After Saturday's game, we can comfortably say that the rivalry is back. The respect/disrespect concept is back. The tit-for-tat is back. And much of it has to do with the head coaches.
The coaches have tremendous power in this rivalry. Entire decades or half-decades are defined by the approach you take towards The Game. Do you recruit vicious, incredibly talented players who come into the school hating their rival? Have you made some kind of backhanded remark or disrespectful action toward the other team, their state, or the fanbase? When you lose The Game, do you look like you got hit by a car during the post-game press conference?
There are key moments in this rivalry, some more well-known than others, that showed the head coaches really understood the OSU-Michigan dynamic. Bo and Woody set the tone; complete hate, complete disrespect, even though they remained close friends. This tone is was of course picked up by the fanbase; I remember walking out of the 2010 game in Columbus when a security guard stopped me. He put his arm around me and said, listen, y'all will be back, don't get too down, we need your program to get better for this rivalry to remain relevant.
Like, yeah we love beating Michigan, but you need to bring some competitiveness to the field or this rivalry is going to lose it's foothold as one of the game's best.
This security guard's comments lead directly into discussion of how you disrespect the rivalry, something two past coaches did. John Cooper used to use the term "THE Buckeyes" when discussing his team, not MY Buckeyes, not OUR Buckeyes. Plus he couldn't coach up his team for the game. This rivalry thrives off close matchups; Rich Rodriguez put an athletically inferior squad on the field, such that it was not fun or entertaining these past years.
Actually a pretty clever chalk drawing by a Buckeye friend -
So now we have two coaches that not only understand the complexity of the game, but we have two coaches that look to field talented, dynamic squads that will remain competitive for years to come. One man coaches with such intensity that he dragged his Buckeyes to an improbable undefeated regular season. One man wore no sleeves in 32 degree weather, failed to participate in the post-game coach handshake, and continuously calls OSU "Ohio" just to piss off Buckeye fans. Brady Hoke's players follow him, starting pre-game tiffs with Ohio State players for the hell of it both last year and this year. Listen to Denard's pre-game comments:
"I'm here and I'm ready for Ohio."
As we all came down from the natural Saturday football high, I sat at the dining room table Sunday morning and listened to my Buckeye friends discuss the game. One said, "I hear Hoke didn't shake Urban Meyer's hand after the game." In that statement, there really wasn't any judgment or anger or general unhappiness about Hoke's invisible hand shake. I think it just felt good to discuss a controversial game event, an incident that can help the fire of this rivalry continue burning.