The 2018 edition of The Game was back in Columbus, a place Ohio State hadn’t lost to That Team Up North since 2000. As Ohio State had won six in a row and 13 out of the last 14, the tide of the rivalry had swung in favor of the Buckeyes. But this year seemed to be different. Michigan lost its first game of the season to Notre Dame, which was a great day as any day Michigan loses is a great day. The problem with Michigan entering Rivalry Week was that the team hadn’t lost since that first game. And I’ll admit that they looked better and better each week, and Michigan’s defense came into The Game ranked first in overall defense. The Wolverines’ running attack was strong, and the team’s quarterback made smart decisions and was ruthlessly efficient. They didn’t have a lot of close games, only the loss to the Irish, and closer-than-wanted, yet still double-digit victory over Indiana and maybe one other team. Through its consistency, Michigan was ranked fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings, the last spot to get into the four-team bracket to play for the national championship. If Michigan could beat the Buckeyes in Columbus, and not miss a step against Northwestern which had already secured its spot in the Big Ten Championship as the Big Ten West Division champions, it certainly would go to the playoff and give some other teams a run for their money.
Talk in the immediate week before The Game referred to Michigan Coach Jim Harbaugh’s comments when he was the school’s quarterback against Ohio State in 1986: “I guarantee you we will beat Ohio State.” Every reporter asked him if he would make the same call this week. “I don’t even remember why I said that. We’re just focused on this week,” he said, showing an increased maturity as a coach.
Ohio State, on the other hand, while having the same record as Michigan, 10-1, was much more inconsistent as the season went on. After starting off with a bang against Oregon State, in which the Buckeyes dropped 77 points, and some similar poundings of Tulane, TCU, and others, the Buckeyes seemed on a roll and were ranked as one of the top teams in the country. As it got into Big Ten play, they shook a little bit more, including a comeback win against Penn State, with QB Dwayne Haskins evoking some JT Barrett-esque moments as JT had done the year before in State College.
After getting through a few more games, the Buckeyes rolled into Ross-Ade stadium to play Purdue for a night game. Been there, done that, I thought, remembering the time in 2004 when Joe, Jason, Andrew, and I went to Purdue to cheer on our Buckeyes. The problem with that game was that Ohio State lost, mainly due to three turnovers inside Purdue’s 10-yard line.
I didn’t get to watch this year’s game against Purdue, as I was working a casino event in Roanoke. That said, I grabbed some video of the event when I could, before the event I was working started. The Buckeyes didn’t start great, but it was a long game, and I’d seen that, for the most part in 2018, they were a second-half team. As attendees of the gala came to my table to play craps, I asked for an update of the score if anyone felt like passing it along.
“Who are you cheering for?” one asked me.
“Well I’m a graduate of Ohio State, so…”
“Oh, you’re not going to like what’s going on.”
Ohio State was losing, but they were holding on. As the game went on and the night went on, both the team and I lost hope. More mistakes, more turnovers, and more points by Purdue. It was a terrible game for Ohio State, one in which the Buckeyes lost to unranked Purdue 49-20. As my dad would say about comparing Ohio State to Alabama, “Nick Saban and Alabama are never going to lose to an unranked team by 30 points,” he said, referring to a 2017 Ohio State loss to Iowa, but a lesson that was relevant once again after the Purdue pummeling.
Rebounding from the game, Ohio State’s defense perked up and limited Michigan State to six points in an ugly, back-and-forth defensive battle. The next week, Ohio State was coming to play at Maryland. Of course, Ohio State was favored to win big, as Maryland was a mediocre team looking for an identity following the dismissal of its head coach (and former Michigan defensive coordinator) after a Maryland football player died of heat stroke at a Maryland practice in August.
Despite the favoritism, you have to play the game.
On Maryland’s first drive, Ohio State allowed a 70-yard run for a touchdown. On the ensuing kickoff, Ohio State’s returner let the ball drop around the 25-yard line which Maryland recovered. Ohio State forced a turnover on the next play, but only ended up with a field goal on the drive. Yes, Ohio State was losing to Maryland. It seemed that neither team was interested in playing defense, as both teams amassed more than 1,200 combined yards. Ohio State ended up winning in overtime, after Maryland tried a two-point conversion and failed.
“We’re just happy to get out of there with a win,” Meyer said after the game. And us Ohio State fans, we were, too. A win was a win, and it was on to Columbus for the 2018 version of The Game. It would be my 15th in a row.
