OK, there's assuredly plenty going on inside the football program at the moment, though most of the work taking place by head coach Jim Tressel, his staff and his players is taking place away from the limelight.
But on this day, the 2,000th since Michigan last beat Ohio State in football – remember that unseasonably warm day in Ann Arbor in 2003? I'm sure many would rather forget – there is no game to be played. There will not be 100,000 fans streaming toward the banks of the Olentangy, not even the tens of thousands who would show up for a simple public practice.
May is a time for pro sports – baseball, basketball and hockey – as well as college baseball and others. The Ohio State campus alone will see the Buckeyes host a critical baseball game this evening and first-round games in the NCAA softball tournament.
But there's still plenty to celebrate for the football program on this major anniversary. To envision such a streak – keeping in mind that the Buckeyes had never won five in a row against Michigan before, a run that seemed nearly unthinkable throughout the history of the rivalry and especially so when John Cooper patrolled the sidelines – would have seemed impossible at the start for most Buckeye fans. Now, some fans on our Ask the Insiders premium message board are recounting the things to happen in their life, many of them major, since the last Buckeye loss at the hands of U-M.
Even when Jim Tressel arrived in Columbus, made the famed "310 days" speech and then delivered on his promise, such a dominating run against the rivals didn't seem likely. The joy felt when the Buckeyes upset Michigan in 2001 was a relief to those used to seeing the script play out in a completely 180-degree manner, but it seemed at the time to be an oasis in a desert from which the program was emerging slowly. It also led to one of the best front-page headlines in Buckeye Sports Bulletin, which proclaimed in large, black letters: "And On The 310th Day…"
The 2002 game was fun to be sure, although the fans in attendance might not have agreed as the Buckeyes stumbled through the first 45 minutes and then again during the final torturous seconds after Maurice Hall's game-winning touchdown ticked away. That Ohio State-Michigan game was the first I attended, and my main remembrance of the game is that the air in the stadium seemed to be so thick that it could have been cut by a knife. The eventual roar of emotions when Will Allen finally clutched John Navarre's final pass would be heard again a month and a half later in the Arizona desert, a fact that obscured Tressel's moving to 2-0 against the Wolverines.
He would not get to 3-0. Just as Ohio State started to emerge from its funk against the team up north, the Buckeyes laid an egg in the 100th Game, letting Chris Perry run wild with a likely second straight appearance in the national championship game on the line. A defense that had been dominating for two years straight suddenly couldn't get out of its own way. It seemed sort of like a Cooper game, in that the team's bread and butter, its strongest unit, was devoid of its usual power.
The intervening time before the 2004 game did not provide confidence. Michigan, behind a freshman duo of Chad Henne and Mike Hart, looked like the class of the Big Ten and one of the better teams in the country for the balance of that season; meanwhile, Ohio State sputtered to a 6-4 record through its first 10 games.
Confidence was not at an all-time high heading into the rivalry clash in Ohio Stadium. The Buckeyes lost the week before to Purdue; this very writer predicted in the student newspaper, The Lantern, that Michigan would ease to a win (a fact that Kirk Barton, a freshman starter on that team, would never let me forget).
Buckeye fans know the story by now. Troy Smith had what was at the time, as BSB proclaimed, "The Game Of His Life," running and throwing the Buckeyes past a shell-shocked U-M team by a 37-21 margin. This writer spent that day on the stadium camera deck and felt the building shake.
Since then, wins against the Wolverines have ranged from unlikely to easy while Tressel has improved to 7-1 overall. Ohio State needed two straight scores, the last in the final minute, to win 25-21 in Ann Arbor in 2005. Though the margin of victory in the titanic 1 vs. 2 game in 2006 was just three points at 42-39, the Buckeyes led by double digits throughout. In 2007, Michigan managed just 91 yards on the way to a 14-3 loss in Ann Arbor. Last year's 42-7 final against a trodden Wolverine squad was mostly a laugher.
Who knows what the future will hold, but the rivalry is likely to not continue down the same path. Ohio State might continue its winning streak for a few years – recruiting rankings would lead one to believe the Buckeyes have a good chance – but expecting a 58-0 final one of these years would be folly.
Remember, all it takes is something as innocuous as the famed Shawn Springs slip to turn the rivalry on its head again. A few plays here or there in each of the preceding five games could have turned things around. An unsung hero, like Andree Tyree in 2005 or Boom Herron in '08, will likely step up and lead a victory for the Maize and Blue one of these days. Michigan will have its day.
So I hope the Buckeye fans who say that beating Michigan has lost some of its prestige will see it differently over the next couple of years, especially as the games in the series tighten up. One only has to look back to the Cooper years to know just how painful losing can be, even if it takes another 2,000 days or more to experience it again.
And just for fun, here are some choice quotes from the past few contests.
2004: "I didn't realize what the rivalry was about and is about until you get a ‘W,' until you're in it, until you're in the fight. My hat's off to Michigan, but today is Ohio State's day." – Troy Smith
2005: "(The win) meant everything in the world. In that locker room, there were many guys that were shedding tears because this is our last regular-season Big Ten game. To go out this way, I couldn't ask for anything more." – Andree Tyree
2006: "Without a doubt it was the most amazing game I've ever seen and been a part of. Being able to play my last game here at Ohio Stadium and leaving beating Michigan is something I'll never forget in my whole life. It's the biggest win I've ever been a part of." – Jay Richardson
2007: "I would say I feel bad, but I don't. It's great for us to win four years in a row. They probably don't feel too good about it, but it's great for us to be able to look and say we got four gold pants in a row. Hopefully we can continue this streak." – Malcolm Jenkins
2008: "I don't think we really realize it now, but I think as we get older, we'll look back on our career and stuff and realize to be a part of the first team to win five times in a row is something that is very special." – James Laurinaitis