Friday, November 18, 2016

Spread Offense Special: November 18, 2006... The Game Of The Century

By Pat Luhta, @PLuhta

A fan's perspective and overall view of the 2006 meeting between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines on the game's 10 year anniversary.


"The Game of the Century"

I've often hated it whenever a big game gets labeled that for two reasons. The first being that having multiple games being called "the game of the century" seems unoriginal since game of the century implies that there's only one. And second, hyping up a game as the best game of the century usually is build up for a let down. Normally the game doesn't live up to the hype and calling it the game of the century looks foolish in hindsight. But on November 18, 2006 college football was given a game that was more than worthy of being called the game of the century. It lived up to the hype, it delivered on a grand stage and it deserved the label.

The 103rd meeting of the greatest rivalry in sports, the #2 Michigan Wolverines played the #1 Ohio State Buckeyes in the biggest game of their rivalry. The first time ever that they came into this game ranked #1 and #2 and first time since 1973 that both teams were undefeated going into their annual regular season finale. It was the perfect storm, 2 rivals playing for the highest stakes, those stakes being an outright Big Ten championship and a trip to play for the BCS National Championship.


"It's happening!"

Those were the 2 words that every Michigan and Ohio State fan had as the realization set in that both teams will be 11-0 heading into "The Game." Both teams played at 3:30 on November 11th, as fans kept one eye on their team and one eye on their rival. Ohio State disposed of Northwestern 54-10 while Michigan rolled over Indiana 34-3, setting up the biggest game of this 103 year old rivalry. After both games were finished, ESPN announced that College Gameday would be live from Columbus, OH to cover this showdown.

The hype had begun, the countdown was on, the following Saturday was going to be something special.


The emotions between both fanbases was off the charts. Ohio State-Michigan week is always crazy, but this week was something else. Fans wore their team colors all week, the amount of smack talk was unreal, it just seemed like everyone's life went on timeout while we just focused solely on this upcoming game. We all were just waiting for Saturday, and spent every waking hour before then talking about the game as a way to pass time. It's really tough to put into words just how electrifying the build-up was and living in the midst of it was something special. It felt like the momentum leading up to this game could in no way ever be derailed...


And then, around noon time on November 17th, the rivalry stopped. The University of Michigan, with heavy hearts, announced that Bo Schembechler had passed away on the eve of the Michigan-Ohio State game.

The mood was as somber as it gets, from both sides of the rivalry. Michigan went into mourning, Ohio State wasn't far behind. Michigan cried, and Ohio State lent their shoulder to cry on and even cried some themselves. It was heartbreaking but also so surreal, seeing the game stop and everyone come together. I, personally, made the necessary calls and texts to my Michigan friends and family and even needed a moment to gather myself as I took in the tough news and then one thought that I will remember forever popped into my head:

"As tough it is to lose someone who meant so much to this rivalry, Bo Schembechler will now get to watch his Michigan Wolverines play the Ohio State Buckeyes in the most important game ever in this rivalry from the best seat in the house...up in heaven, watching the game from above and seated right next to his best friend...Woody Hayes."

I've long said that Woody and Bo are larger than life characters at Ohio State and Michigan not just because of their great success as coaches but also because they embody exactly what their fanbase is and exactly what this rivalry is. This rivalry is so difficult to explain with so many layers of density to it, Woody and Bo are the perfect example of it though. Two equals that hate each other, but love each other, that don't want the other to do well but need the other to do well and that's what makes it so special. We considered this the best rivalry in all of sports, which it is. And deep down, whether we like to admit it or not, it has been the other teams' success as much as it is ours that makes it so great. Ohio State needs Michigan and Michigan needs Ohio State, all other rivalries aren't nearly as dependent on that yin and yang as this rivalry is. The old cliché is "it takes 2 to tango" and it's never more appropriate than here, where all slander aside, both sides know that the other program is great and slighting them is slighting the rivalry.

Bo Schembechler was a legendary coach and an even a better man, and Michigan will always love him for that. Bo Schembechler was also a great foe that took the rivalry to new heights during the "10 year war", and Ohio State will always respect him for that.


We have reached game day.