This year in Columbus, the usual crew would be in attendance. I would be sitting with Joe, as I had acquired our tickets through the OSU Alumni Association in June, and he planned to arrive on Friday night, much better than the game in 2016 when he decided to show up less than an hour before kickoff. Even better, he decided to stay through Sunday morning. Nate and Amanda were coming Friday night, as well, and Andrew’s friend Joe Martin, a fellow doctor from Youngstown who would be sitting with him.
Andrew, as usual, had booked our hotel rooms a year in advance at the Drury Inn, a good-enough and moderately priced hotel downtown in Columbus. They offered free drinks in the afternoon, a hot breakfast, and fresh popcorn most hours of the day.
The biggest difference this year, as I would come to find out, was what we would do before the game.
“So, I got us a tailgate for the game,” Andrew said to me the night before Thanksgiving. “It was a thousand dollars, but I think it’s worth it.”
“What? Seriously??? A thousand dollars? Dude, that’s a lot, but that’s awesome. I just can’t believe you spent that much on it. Just let me know how much I can give you and I’ll pass it on to the others.”
“Yeah, and I got catering from Raising Cane’s, too,” Andrew said. “150 chicken tenders for about 20 of us. We just have to bring our own beer.”
The tailgate was a genius idea. It gave us a place to park, a place to set up in close proximity to the stadium before the game, and protection from the weather. A rain storm was scheduled to hit Columbus overnight and not dry out until the early afternoon, so staying as dry as possible for as long as possible was key. The likelihood of us watching a game in the rain was about 60 percent, similar to the game in 2007. To protect myself against the elements, I brought a whole bunch of rain gear: a Gore-Tex jacket, rain pants, and waterproof shoe coverings. I would be set. At least, as much as I could be.
My flight to Columbus on Friday department Baltimore at 11:40, as was becoming more and more of a DC snob, I decided to forego driving and use public transportation and take a train from Union Station to the airport. The problem was that, when I showed up, I found out that the commuter train line was running a holiday schedule and the next train wouldn’t get me to Baltimore in time for my flight. Instead of an $8 commuter train, I had to spend $32 dollars on an Amtrak train. Such is life…
The airport’s terminal was filled with Ohio State fans, except a lone Michigan fan and his daughter, both of whom seemed to have arrogant look, as if they would assume their team would win.
But it’s why you had to play the game…
Buckeye fans were everywhere, and even the pilot of our Southwest aircraft gave a hearty “Go Bucks” at the end of his welcome message to everyone on the plane.
Following an uneventful flight, Andrew picked me up and we went to our usual spot for a Friday meal, B.D.’s Mongolian Grill, for a late lunch. After a nap and watching some football Friday afternoon, Nate and Amanda arrived and met me in the lobby for a few free drinks. After catching up with them, Joe Morgan arrived, followed shortly after by Joe Nunez. Joe Morgan and Andrew went to Gordon Biersch while Joe Nunez and I went to Jimmy John’s for a small dinner. Having not seen him since Christmas of 2017, we were able to talk and catch up, talk about our families, our jobs, some random life plans, and, of course, The Game. Back in the hotel room, we watched a blizzard of a football game between UW and WSU until we fell asleep around 11.
In the morning, we woke around 7 a.m., and both took turns taking showers before meeting the group at 7:30 a.m. I bring up showering because it was new for us. I can’t remember a previous Ohio State-Michigan game that both Joe and I showered before The Game. Perhaps after, when we’re tired and somewhat gross from the day, but never before. So, this time, we changed it up. I hadn’t taken a shower on Friday, so I was due.
“Bad luck?” I asked. “We’ve never done this before.”
Joe shrugged. “I’m too old not to shower.”
As the weather was still pretty garbage in the morning, I had planned for the worst and decided to don the worst. Every year I got older, I got colder more easily and stayed colder for longer if I got to that point. Today, I would not suffer that fate. I put on my signature Michigan Sucks t-shirt, which I had worn every year since 2005, done in the logo of Miller Lite, leg tights, and jogger running pants, which were incredibly warm. Then I put on my Ohio State sweatshirt that Andrew bought for me for a Christmas present two years ago, and my Ohio State game-worn Jersey on top of that. Then I put on my winter coat from The North Face and then my Gore-Tex rain jacket. I had on two pairs of socks and my regular shoes, but I also brought with me thick rain pants and water proof shoe covers. I put on my two buckeye necklaces and my Washington Nationals hat, put my gloves in my pocket, and I was finally ready to go. Nothing about me was going to be cold or wet.
