Spielman would have one final crack at Michigan. But five days before The Game in '87 Buckeyes coach Earle Bruce was fired. ( Bruce won 81 of his 108 games at Ohio State; his greatest sin was that he followed a legend.) As a consolation Bruce was allowed to coach the team against Michigan. Donning EARLE headbands, the Buckeyes upset Michigan 23-20, then bore the man off the field on their shoulders.
"I can still see the smile on his face," Spielman recalls. "What a way to go."
Bruce's successor, John Cooper, was, likewise, a fine coach—but one who hears The Victors in his nightmares. In 13 tries against Michigan, Coop won twice and was axed after the 2000 season.
That opened the door for Jim Tressel, who righted the ship in Columbus, winning six of seven against Big Blue and, in so doing, pointing the gentlemanly Lloyd Carr on the downward trajectory that ended with his resignation in 2007. Tressel's Buckeyes renaissance was in full flower in '06, which gave the nation's most memorable rivalry one of its most memorable games.
THE 2006 EDITION OF THE GAME, QUITE simply, couldn't have been any bigger. It was a One versus Two matchup doubling as the Big Ten title game and a play-in to the national championship. And that was before the single most beloved figure in the 130-year history of Michigan football died the day before the game.
After arriving at WXYZ-TV in Southfield, Mich., to tape his weekly show, Schembechler excused himself to go to the restroom, which is where a colleague found him, facedown and unconscious, shortly after 9 a.m. He was pronounced dead at 11:42 a.m.
He and Hayes, who preceded him in death by 19 years, had turned this game into The Game. The passing of Bo gave new meaning to a Saturday that the media had dubbed Judgment Day.
The internal conflict within Buckeyes nation to pay its respects to the legend wrong-footed some Ohio State fans, who are in the habit of decanting anti-Wolverines bile this time of year—so much so that the Michigan dean of students found it necessary, the week before The Game, to e-mail the student body, warning of the dangers of traveling to Columbus. It was a memo modeled after one of those State Department-issued travel advisories for people thinking of going to Kyrgyzstan or the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Among the dean's suggestions to help students "stay safe":
Try carpooling to the game; if possible, drive a car with non-Michigan license plates.