Since 1935, when the two teams first began their annual end of the season meetings, Michigan and Ohio State have regarded the final game of the regular season as most important. This fact is something that Michigan and Ohio State fans have known, understood, and relished for years. While the rivalry has seen its share of ebb and flow, the importance of The Game has never wavered. Big Ten and National Championships have often been on the line when the Wolverines and Buckeyes have clashed in late November. Yet, even during those few meetings when pride alone was on the line, the passion and intensity of the rivalry has never diminished. The Game became a national spectacle during the 10 Year War, thrusting the importance of the rivalry beyond just the Midwest. As the 2007 HBO special on the rivalry eloquently summed it up, the regular season became mere window dressing before the annual end of the year battle. Each of the rivalry’s 107 meetings has held a certain level of importance for the players, coaches, and fans. Even so, there have been brief moments in history when fate has stretched out its hand and fundamentally changed the course of the rivalry. There are moments when the importance of The Game transcends the regular level of passion and intensity that the rivalry is built upon.
The 1919 contest between Michigan and Ohio State marked the first such moment in the history of the rivalry. In 1916, future first-team All-American Chic Harley arrived at the Ohio State campus and dramatically changed the course of “The Game.” Harley helped Ohio State snap a 15 game non-winning streak against Michigan in 1919. Ohio State’s 13-3 victory showed that yes, Michigan could be beaten. Ohio State’s win was the first of 3 straight victories over Michigan, a stretch that cemented the rivalry as a two sided affair.
In 1951 another rivalry changing moment occurred, created by the arrival of Wayne Woodrow Hayes, a.k.a “Woody.” Ohio State won all of 2 games in 12 years prior to Woody Hayes taking over the Buckeye program. While Hayes lost his first contest to Michigan, he went on to win 12 of the next 16 games against the Wolverines. Beginning in 1952, Hayes presided over the first “Red Scare” in the rivalry’s history, a period when Ohio State took over and dominated the series. Hayes not only made beating Michigan a priority, he instilled a level of hatred into the rivalry that fueled his team’s performance and created a deep sense of animosity between the two programs.