I'm wearing an Ohio State sweatshirt today, and if you know me you know that's a bit of an anomaly.
Having spent the better part of my first decade growing up in Michigan I naturally grew up a fan of the Michigan Wolverines or as the great Bob Ufer would say the Meeechigan Wolverines! I say naturally because it would be considered fairly unnatural to grow up rooting for Michigan State. Just kidding Juice. ;-)
In all seriousness though, the UM vs. MSU rivalry was the one that was emphasized most in my house when we lived in Michigan. This is not to say we weren't cognizant of the OSU rivalry, it just wasn't as upfront and personal for us.
Then we moved to Lima, Ohio. Suddenly, not only was the rivalry personal it was a whole lot more heated. Picking a Michigan and / or Michigan State team in Michigan seemed like Potayto / Potahto compared to picking a Michigan team in Ohio.
I understand this now, but back then I remember both my Dad and I being more than a little bewildered. It seemed my whole classroom wanted to alternately beat me and / or entice me into betting on the game so they could mock me if I lost. I remember many Sunday evenings scraping together pennies so I could pay off those debts.
Ah, would that pennies to pay off debts would be enough these days. Sigh!
Oh, sorry - back to our tale.
My family and I toughened up, stood our ground and supported our team through thick and thin. As I grew up, the heated rivalry could still be heated for us, but gradually grew into just friendly banter among friends even when we moved to Columbus.
My Mother did take her life into her own hands one evening while attending OSU. Wearing a Michigan snow cap to keep herself warm as she walked across campus she was confronted by an angry student. Fortunately, she held her ground and the student relented.
I met and married my wonderful wife Annette, herself an OSU grad, who let my U of M short comings fall by the wayside and decided I was okay after all.
We attended THE GAME in 1994 heretofore my first and only live OSU vs. UM game. We were each clad in gear supporting our teams, and the fans in the stadium were all great sports, (save one drunk who was quickly guided away by more good sports) and we had a great time. Of course OSU won that game, probably the greatest win of John Cooper's career so everyone was in a great mood. Oddly enough, even I was in a pretty good mood.
In 1995, for a number of reasons I decided to return to school and finally get my college degree. Unfortunately, I faced a bit of a quandry. While I have a great deal of respect for colleges like Columbus State, Franklin University, Ohio Dominican, Capital et al. I wanted to get my degree from a "big school." I had grown up dreaming of going to Michigan, made three campus visits to Notre Dame, seriously considered going to Penn State and finally ended up at OSU the first time around because it was the simplest thing to do. This time I chose to go to Ohio State.
I reasoned that it was okay to attend college at "my team's" top rival university since it was my only big school option. I had begun to root for the Buckeyes when they weren't playing Michigan in football, and especially when they were playing Michigan in basketball. (Fab Five - best team money can buy eh?) So, it would be all good right?
I saw Archie Griffin on campus, and ran after him like a little boy asking for his autograph - on my notebook.
I also pulled a stunt not unlike my mother, forgetting one day that I had worn a Michigan windbreaker to work and deciding to wear it to class and take the heat rather than leave it in my car where it would surely be stolen or damaged, or worse yet my car might be damaged. Strangely enough, I enjoyed a number of friendly exchanges with students who chided me about Michigan's loss that year to Northwestern. It was all good, I thought.
Then the Buckeyes took an undefeated record into Michigan Stadium riding high off a one game winning streak in THE GAME. Of course the Bucks promptly made Tshimanga "Tim" Biakabutuka a first round draft pick on their way to being upset by the Wolverines.
The mood on campus was never the same again. Needless to say, I didn't forget and wear the wrong jacket anymore.
Instead I continued on toward my degree, graduating in March of 2001. At this time a friend gave me a book he said was required reading for all true Buckeyes. 101 reasons to hate Michigan or some such thing. So, I read it. It was funny. Ha Ha...
What the friend didn't know was that after that Buckeye loss in 1995, and the resulting angst of their loyal fans I had seriously begun to question my allegiance to the Wolverines.
While Buckeyes and their fans were up in arms about the loss to the Maize and Blue, the Michigan team and fans did not seem to feel the same degree of urgency to win them all.