At 7:45, we hopped in the car and drove to a CVS to buy extra beer for our tailgate, then we drove through the campus on Woody Hayes Drive, past Ohio Stadium, a sight I had not seen in two years since the last game against Michigan in 2016. That was a glorious day… a double-overtime victory, 30-27.
Our tailgate reservation got us a parking spot in a special lot, which a short walk to our tent. By this time, the rain had subsided significantly, so I decided to leave the rain pants and shoe covers in the car. I’ll be fine, I thought. As I walked onto the tailgate field, I immediately regretted the decision to leave my stuff in the car. My first few steps onto the grassy field sunk into the turf and I immediately noticed the bottoms of my feet getting wet. Dammit.
As my wife always says, “there’s nothing worse than wet feet and a wet ass.” My ass would be fine, but my feet were already wet. And once they were wet, they weren’t going to dry anytime soon. As soon as we got to the tailgate, we were immediately impressed. About 20 feet long and 10 feet wide, we had 200 square feet of tent space, covered, with protective wind blockers, all to ourselves. And anything we needed, it was provided. Coolers? No problem. Extra ice? Sure thing. Catered chicken tenders? No problem. Bring 150 of them with sauce and heating trays! Clean up? Not us, that was included, too. As the minutes ticked by, more and more people showed up and we broke into games of beer pong, reminiscing of old Ohio State-Michigan games, and eating.
After an early morning Miller Lite, Joe, Nate, and Amanda headed to the stadium around 11. I left about 20 minutes later, walking over with a woman who worked in Joe Martin’s office as a nurse and her daughter. They weren’t sure where to go, but they were only one section over from me, so we walked together. After a 10-minute or so wait in line to get in, I presented my ticket to the person at the game and I heard the sound I always hoped would I hear. “Ba-dink!” I was good to go for the 15th time in a row, my 16th Ohio State-Michigan game overall. The stairs to the upper deck, where I was sitting, were right in front of me. I still had about 20 minutes before the game would start, so it was alright, despite the slow pace of people climbing the stairs. As I turned into the my section, 12C, I presented my ticket to the usher—they were a bit anal at Ohio Stadium about that—and walked the 32 rows up to our seats. I found Joe a few seats in. 12C, Row 32, Seats 5 and 6. We had made it again.
In our section, we were surrounded by Ohio State fans, but we were closer than we would have wanted to the Michigan dedicated fan section in the corner of the upper deck. I didn’t like being so close to the enemy, but that’s how it worked sometimes. At least we were inside the stadium.
Before the game started, Joe and I talked about our predictions. “I don’t know, man, this game seems different,” he said. “It’s like I’m not nervous.”
“Me neither, but that’s probably because we accepted the probable outcome of the game, a Michigan victory,” I responded. Ohio State’s defense was porous, and while its offense was potent, we didn’t think it could overcome a scUM defense that was number one in the country.
“Listen,” Joe said. “If Ohio State keeps it close, I think they’ll win. If they get down by two scores, I don’t think they have a shot.”
“It’s why they have to play the game right?”
Ohio State won the toss and deferred its choice to the second half and kicked off to Michigan. After a surprising three-and-out by the Michigan offense, the Buckeyes marched down the field and scored a touchdown. 7-0. The guy next to me, who was there with his wife, started screaming at the top of his lungs. He sounded like a madman and had a crazed look in his eyes. Joe and I had been that crazy at one point, I thought. Joe and I cheered and pulled out the Upside Down Michigan Flag, always a surprise to many Buckeye fans, until they realize we’re holding it upside down, a sign of defiance of our sworn enemy. In response to the touchdown, Michigan drove down the field, but the Buckeye defense stopped them short of the goal line, forcing a field goal. An Ohio State punt, another Michigan field goal, and another put by each team brought us into the second quarter. But, then, to our surprise, the Buckeyes drove 80 yards in nine plays over three minutes and scored a touchdown, forced another Michigan punt, and then scored another touchdown! Ohio State was up 21-6 over That Team Up North! It was incredible! The number one defense in the country was on its heels, reeling from a combined rushing and passing attack that was picking apart its defenders. We thought the game could get out of control, especially as the second quarter was coming to a close.
