'The Game' goes on despite domination
In a turn of events almost unthinkable a decade ago, ''The Game'' has become an annual excuse for Ohio State to celebrate and Michigan to stew.
Six straight times the Buckeyes have vanquished the Wolverines, usually by lopsided margins. Not so long ago, Michigan truly was the victor almost every time it took the field against Ohio State.
Now? It's hard for the Wolverines to even be hopeful.
Asked about the stranglehold coach Jim Tressel's team has had on the series lately, Michigan nose tackle Mike Martin said it would really feel good if the Wolverines could end Ohio State's domination - ''anything is possible.''
Anything is possible? For the college program that has won more games than any other? The one with 11 national titles and 42 Big Ten crowns?
That's just how tilted the rivalry - the teams meet Saturday at Ohio Stadium in the 107th meeting - has become.
''(A Michigan win) would probably help the rivalry,'' Ohio State defensive lineman Dexter Larimore acknowledged. ''But I tell you what: The guys here in this building definitely do not want that to happen. We don't want to see the rivalry get any tougher, any more meaningful.''
Should eighth-ranked Ohio State triumph on Saturday (it is favored by 17 points), it would extend the Buckeyes' longest winning streak in the series. Previously, no Ohio State team had ever beaten Michigan more than four times in a row.
Rodriguez has quieted most of the talk about losing his job with the Wolverines' improvement (7-4, 3-4 in the Big Ten). But he knows even the most patient fans - and administrators - can't stomach yet another loss to Ohio State.
''I'm sure for this year's seniors (a win) would mean an awful lot,'' Rodriguez said.
From 1988 through 2000, the Wolverines were 10-2-1 against Ohio State, a hot streak that dovetailed with the tenure of Buckeyes coach John Cooper. No matter what Cooper did right his teams always seemed to come up short against Michigan. (The irony is that Cooper was hired in part because of his Arizona State team's victory in the 1987 Rose Bowl - over Michigan.)
When Tressel took over, he stood up at a Buckeyes basketball game and promised the crowd that his team would make Ohio State fans proud the next time the teams met.
They did, pulling off a 26-20 upset, and now Tressel is 8-1 against Michigan.
On Saturday, Ohio State (11-1, 6-1) needs a win to clinch at least a share of a record-tying sixth straight Big Ten title, and to most likely go to a Bowl Championship Series bowl game.
Michigan simply needs to put an end to the losing.
''You know, the guys hear about it quite a bit,'' Rodriguez said. ''(A win) would be something for them to remember quite fondly.''
Tressel doesn't discount the possibility of a loss, casting a vote of confidence this week for the beleaguered Rodriguez.
''There's always unrest if you don't win every game at this level,'' Tressel said. ''The thing that is impressive to me (about Michigan) is that I've watched them for three years, and I haven't seen them blink. I mean, they have gone out and they've played every game to the end, and that means something good is going on.''
Steeped in history, formed by the pressure, ''The Game'' remains a gem.
And it's clear that Ohio State's single-minded passion about winning the most important game on its schedule has been passed down from generation to generation of players.
''When I came here I didn't know how important it was to beat Michigan,'' said Florida native and Ohio State linebacker Brian Rolle. ''But since being here I know you can go 0-11 and win that 12th game against Michigan and that's like winning the Rose Bowl or the national championship.''