh in on the battles waged between the two coaches.
Everyone, it seems, has a Woody story.
"In '73, we were practicing at the stadium and Woody stopped practice and he had the coaches go and put policemen at Lincoln and Morrill Towers because he thought Bo was up there spying on practice," Skladany said prior to the screening. "About 20 minutes later we looked up there, and to this day I don't know if it was a ploy to get us fired up, but we saw cops on Lincoln and Morrill Towers during our practice."
On the other side of the coin, former Wolverines trade stories about Schembechler. The former OSU assistant was filmed for the documentary one day prior to his passing on the day before last season's game between the two rivalries, and his perspective comes across as touching, genuine and, at times, haunting.
At one point, Schembechler discusses his relationship with Hayes and footage is seen of Hayes speaking on behalf of his former nemesis just a few months before his own passing. The symbolism of the two enemies embracing each other sums up the mutual respect shared for the participants, former OSU quarterback Craig Krenzel said.
"I think the biggest thing they are going to show is the respect, the mutual respect both schools, both programs have for each other," he said before the screening. "And deep down, even though they won't admit it, the fans as well."
The documentary points to the 50-14 OSU victory over Michigan in 1968 as perhaps the turning point for Hayes and the Buckeyes. When the decision to go for a two-point conversion to set the final score was shown, fans in Columbus responded by loudly applauding. But from there, the rivalry was taken to another level, beginning with Michigan's stunning 24-12 victory the following season.
But for every positive section on the Buckeyes, a similar section is aired showing the Wolverines. It is as if the producers had a chalkboard, tallying up the references to both sides in an effort to keep it as balanced as possible. However, lots of footage was taken during last season's game between the schools, giving those shots a decidedly scarlet-colored tint.
For fans of the two schools, the documentary does a solid job of rehashing the greatest stories of the rivalry but provides little in the way of new content. Rather, it almost seems like the viewer has sat down to trade stories with friends – in this case, a near-packed auditorium of fans who applauded when current head coach Jim Tressel appeared on screen and serenaded the place with cheers of "OH!" and "IO!"
But for those who have not grown up passionately following the exploits of the Big Ten's top two schools, it provides a great background into what makes the two schools tick. Game footage is combined with interviews and music from the two respective marching bands, almost making it like watching an actual game.
Sentimental from start to finish, the documentary does not always follow a chronological timeline. This detracts from the overall presentation on just one occasion – the 10-year war section is awkwardly segmented into two parts that are not viewed sequentially, forcing a few awkward transitions into different parts of the rivalries.
However, that is not enough to prevent the viewer from leaving the documentary feeling both well-versed in the rivalry and eager for the next installment of the game.
"Michigan Vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry" will air on HBO on Nov. 13 at 10:30 p.m. and will be rebroadcast several times during the following weeks.