Monday, November 28, 2016

Best games of the best rivalry

My list extends from Bruce to Meyer, includes a win with Ginn and a thriller with Miller

By Bill Livingston
November 26, 2016

Freshman Ted Ginn Jr.'s 82-yard punt return highlighted the Buckeyes' 37-21 victory in 2004. Punter Adam Finley was the last line of defense.

Before the once-beatens, Ohio State and Michigan, play ''Survivor'' for a potential berth in the College Football Playoff at high noon today in The Horseshoe, the Big Ten Network is airing a documentary about the unbeatens in The Game of 2006.

Ten years ago, No. 1 Ohio State outgunned No. 2 Michigan, 42-39, on the day after the great Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died.

This spurred thoughts of the best Ohio State games I've covered since I began writing columns on Ohio State in 1984.

I'm skipping the losses — the Desmond Howard Heisman pose in 1991; Stan Jackson's pick-six thrown while the ground was rushing up at him, rather than take a sack in 1997; the ''Shawn Springs Slipped'' game in 1996.

They would all be on a list of Michigan fans' favorites.

As for Buckeye fans, their list would skew to the Jim Tressel/Urban Meyer era, although Earle Bruce's valedictory makes my list, too.

2006: Ohio State-Michigan 2006 was a great event, marking the zenith of the Big Ten's reputation in this century. Only now, with three teams in the Associated Press top five (No. 2 Ohio State, No. 3 Michigan, No. 5 Wisconsin) has the Big Ten come close to the 1 vs. 2 frenzy in 2006.

Ohio State was in command most of the game. A late Michigan touchdown and two-point conversion made it closer than it seemed.

Unfortunately, it was followed by serious routs of both teams in bowl games. Southern California bounced Michigan in the Rose Bowl, 32-18, and OSU fans got an early, terrifying glimpse of Urban Meyer when his Florida team humbled Ohio State in Arizona in the BCS Championship Game, 41-14.

2005: I have to put the 2005 game high on the list. It was a 25-21 Ohio State comeback win in Ann Arbor, led by Wolverine nemesis and former Glenville standout Troy Smith.

OSU rallied from a ninepoint deficit in the last seven minutes. Unforgettable highlight: ''The Catch'' on the winning drive by St. Ignatius' Anthony Gonzalez.

2004: Everyone saw what was coming, both good and bad, the previous year in a 37-21 Buckeyes upset of a Michigan team that had already clinched the Big Ten championship.

The good: In his first Michigan game, Smith ran for 145 yards, passed for 241, threw for two TDs and ran for one. The play of the game, for all that, was still the 82-yard dazzler of a touchdown punt return by Glenville's Ted Ginn Jr.

The bad: On fourth and 1 at the Michigan 29, future Cleveland Browns receiver Braylon Edwards, foreshadowing much of his Browns career, ran a 1-yard turnout, designed to get the first down and step out of bounds late in the game. The pass was right in the breadbasket as OSU played soft, just trying to keep everything in front of the defense. Edwards dropped it.

1987: An emotional No. 1 might be this game, Earle Bruce's last after he was fired in the week leading up to The Game for winning ''only'' three of every four games in his OSU career. Ohio State had lost three straight games going into The Game and trailed, 13-0, in the first half. A comeback does not happen in such circumstances after the week the Buckeyes had, but it did.

It was as memorable for Bruce's ride off the field on the shoulders of his players, all of whom were wearing headbands lettered ''Earle,'' as for the 23-20 victory in a rousing second-half rally.

2001: I also have to include the 2001 edition, a 26-20 Ohio State victory in Jim Tressel's first try against the previously dominant Wolverines.

Michigan's Marquise Walker dropped the would-be winning touchdown pass deep in the end zone right between the uprights late in the game. But the bigger story was Tressel got a look at what a quarterback named Craig Krenzel could do.

The biggest story might have been that Tressel ''called his shot,'' all but promising a victory in Ann Arbor on the day he was hired.

2013: More exciting to me even than the fabled 2006 meeting was Ohio State's 42-41 victory in 2013 over an inspired Michigan team that went only 7-6, but emptied the playbook that day.
The Wolverines burned OSU all afternoon with throwback screens.

Included in the wild game was a near-brawl between players, with quarterback Braxton Miller's participation somehow missed by referees, the ejection of Marcus Hall, the ''Birdman of Glenville'' and the game-saving interception by Bedford's Tyvis Powell on a two-point conversion pass by Michigan QB Devin Gardner.

The latter foreshadowed Glenville linebacker Chris Worley's similar play to save Saturday's 17-16 victory at Michigan State.

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