We may have spoken too soon. On Michigan’s ensuing possession, the offense matched a touchdown with an eight-play, 79-yard drive of its own, ending in a touchdown. On the kickoff, the Ohio State returner fumbled the fair catch and the ball was recovered by Michigan. One play later, Michigan scored another touchdown. After a missed two-point conversion, Michigan had scored 13 points in less than six seconds.
The strange part was that, while that was extremely disappointing, neither Joe nor I were concerned. One touchdown was fine. scUM was going to score, and the other touchdown was an accident. Overall, Ohio State was controlling both sides of the ball. The fans around us agreed. “Ya got lucky Michigan! Ya got lucky!” one guy in our section screamed. With 41 seconds to go in the first half, Dwayne Haskins somehow drove the Buckeye offense down the field and the field goal team put three points on the board before the end of the half. With 30 minutes to go, Ohio State was up 24-19.
Around that time, I noticed what looked like familiar faces a few rows in front of me.
“Dude, I think that’s the Porters,” I said to Joe. They looked so familiar. “DOUG! HEY DOUG! DOUUUGGGG!!!!” No response. I tried again. “HEY SEAN! SEAAAANNNN!!!” Nothing. “Let me just go and see these fools,” I said to Joe, as I walked past him to get to the aisle on the left side of our row. Six rows in front of us, were three faces I hadn’t seen in a year or two. Doug, Sean, and Jeff Porter, the latter two of whom I used to babysit when I was in middle and high school. Sean was almost 30 and Jeff was in his mid-20s. Shows how old I was… Strangely, it seemed that I ran into them at many Ohio State games, whether it be at the Maryland game or the Ohio State-Navy game a few years back. It seemed like it wasn’t a coincidence that out of the 100,000+ fans in the stadium, they would sit six rows in front of me. The Porters also knew Joe’s family, as Jeff and Joe’s brother Pat played football together. We talked for a while and caught up on things.
“Hey, I’m reading your book,” Doug said. It was really humbling to hear that. “How’s your family? I heard you got married!”
“Enough about me. What’s up with you guys? How’s Karen? Sean, your girlfriend just moved in? Uh oh, I hear wedding bells.”
As I was talking with them, I realized, this is what The Game was all about in the end. A Buckeye victory over the maize and blue was critical, of course, but it was about coming together and sharing an experience with those close to you. That was the only thing that mattered in the end. We shared some high fives and hugs before I went back to my seat and rejoined Joe.
In the third quarter, Ohio State exploded on both sides of the ball. After a punt by each team, Ohio State kicked a field goal to go up eight points, 27-19. On the next possession, the Buckeyes forced a punt, and a defender came right up the middle and got a hand on the ball as the punter kicked it! The ball was caught mid-air by Sevyn Banks who returned it to the endzone for the touchdown! The place went bonkers. We were all jumping up and down and hugging each other. High-fives were passed around aplenty. After the extra point, the Bucks were up 34-19. This was a good place to be as there was only 4:41 left in the third quarter and our boys were up 15 points with no sign of letting up.
The next possession by Michgan was just as sweet as the blocked punt. A two-yard loss on first down and an incomplete pass on second down forced a long pass on third down. INTERCEPTED by Jordan Fuller! Ohio State had the ball on Michigan’s 22-yard-line. Two plays later, BUCKEYE TOUCHDOWN! 41-19! And it was still the third quarter!
“Man, I want it.” Joe knew what I was talking about as he gave me a first bump, a smirk, and a slow head nod.
We both wanted 50 points, a feat not accomplished by either team since 1968, when Ohio State beat Michigan 50-14. 50 years ago. 50 points. It seemed fitting. And with the fourth quarter still to go, it seemed within reach. Michigan responded on its next drive with a touchdown of its own, closing the lead to 16 points, making the score 41-25.
I turned to Joe during the commercial break. “You know what I could go for right now? Some sort of explosive play, but burn some clock, get some more points, and kick Michigan while they’re down.” He agreed. After the kickoff, Haskins took to the field at the Ohio State 22-yard line. Parris Campbell, the star senior wide receiver, came in motion from the left to the right side of the formation. Just before he crossed behind the center, Haskins snapped the ball and “pop-passed” it to Campbell who tore around the right side of the line. Pursued by Michigan cornerback Martellus, they were close to one another…initially. But an interesting quip we later found on Twitter…
“Parris Campbell is like Ted Ginn. If he’s even, he’s leavin!” And that was true. Campbell turned up the sideline just about even with Martellus. But he hit the afterburner and started to gain separation from Martellus who had no hope of catching the speedy receiver. “If he’s even, he’s leavin!” One play. 78 yards. Another touchdown. 48-21. Up 27 points on the enemy. And it’s barely the fourth quarter!
