The 2019 Ohio State-Michigan Game: Is There a Mercy Rule?

On November 30th, I continued my annual tradition of attending the Ohio State-Michigan football game, my 16th in a row and 17th overall. This year, as it is in every odd-numbered year, the game was in Ann Arbor, which meant our annual retreat to the Red Roof Inn next to the interstate. I used my United Airlines miles to book a flight from DC to Detroit, but thanks to the game being on Thanksgiving weekend, a return flight on Sunday cost me all the remaining miles I had.

After a fantastic Thanksgiving with my wife’s sister’s family, I took the bus to Dulles Airport and flew to Detroit, biding my time in a private USO-style lounge that welcomed all veterans (not just active military and retirees like USO lounges). They had sandwiches, snacks, and drinks…and wi-fi! So I plugged away on my computer and did some work for my new company, E38 Academy.

After about an hour and a half, Andrew picked me up and we made the 30-or-so minute drive from the airport to Ann Arbor. A quick nap later, Joe and the others arrived and we had a less-than-exciting dinner at the Outback Steakhouse before I passed out, not due to alcohol consumption but strictly due to my sleep deprivation thanks to my infant daughter.

The next day was game day, and we did it like we usually did. We woke up around 8 a.m., and Andrew and his doctor buddies went to Burger King for breakfast. While they were noshing on sausage breakfast sandwiches, I decided to do something I had never done the morning of The Game…I took a shower. I usually waited until after the game, but decided that I would rather be clean if I’m going to stand outside and possibly sweat with the amount of clothing I was going to wear.

Then Joe and I got dressed. I put on a set of tight thermal leggings and a pair of cold weather joggers, as well as thick wool socks which cost me an arm and a leg from Orvis. Then I put on a thermal long-sleeve insulated top, another insulated golf pull over, my traditional Michigan Sucks t-shirt (done in the logo of Miller Lite), my Ohio State football jersey, my North Face down jacket, gloves, and knit hat. I figured that would be warm enough.

Normally, we would have walked the two miles from our hotel to a Michigan tailgate, where we’ve been invited the past few visits by a friend who happens to be a UM alumna. Unfortunately, heavy rains and warmer-than-normal temperatures prevent the tailgates from happening because the golf course where the tailgates were set up was flooded and the ground hadn’t permafrosted yet.

This year, we decided to institute another new idea to the mix: our own tailgate. A company called The Tailgate Guys (or something like that) offered tailgate packages close to the stadium and provided a variety of a la carte amenities. We chose a tent with chairs, skipping the television and the heater. We ordered catering as breakfast.

We arrived around 8:30 and would be there for about three hours until the game started. And that was the time I realized how cold it was. It was freezing, even with all of my layers. Luckily, one of Andrew’s friends had hand warmers and passed them around. But it was still too cold for me. I guess I was just getting older and couldn’t take standing outside in below freezing temperatures.

In Norway, there is a saying, “It’s not cold, you just haven’t dressed warm enough.” I tried, but I guess I failed. A few hours later, around 11:15, our group split up and made our way to the stadium.

Joe found us seats in our usual section 15, about 30 rows up from the field. It was a great location: close to the Ohio State visiting fan section, close to the field, and most importantly in eyesight of the television cameras.

Shortly after noon, the game commenced. I won’t bore you with how the game turned out because you can easily look it up and see the blowout that ensued, but I’ll give a brief recap of what we went through in the stadium as we watched our team rout That Team Up North again.

I was so cold.

Overall, Michigan fans were upbeat about their chances to win The Game this year. They thought the defense was stout and that they had an offense that was like Novocain: just give it time and it always works. So when Michigan’s offense scored on its opening drive and went up 6-0, there was excitement in the air.

Joe and I, however, were not concerned. It was one drive…the game was 60 minutes long. Shortly after, Ohio State scored and scored again. Michigan countered, and the Buckeyes put up two more touchdowns before going into halftime with a 28-16 lead. While Ohio State would receive the kickoff in the second half, Michigan fans around us were still hopeful.

The young couple with a five-year-old son spent most of the game holding him as he decided to take a nap for much of the first half. To our left were other Ohio State fans, and as we were on the aisle, we had no one to our right. Behind us were some obnoxious Michigan fans who complained about plays that had video review. “Bad call, ref!” they would yell.

I turned to them. “They reviewed it. That’s just the rule.”

“Ohhh…those are just the rules!” they would respond throughout the rest of the game in a mocking manner. It’s fine, my friends. Check the scoreboard.

Speaking of which, by the time there was about four minutes left in the 3rd quarter, Ohio State had put up two more touchdowns without a response from Michigan. At 42-16, the game was basically out of reach at this point. It was just a matter of waiting for the minutes to tick by and watch the Michigan fans leave disappointed…again.

But if you have read any of my blogs of followed any of my social media pages, you’ll know that Joe and I have something special planned for The Game every year. If you haven’t, here is a quick snapshot. In 2004, Joe and I visited a friend in Ann Arbor and, for some unknown reason at the time, decided to purchase a small M flag. The following year, at the 2005 game, we held it upside down a photographer snapped us. That photo was then used in magazines and other online platforms (like ESPN and the BBC) to hype the 2006 game. Since then, we had made it our goal to be featured in media. 2019 was no different.

As the clock wound down in the 4th quarter and more UM fans bolted from the stadium, Joe, Nate, Amanda, and I found some space about six rows from the field in a large group of Ohio State fans, all ready to celebrate when the clock struck zero. But Joe and I were there for a different purpose. He pulled out the flag, while I pulled out my sign.

As I held it up, a guy standing next to me asked if it was going to make him look stupid, so I turned the sign to him, as well as the hundreds (possibly thousands) of Ohio State fans around us and in the rows behind. I saw their faces light up with smiles and laughter. People pointed. Others gave the thumbs up.

“Okay, man, that’s an awesome sign,” he said to me.

I had the sign up, and Joe had the flag up. It was just a matter of watching the cameras to see if any were on us. As the game was a bore and the second teams were playing, there wasn’t much excitement to be had, so I knew from experience that the cameras were looking for things to occupy the broadcast.

I looked up at the press box and saw two large cameras, flipping the red light on top back and forth, indicating which camera had the broadcast. Then, almost suddenly, the red lights went blank. Another camera must have had the live broadcast feed. I looked right in front of us and saw a smaller camera on a long boom. It was pointed right towards us, slowly moving up and away. I focused my vision on the camera, held the sign up even higher, and watched as the camera eventually panned away from us. It was the best opportunity we had to be on TV, only time would tell if we were.

The game ended and we all celebrated as several Ohio State players, including Heisman Trophy finalist Chase Young came to greet his mother, who happened to be right in front of us. As our fellow fans left, we waited, as we always did. We had nowhere to be, and we only had this moment once ever two years, so we always savored it. And more importantly, we needed our picture, the same pose we had taken bi-annually since 2005. We found our spot (which was right in front of section 15) and posed. Another year. Another victory. Another picture. Grayer. Older. But still there.

The scoreboard was turned off so quickly after the game ended that I had to ask if any friends captured this image because I couldn’t get one in time.

Then I looked at my phone for the first time in many hours. 62 text messages from 15 different people. I knew what that meant. Joe and I were on TV again.

Another year. Another victory. Another TV appearance.

The same picture, in the same place, in the same pose, with the same facial expression that Joe and I have taken ever two years since 2005.

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