WARREN - Jim Tressel is gone from the scene and the Ohio State Buckeyes have been stumbling through a ho-hum football season.
The Michigan Wolverines are showing signs of a reversal of fortunes under first-year coach Brady Hoke, but there's still room for improvement.
Somehow none of it will matter come Nov. 26 when the Big Ten rivals meet for the 108th renewal of college football's greatest rivalry in Ann Arbor. It's Ohio State-Michigan in what some fans simply refer to as "The Game."
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Former Ohio?State safety Dustin?Fox autographs the jersey of 8-year-old Kyle Roberts of Cortland on Thursday night at DiVieste’s.
Tribune Chronicle / R. Michael Semple
Former Michigan safety David Arnold signs an autograph for Kim Rowbotham of Warren during the Warren Sports Hall of Fame’s annual banquet.
"We're talking over 100-something years," said Warren's Alfie Burch, a cornerback for the Wolverines from 1990-93. "One year has nothing to do with it. They'll be back. It will be bitter, physical and tough. It will be Michigan-Ohio State, bottom line."
Burch was in attendance Thursday at the Warren Sports Hall of Fame's banquet to celebrate The Game at DiVieste's banquet center. Burch was joined by former Michigan safety David Arnold. The Buckeyes were represented by Tim Fox, who played safety in the 1970s, and his nephew Dustin, a safety from 2001-04.
It was interesting that each of the four was fortunate enough to have won three games in the rivalry during their college careers. That's an indication of how often the balance of power has swung back and forth.
"It fluctuates and goes back and forth," said Arnold, who played in college from 1985-88. "The only loss that we had we kind of like to say that we let them win because it was Earle Bruce's last game as (Ohio State) coach."
Even though Tim Fox hasn't played in the game since 1975, he did a 50-something's version of trash talking.
"Part of the rivalry is that the kids can go to either school," said Tim, who played in the NFL for 11 seasons with New England, San Diego and the Los Angeles Rams. "Michigan is very active in Ohio recruiting kids. I don't know if Ohio is as active in Michigan recruiting their kids.
"Everyone knows Ohio is the hotbed. We like to think that when Michigan comes down to Ohio they get the dumb ones. Why else would you go to Michigan? If you're smart you'd go to Ohio State."
Tim is never surprised at how intense the rivalry is, and he has legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes to thank.
"In my years Woody instilled a hatred for Michigan," Tim said. "From the day we arrived he'd start. It was almost a propaganda campaign. It stays with me through life. I see people walking down the street with a Michigan shirt on or a Michigan hat on. It could be in the Virgin Islands. It could be in Europe. It could be in Boston. I say, 'What, you couldn't find something else to wear today? Everything else was dirty? You couldn't find a better shirt than that?' "
Tressel, who was forced to resign this year because of a scandal involving the selling to memorabilia for tattoos by players, had Michigan's number. The Buckeyes were 9-1 against the Wolverines during Tressel's tenure.
The Wolverines think they have their man in Hoke, who replaced the unsuccessful Rich Rodriguez after last season.
"It comes with understanding the rivalry," Burch said. "Nothing against the regime that was in there over the last three years, but I think when you have a guy that was an actual Bo (Schembechler) disciple He was there doing summer camps before he wasn't a coach. He's a Michigan guy."
Dustin's memories of the rivalry are more recent but probably no more vivid than the other three. There are a few that stand out to him.
"My freshman year I had a pick at the end of the game. That was Tressel's first year," Dustin said. "In '02 we beat Michigan in Columbus, and that put us in the national championship game. That was one of the greatest moments ever."
Not surprisingly Dustin is predicting an Ohio State win this year. Arnold is siding with the Wolverines. In the end the winner is the rivalry.
"No matter what the records are, it's still the rivalry," Arnold said. "They're going to play until the whistle blows. Inside their practice facility and up in Ann Arbor the intensity is still there."