You don’t have to talk to Ohio State players or coaches very long to figure out how seriously they take the rivalry with Michigan.
There is not just one, but two separate full-wall displays about The Game, each featuring a clock counting down the days, hours, minutes, and even seconds to kickoff of the next year’s meeting.
Saturday after the Buckeyes’ 56-27 thumping of the Wolverines, sophomore quarterback Justin Fields said Ohio State’s intensity has been the key to their dominance.
“I just think that we take it more seriously than they do,” Fields said.
It may seem hard to believe that a player who grew up in Georgia and who had only been part of the OSU program for 11 months could possibly take The Game more seriously than someone like Jim Harbaugh.
Harbaugh’s father was an assistant under Bo Schembechler during the 10-Year War. He was a starting quarterback for Bo during the 1980s. It’s hard to imagine anyone could possibly understand or take the rivalry more seriously than that.
But the Buckeyes seemingly have.
They don’t just talk about working The Game every day, they do it.
The Buckeyes do “Team Up North” periods during practice throughout the year. If there are 231 days until that year’s Michigan game, the team will do 231 reps of an exercise.
That one game is not just at the forefront of everything the Buckeyes do, it’s why they do what they do.
“There’s no ifs, ands, or buts. People say ‘What if you don’t win The Game?’ There’s no choice. You have to win The Game,” said OSU head coach Ryan Day. “You don’t have a choice when you’re a Buckeye. You have to win that game.”
Day has now coached in three Michigan games, although this was his first as the head coach.
For OSU defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, Saturday in Ann Arbor was his first exposure to The Game, period.
“It was certainly very emotional after the game. That whole day, and that whole experience. A game like that is what you dream about. A game like that is why you want to coach college football. Probably the biggest that I’ve been around at any level, in any stadium,” Hafley said.
When the clock hit zero and the Buckeyes had officially won their eighth straight game in the series, the impact of the accomplishment finally hit.
“Emotional after for sure. Very happy. Beyond happy,” Hafley said.
But the weight the Buckeyes put on The Game means that the result can last the next 364 days – either good or bad.
“Jeff Hafley, he said to me the next morning, ‘Imagine walking in the Woody with all the signage up on the walls and not winning that game, have to walk by it 365 days, not winning that game,'” said Day. “I don’t even know what that would be like.”
With their dominating performance in Ann Arbor, the Buckeyes earned another year of watching happy memories playing on those video monitors.
For Hafley, the impact of that, and the rivalry on the whole has finally really hit home.
“I get it now. When I came here, I kind of saw what it was all about. To be a part of that, to get the first pair of gold pants, to experience it, that’s a special moment.”