Normally, OSU-UM is like Christmas, it's tough to sleep the night before the game, you wake up early and can't go back to sleep, then it's just full on anticipation until the opening kick off. This year was different, many of us were still reeling from the loss of Bo and the 3:30 start time instead of the traditional noon kickoff made it drag. I know that in my lifetime, probably sooner than later, this game will become a staple at either 3:30 or 8pm because there's just too much money going around to keep this at a noon start. I will hate it though, not because I consider myself a traditionalist but that wait to noon seems long enough, I'll just continue to hope this remains a noon start as long as I can.

It wasn't until the Senior day announcements where I really started feeling hyped up. Especially when senior QB and Heisman leader Troy Smith was announced, the crowd got so crazy seeing him put his hand up in the air and scuffing his feet like a bull about to charge as he got set to run onto the field. That was the moment that I really felt the magnitude of the moment, where watching a #1 vs #2 match-up between rivals made me realize how special this was.

As the camera panned both sidelines, they showed all the big name players and the amount of talent that both teams had was just incredible. Chad Henne, Jake Long, Mike Hart and Mario Manningham on one side, Troy Smith, Tedd Ginn Jr, Antonio Pittman and Anthony Gonzalez on the other, not to mention 2 of the better coaches of the last decade or so in Lloyd Carr and Jim Tressel.

Every emotion seemed present for both Ohio State and Michigan fans as the opening kick off gets underway, a mere 3 hours or so away from finding out which team will become victorious and head to the BCS title game.


Ohio State won the coin toss and elected to defer, and a touchback starts Michigan at their own 20. Michigan, led by QB Chad Henne, drove down the field with ease on their first possession, capping it off with a 1 yard TD run by Mike Hart to take a 7-0 lead. A big statement was made by the Wolverines on that drive, momentarily silencing a sold out crowd at Ohio Stadium.

The Buckeyes responded though, with a pass heavy attack to drive down the field and also score a touchdown on their first possession. QB Troy Smith found WR Roy Hall on a 1 yard TD pass for the score and we have a tie game at 7-7.

Both offenses then sputtered and punted on their next possessions, as the 1st quarter came to a close.


After a second straight punt by Michigan's offense, OSU RB Beanie Wells took a handoff and broke free for a 52 yard TD run. Only a true freshmen at the time, Wells had his first signature moment of many in this rivalry as the Buckeyes now take a 14-7 lead.

Michigan, unable to capitalize on a 15 yard personal foul, was forced to punt for the 3rd straight possession but pinned the Buckeyes back at the 9 yard line.

Though they were way back at their own 9 yard line, the Buckeyes carved up Michigan's defense in just 4 plays for another score. Troy Smith scrambled and found WR Brian Robiskie down the field for a 40 yard gain, then hit Ted Ginn Jr. for a 39 yard touchdown. The Buckeyes now have a 21-7 lead.

Michigan, desperate for a score, got some help on the next drive by a pass interference call that kept their drive alive. They took advantage of it as Chad Henne found Adrian Arrington for a 37 yard TD pass and the OSU lead is now down to 7.

With under 3 minutes to go before halftime, the Buckeyes again began driving down the field with another pass heavy attack. With just under 30 seconds to go, Troy Smith finds Anthony Gonzalez open for an 8 yard TD pass, and the Buckeyes take a 28-14 lead into halftime.


The Buckeyes got the ball to start the 3rd quarter,  and looked to really put this one away with a scoring drive here. Instead, a 3 and out occurred and Ohio State was forced to punt the ball.

The next drive by the Wolverines was all Mike Hart, the Junior RB carried the ball 4 times and accounted for all 60 yards on that drive, including a 2 yard touchdown run. The Wolverines were very much back in it now, with the score being 28-21.

Then, Troy Smith threw an deflected interception to DL Alan Branch, setting up Michigan at the Buckeyes 25 yard line. The OSU defense was able to hold them to a FG though, as Michigan K Garrett Rivas makes it a 28-24 game.

With their offense reeling since halftime, Ohio State played a bit conservative, starting with a 10 yard out pass for a first down, their first of the half. Then, RB Antonio Pittman burst through and took it all the way for a touchdown, a 56 yard scamper. The touchdown put Ohio State up 35-24. Michigan started driving on their next possession, making it down into Ohio State's territory and close to FG range. On a 4th down, Michigan elected to go for it instead of attempting a 51 yard field goal, and were unable to convert which turned the ball over to the Buckeyes.

