Meyer brings familiar fire to rivalry

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Last updated: 11/21/2012 6:27 AM

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Football
Meyer Brings Familiar Fire to OSU-Michigan Rivalry
By Brandon Castel

COLUMBUS, Ohio — As if Urban Meyer didn’t already know what was at stake on Saturday, he got a not-so-friendly reminder of just how important ‘The Game’ is to everyone at Ohio State. 

“I get one of these almost every day when I see him,” Meyer said, shaking a fist and then pulling his head back away from it.

“I got one yesterday, and it almost hit me.”

If you couldn’t guess, the man on the other side of that fist was 81-year old Earle Bruce. A former fullback under Wes Fesler who saw his playing days come to an end because, get this, a torn meniscus, Bruce stalked the sidelines of Ohio Stadium for nine seasons before he was unceremoniously fired prior to the 1987 Michigan game.

“I can tell you walking into Coach Bruce's office right here, this facility (eventually named after Woody Hayes) just opened, and (OSU Athletic Director) Rick Bay was leaned up against the wall and looked at me and said, close the door,” Meyer said this week.

“ ‘Are you the last one?’ I said, ‘yes, yes, sir.’ And I sat down. I saw a bunch of coaches with their arms on the table, with their face in their arms, and tears and the whole deal.  I was like the last guy to walk in, and he said that Coach Bruce will no longer be the coach after this game, and I have resigned as athletic director, like it was right there, right out that door.”

It was under Bruce, a disciple of Hayes, that Meyer got his start as a graduate assistant under 25 years ago. He was in the press box in Ann Arbor when Chris Spielman and the other players carried Bruce off the field after a stunning 23-20 upset over the Wolverines.

“Great memories,” he said, a waive of memories flooding his brain like a replay of the game.

“I was here when (Jim) Harbaugh guaranteed the win. Matt Frantz missed the field goal. I love Matt. It was a great game. Vince Workman took – I can go through the whole game if you want. Cris Carter's great catch in the right side of the end zone. 29 tackles (for Spielman), Jamie Morris.”

And on and on. Meyer isn’t typically one for nostalgia, especially while he is preparing his team for battle in the same ‘war’ he watched as a kid in his Ashtabula home back in the 1960s and ‘70s.

“This is all I knew growing up. It's all anybody knew,” the 48-year old said.

“In the era when I grew up, there really wasn't much other than three channels on your television and this game. It was Bo Schembechler, Woody Hayes, Pete Johnson, Archie Griffin. That's all.”

Meyer was in his most formative years when Hayes and Schembechler were going toe-to-toe every Saturday in late November. He was not yet born when Schembechler became a full-time assistant at Ohio State under Hayes in 1958, but one of his first childhood memories would include the Buckeyes’ 50-14 thrashing of Michigan in 1968. 

The next year, he would see Schembechler – an Ohio kid born in Barberton, just two hours southwest of Meyer’s hometown – return to ‘The Game’ on the wrong sideline as the new head coach of the Michigan Wolverines. The pupil upset his famous teacher in a historic first meeting of what would eventually become ‘The Ten Year War’ between Hayes and Schembechler.

Maybe that’s why Meyer has a hard time understanding Michigan’s current head coach Brady Hoke, another Ohio native who has crossed enemy lines.

“He's born in the state of Ohio, which I still don't get,” said Meyer, who often talks about making ‘the great state of Ohio proud.’

“That's another story, but I guess it adds to the intensity, and I think when you're talking about it's close to home, it adds to the fuel, fuel to the fire.”

Meyer didn’t attend Ohio State for his undergraduate degree – he played cornerback at the University of Cincinnati – but he learned ‘The Rivalry’ firsthand as a graduate assistant under Bruce in 1987.

“When I was hired by Earle Bruce, obviously, his passion for this game and understanding of this game was intense,” Meyer added.   

“I remember that very well.  So when I put the staff together, I wanted to make sure (this game wasn’t something) for me to have to sit there and teach people about it.  I wanted people that had – I wanted this to be close to home, and it is for eight of our nine, and we're educating our one ninth guy that's fairly important too.”

Players and coaches aren’t even allowed to say the word Michigan this week. It’s “that school up north,” just the way Woody would have wanted it.

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