“We want fifty!!!”
Michigan responded with a touchdown, and so did the Buckeyes. They just couldn’t be stopped. The score made it 55-21. A Michigan interception, and another Ohio State touchdown made it 62! And as the Buckeyes drove down the field at the end of the game, we wanted 70, but Urban Meyer wouldn’t do it. With a minute left, he decided to kneel out the game.
“Oh, come on, Urban!” I shouted. “You know Woody wouldn’t kneel it out against this team and neither should you! You know they wouldn’t kneel it on us!” Only a few yards away from the endzone, Haskins kneeled it out and ended the game.
Ohio State 62 – Michigan 39
It was the most combined points in the history of the rivalry. But more importantly, Ohio State scored 62 points, the most by either team in the rivalry since Michigan’s rugby-life victory over Ohio State 88-0 in 19-oh-something, when football really didn’t exist. 62 points was the most points Michigan had let in a game in regulation…ever…to any team. 62 points was the most points giving up by any Harbaugh-coached team. Ever. 62 points was the most points given up by Don Lemon, Michigan’s defensive coordinator. Ever.
Above all, it was seven wins in a row, for the second time in the 21st century. 2004-2010 and 2012-2018. And I had been to all of those games. Ohio State had won 14 out of the last 15 games. Harbaugh was now 0-4 against Ohio State. No Michigan coach had ever done that. Michigan’s “Revenge Tour 2018” had officially been cancelled.” As the game ended, and the adrenaline subsided, Joe and I did what we normally did. We sat in our seats and watched the fans leave and the students celebrate on the field.
We sat there for a while, collected some cups, and watched the students celebrate. The sun had peeked through the clouds in the late afternoon day, shining some rays of light on the stadium. Nate and Amanda came and joined us, basking in the glow…and the victory. After a quick stop at the tailgate, we walked through campus, and Joe looked at where our old dorm, Nosker House, used to be. It was no longer a four-story building. It was nine stories, with tons of windows, and beautiful updated architecture. “Not what we had. These kids have it great.” The whole campus was continuing to change. It was barely recognizable.”
“All this was renovated after we graduated,” Andrew said. “I’ve never been in the new chemical engineering building, but I’m donating to pay for it, I guess.” Even the east side of High Street had changed. New apartment buildings and fancy, fast casual eateries lined the streets. All the old dive bars we used to love had become dance clubs, no matter how large or small they were. Entire blocks had been demolished and were awaiting redevelopment. Joe and I stopped by the Barnes and Noble bookstore to pick up some more goods, before grabbing food at a Thai restaurant in the Short North district on our way back to the hotel. Andrew joined us there. We talked about the game, the day, the teams, the streak, and the absolute shellacking that Michigan took…again. We were all tired, so we headed back to our hotel shortly after we finished.
“Yeah, let’s get back. My feet have been wet for 12 hours.”
Obviously, the first thing I did when we got back was take off my socks. They were damp, and so were my feet. I didn’t even need to ask what the smell was…the aroma was horrid. It was my feet. “Ugh, I gotta take care of this,” I told Joe. I immediately went to the shower and washed my feet with soap and hot water. Thankfully, that got the smell away. “Gross,” I told him. “But worth it for that 62 points.”
“62 points,” I said as I turned the light off.
“62 points,” Joe responded.
Joe left around 6:15 the next morning to beat an incoming storm to the Chicago area. As my flight wasn’t until the evening, Andrew and I headed to the German Village of Columbus, a place I hadn’t really been before, for lunch at a local establishment, to walk around, check out a famous 32-room bookstore, and see a friend of his who lived around the corner. Afterwards, Andrew dropped me off at the Easton mall, which was close to the airport, at around 4:30 before heading home. I enjoyed a hot chocolate from Starbucks as I typed out this story.
It was a great weekend and was exactly what this weekend had come to mean. An Ohio State victory. Friends, tradition, memories, and experiences.
Until next year…
…and hopefully 62 more points.