I have all the respect in the world for the legend that is Bo Schembechler. Still it had always eaten at me that his teams, and then Gary Moeller's teams, and especially Lloyd Carr's teams again and again lost games that they should have won, classically underachieving for their talent level. I understand that losing happens, but mediocrity seemed to be the rule rather than the exception, particularly under the last of the "Michigan Men," as it were.
I know, I know - Lloyd Carr won a National Championship in 1997. I have the commemorative hat on a shelf above my desk, but what many don't know is that on the evening of that victory I opened a bottle of champagne, poured a glass for my father and myself, took a celebratory drink, and put down my glass with this immediate thought - "Because of this championship we will be stuck with this man until the day he decides to retire." I was not happy.
But I remained a Michigan fan.
In 1998 the Wolverines lost their first two games. Still I remained a Michigan fan.
Lloyd Carr made a mockery of the college careers of both Tom Brady and Drew Henson.
I remained a Michigan fan.
2000 3 losses, 2001 4 losses, 2002 3 losses including a loss to the Buckeyes sending them to the National Championship game.
This was a culmination of a season that had seen me watch the Buckeyes with so many close friends each and every week. Heck, I knew the Buckeye roster better than Michigan's.
I celebrated the Buckeyes' success with my friends, and rooted hard for them in the National Championship game against Miami. I cried in victory when they won.
I remained a Michigan fan.
I had actually heard after that year's GAME that many respected me for continuing to root for my childhood team, and sticking to my guns, showing up at a party of hundreds with the only Wolverine jersey in the bunch. Oh, if they could have known how conflicted my heart was becoming.
2003 I attend my first game in Michigan Stadium. The Wolverines win an important game against Purdue and I am seemingly the only person in the Stadium who cheers the victory. Seriously, 111,349 in attendance and I felt like the only one celebrating. Michigan also wins the GAME - I couldn't celebrate. I felt sorry for my heartbroken friends.
But I remained a Michigan fan.
2004 3 losses dropping games to Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Texas, the last being one of the best college football games I have ever seen.
I remained a Michigan fan.
Of course 2004 also marked the beginning of the college career of one Mike Hart. More on this later.
2005 - 5 losses, 2006 2 losses - the last two games of the season. Could a heart take much more?
Or would that be a Hart? I don't believe Mike Hart has any heart. I don't believe he is a leader. I don't believe he is a player who cares. (I also don't generally attack the character of college athletes unless they run their mouths and open themselves to scrutiny.)
2007 - Appalachian State - Need I say more? Mike Hart by all accounts did not play the better part of the 2nd and 3rd quarters because he was "dinged up." When he finally did play and score a touchdown to put his team back in the hunt, he promptly jogged to the sideline rather than stay out for the two point conversion. A leader? After the game he said his head was held high, better in the first game, than the second, blah, blah, blah....
Coach Carr - why are you letting players talk after that game? Why are you...?
You know what?!? Never mind. I'm done.
No longer a Michigan fan.
Tucked away in closets, I have my windbreaker, a jersey, a hat or two. Tucked away in my heart I have the memories from my childhood.
I wish Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines nothing but the best - but my heart won't be yours to break, my pride won't be on the line for your program every weekend I live in Columbus.
To date, RR I've seen nothing to warrant my return.
Besides I am now a proud Buckeye. I've lived in Ohio longer. I graduated from The Ohio State University. I have nothing but respect for Jim Tressel, the man he is, the young men he molds, and the emphasis on excellence he places in every aspect of his work, and in the goals and pursuits of his teams.
Tomorrow, I will be attending a party with my friends, proudly wearing the same Buckeye garb as they do.
I can't pretend to harbor the same hatred for the team up North that some may have.
But, I will not continue to be disappointed by a team that seemingly cannot understand one basic concept.
In life and on the field, we all have our struggles, we all have our successes, we all have our highs and lows. It's what we do with them that really counts.
Will we strive for perfection or will we forget what the Michigan program does not seem to get?
Mediocrity is not acceptable.
12 hours ago