Nearly Game time

WARREN – Jim Tressel had a unique approach to the Ohio State-Michigan football game 12 years ago that shouldn’t be tried at home.

Shortly after being named coach of the Buckeyes in 2001, Tressel appeared at halftime of an Ohio State-Michigan basketball game and spoke words that still ring loud in university history:

“You’ll be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan.”

You might call it Tressel’s Joe Namath moment. Tressel didn’t predict a win like Namath did for the New York Jets prior to Super Bowl III, but it sure seemed that way to Ohio State fans who had grown weary after watching the Buckeyes go 2-10-1 to Michigan during John Cooper’s tenure as coach.

Tressel delivered by leading the Buckeyes to a 26-20 win. He would go on to post a 9-1 record against the Wolverines before resigning after the 2010 season.

“All I was saying was that I was aware of how important that (game) was to everyone,” Tressel said Thursday prior to “The Game” banquet at DiVieste Banquet Rooms. “The only thing I could assure them of was that they would be proud of us when we lined up for that game.

“I didn’t promise a win, so it wasn’t meant to be a Joe Willie moment. Everyone certainly pointed to it that way. So did the Michigan fans. I remember coming down the tunnel the day of the game and, oh man, those Michigan fans. ‘You’re down to one day. This is it. We’ll see if you can deliver.’ “

Tressel was joined by former Michigan running back Ricky Powers Thursday to discuss their memories of arguably college football’s greatest rivalry. Powers played four seasons (1990-93) for the Wolverines, going 3-0-1. He’s now the coach at Akron Buchtel, his high school alma mater.

For Powers, the experience leading up to the game was something he’ll never forget.

“It’s exhausting,” Powers said. “The preparation is so much more than what you do for everybody else. It’s awesome.”

There’s a feeling among some that the game might hold a little more significance to Ohio State fans than it does to Michigan fans. Tressel isn’t quite sure that’s the case.

“I know anyone I’ve ever talked to that’s been in the game, at either school, coached the game or has decided which of the two teams is theirs, I’ve never sensed the Ohio State side has more passion,” Tressel said. “I’ve met some rabid, proud, ambitious Wolverines. We feel like our fans are a difference maker for us. I don’t know how you can measure those kinds of things.”

In addition to Ohio State, Michigan has a huge in-state rivalry with Michigan State. Through this season there was also a rivalry with Notre Dame.

“The Michigan State game is huge, and the Notre Dame game is huge,” Powers said. “But there’s nothing bigger than the Ohio State-Michigan game. Our coaches made sure we understood that as players. When it came to an Ohio State-Michigan game, that’s when guys can lose their jobs. That was the game that meant the most.”

The teams have followed different paths on their way to the 109th meeting of the rivalry Saturday, Nov. 30. The Buckeyes are 10-0 and 6-0 in the Big Ten Conference. The Wolverines are 7-3 and 3-3.

Tressel thinks the Buckeyes have better talent, but he added that the best team doesn’t always win. Powers cautions anyone that thinks Ohio State will win easily.

“There’s no pressure on Michigan,” Powers said. “When people tell you to throw out the records when it comes to that game, you do. Whatever Michigan team you’ve been seeing, you won’t see that against Ohio State. You’ll see a great Michigan team come out and play.”

It should be no other way for a greatest rivalry in college football.