Technically, I am here covering the 2022 World Cup for the Journal. However, if you promise not to tell my bosses, I’ll confide the real reason I’ve flown nearly 7,000 miles from my family and home:
I am trying to avoid the Michigan-Ohio State football game.
Readers of this column—there are still a handful left—know I spend my professional life at the Journal surrounded by many, many proud graduates of the University of Michigan. They’re all talented people who do impressive things, but I say this as an extremely outnumbered University of Wisconsin graduate: Wolverines can be a handful.
They’re especially a handful now that Michigan has risen from the depths and reclaimed its status as a college football power, crushing the Buckeyes last season in Ann Arbor, winning the Big Ten title, and making the college playoff, but really the only thing that matters is the first part:
They beat Ohio State. For the first time in 120,000 years.
The Journal Michigan people were thrilled. You’ve never seen human beings so happy. Nothing could diminish their joy. It was just as awful as it sounds.
This year, Michigan and its head coach, the khaki-clad-less-often Jim Harbaugh, have come right back for more. The Wolverines have got an undefeated 11-0 team ranked No. 3 in the country heading into Columbus with a shot at the Big Ten title, the college playoff, the national championship, and a perfect season on the line.
But all that matters is the only thing that mattered last season:
Beating Ohio State.
I don’t know how I would feel if Michigan won “The Game” for a second straight year. Actually, I know how I feel: I’m in Qatar.
It’s a relief to be away from it all. Calling your rivalry game “The Game” is insufferable enough, but the fact that this noon contest is actually, genuinely, going to be the most significant North American football game on Earth for a few hours?
I can’t imagine what the Journal Michigan people are like right now—probably a wild emotional cocktail of exuberance and panic. They’re nervous about the status of star running back Blake Corum, and tormented by the Ghosts of past Ohio State routs. Saturday could wind up being one of the best days of a Michigan grad’s life—or a Grim return to the Wolverine Cave of Despair.
Because Ohio State is going to have something to say. The Buckeyes are their usual Powerhouse selves, even more so than Michigan, also undefeated at 11-0, and ranked a slot ahead of the Wolverines at No. 2. They have an explosive offense led by quarterback CJ Stroud, and recent history is on their side: OSU has utterly dominated the Wolverines over the past two decades.
In fact, Ohio State hasn’t lost to Michigan at their home Shoe since 2000, which was also the last time they dropped two in a row to the Wolverines. Back then, Michigan was coached by Lloyd Carr, Jim Harbaugh was winding down his NFL career with the San Diego Chargers, and you and I both owned Blockbuster cards with $12.99 in late fees for “Meet the Parents.”
It isn’t going to be easy for Michigan. Ohio State is still Ohio State, the Boss of the Big Ten, near impossible to beat if they play anywhere close to their best.
Take from me. I stopped paying attention to Wisconsin football this season after Ohio State put 52 points on the Badgers in September. It felt like 5,200 points. Wisconsin got so freaked out they soon fired their head coach, and the season slid down the tubes. The Badgers beat Nebraska, but come on, who cares, everybody beats Nebraska.
Honestly, I’ve moved on to volleyball, where Wisconsin is defending national champs.
Ohio State fans are even more Bonkers about Michigan than I am. They won’t even say Michigan. It’s “That Team Up North,” or TTUN. They omit the letter M from their alphabet, replacing it with the letter X. They call their Mom “Xix.” OK, I am making that last bit up, but you get the idea.
OSU peeps also have their whole strange deal with referring to their school as THE Ohio State, to the point they went out and trademarked the three-letter word. That’s right, OSU owns the word THE, at least for the purposes of putting THE on T-shirts and other merch. Check this, but I also think it means if you ask your kid to “take the trash out to the garage,” you have to mail the Ohio State Athletic department $50. If you say “Ohio State,” and omit the noisy “THE,” you get a very terse letter from a Columbus lawyer.
Do I need this kind of anxiety in my life? Here amid the comparatively reasonable spectacle of global soccer, I’m trying to be philosophical. I see fans of 32 national teams celebrating side by side, joined by a collective love of a sport and a desire to find a place they can legally order beer. It’s inspiring. I don’t want to be disappointed.
So in the spirit of my new maturity:
If Ohio State wins, Bravo.
If Michigan wins back-to-back, Congratulations.
Just don’t tell me if it happens. Seriously: I don’t want to know. I’m into soccer.
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Write to Jason Gay at [email protected]
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