After a punt by each team, Ohio State had the ball again on offense. A mishandled snap though doomed this drive, as Michigan recovered at the Ohio State 9 yard line. The quarter ends with Michigan in prime position to make this a 1 score game again.


Almost immediately as the quarter started, Mike Hart punched in his 3rd touchdown of the game. The Wolverines only trailed 35-31 now with nearly an entire quarter left to play.

The next Ohio State possession looked promising, driving inside the Michigan 30. Another mishandled snap though leads to another turnover, as Michigan recovers at their own 32. Michigan could not do anything with the opportunity though, as they went 3 and out and had to punt back to OSU.

As the Buckeyes crossed midfield, they faced a pivotal 3rd down as they were just out of FG range. Troy Smith eluded pass rushers, got near the sideline and got clobbered by LB Shawn Crable just as he threw the ball. The pass fell incomplete to set up a 4th down, but a penalty on the Crable hit gave the Buckeyes 15 yards and a first down. 3 plays later, Smith found Robiskie  for a 13 yard touchdown and the Buckeyes now lead 42-31.
Chad Henne came up big in crunch time for the Wolverines, completing pass after pass as Michigan drove down the field. With time running out and needing 2 scores, Henne found Tyler Ecker in the end zone for a 16 yard touchdown pass with 2:16 remaining in the game. With the score at 42-37, the Wolverines opted to go for 2 and Henne to Steve Breaston successfully converted it.

Down 42-39, Michigan needed an onside kick recovery to have a chance. Ted Ginn Jr. was able to recover it though for the Buckeyes, and 3 straight runs killed the clock to end the game.
Ohio State won, 42-39.



That was the big talk after the game, the potential for an Ohio State vs. Michigan BCS title game. The BCS poll came out the following Monday and sure enough, Michigan was still ranked 2nd and a rematch seemed imminent.

Unfortunately, the Big Ten did not have a title game while other conferences did, and due to that along with some politics from other coaches/universities, the Wolverines slipped to 3rd in the final BCS poll and would be headed to Pasadena to take on USC in the Rose Bowl instead. The Buckeyes did get their guaranteed spot in the BCS title game, and would go up against Urban Meyer and the Florida Gators.

Personally, a rematch needed to happen and I'm not saying this in hindsight as I thought this immediately following that game and still feel that way today. Michigan lost by 3 on the road to the team that had been #1 all season, that proves to me that they were one of the 2 best teams in the country and deserved a rematch on a neutral field to settle any doubts on who the better team was.

The results of the bowl games though, help the arguments of those who want to use hindsight. Michigan was beaten soundly by the USC Trojans in the Rose Bowl, 32-18 and slid all the way to 8th in the final AP poll. And Ohio State, coming into the BCS title game as heavy favorites, were outclassed and overall dismantled by the Gators 41-14 in a game where the Gators outscored the Buckeyes 41-7 after Ted Ginn Jr. took the opening kickoff back for a touchdown.

The bowl games were a bad look, but the season's both teams had and season that many players had individually is something of worth note.
Michigan had DE LaMarr Woodley, Jake Long, Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Leon Hall and Alan Branch all named to all-Big Ten teams with Woodley winning Big Ten defensive player of the year along with national awards such as the Lombardi award and Ted Hendricks award. Woodley, Long, Hart, Hall and Branch were also named to All-American teams.

Ohio State had DL Quinn Pitcock and James Laurinaitis named to All-American teams, with Laurinaitis also winning the Bronco Nagurski award. Troy Smith took home the majority of national awards. Smith was named Big Ten offensive player of the year, 1st team all-Big Ten, 1st team All-American, the Davey O'Brien award, the Walter Camp award, and the Heisman trophy, being named the best player in college football.

10 years later and this game still stands the test of time. It is not only a part of this rivalry and it's history, but it stands alone as the standard to which all other games going forward are measured up to. There may be a #1 vs. #2 match-up in the future and considering the programs that Michigan and Ohio State have, it's very likely that there will be. But this was something else, not only was it the first and the biggest game, but the game itself was beyond expectations(which says a lot since everyone had the highest of expectations).

Somehow, after a century of playing against one another, this game topped them all and re-wrote history. And a decade later, without the worry of being a prisoner of the moment, this was the greatest game ever played between the Ohio State Buckeyes and the Michigan Wolverines.

The greatest game in the greatest rivalry.

No comments:

Post a Comment