Chris Holtmann and Ryan Day's Handshake Illustrates How Deep the Ohio State vs. Michigan Rivalry Goes

By David Wertheim on March 3, 2020 at 1:05 pm
Holtmann and Day
Joe Maiorana- USA TODAY Sports

The voices of Earle Bruce and Urban Meyer echoed through the Schottenstein Center.

A minute-and-a-half-long video rang through an arena that was – for once – rocking.

The student section was loud. The 300 level was alive. And even the elderly couple in the courtside seats across from the scorer's table put down their books and watched as highlights from the Ohio State-Michigan basketball rivalry were shown up on the scoreboard in impressive video form. 

It was set up to be a big day. Buckeye great Jerry Lucas and boxer Buster Douglas were in attendance as always, as was Ryan Day, who just 92 days prior scored a big victory over the Wolverines in his first taste of the rivalry as Ohio State's head coach.

And after the booming voice of PA announcer Matt Leinenger announced the starting lineup, it was finally time for tipoff on a sunny Sunday in Columbus. 

We all know what happened in the game. Both teams went on runs culminating with Ohio State holding a three-point halftime lead. Michigan came out on a tear in the second half before the Buckeyes responded and ultimately pulled away in the end, finishing with a 77-63 victory. It was the second victory for Ohio State over Michigan this year, as the Buckeyes knocked off the Wolverines in Ann Arbor in early February.

But it was what happened after the game that caught my eye.

Sitting in the Nuthouse in the second row, I was able to watch Holtmann walk east to west, past the scorer's table, customarily shaking each member of the Michigan team's hand. As he finished, he had a few more people to greet: athletic director Gene Smith, and Day.

The moment spoke volumes to most of the Ohio State student section, who gave a nice round of applause to both coaches upon seeing the embrace. Holtmann, directly after, went over to the student section and slapped some high-fives and even took a selfie with a student seated in the first row. 

It was the culmination of a revival of sorts for Holtmann, whose team had endured a miserable January before turning it on in February, winning eight out of its last 10 games. After pumping his fist a few times and singing Carmen Ohio, he headed back to the locker room before meeting with reporters and articulating what the rivalry means to him.

"I've been here now three years and it matters," Holtmann said. "It matters to everybody that cares about this place. To everybody who's been here. It matters to our former players, it matters to our former coaches, it matters." 

The sentiment expressed by Holtmann echoed some of what Ryan Day said just 92 days prior. 

"To say that there's not stress coming into a game like this would be a lie,” Day said after the victory. “There's so much riding on a game like this, and you understand and you feel the weight of everybody involved with it. To win like this right now, it's a relief. It is."

Viewing "The Game" in that light has become basically a prerequisite to any Ohio State hire post John Cooper. It was certainly that way for Jim Tressel. Thad Matta seemed to get it too, on the hardwood. Urban Meyer got it, and went 7-0. Ryan Day referenced just as much, again, after his victory.

“Ever since I took the job, it's been on my mind,” Day said. “I know what this game means to the people of Ohio, to Buckeye Nation, and coming off the heels of one of the greatest coaches in the history of college football who went 7-0 here, those are big shoes to fill."

Neither Day nor Holtmann are Ohio natives. Day hailed from Manchester, New Hampshire, while Holtmann grew up in Nicholasville, Kentucky. Neither went to Ohio State. Neither started their coaching careers at Ohio State. Holtmann didn't have any previous exposure whatsoever to the program prior to being named head coach, while Day just had two years as an assistant under Meyer.

But both have embraced the rivalry as if they grew up in it.

As if there was any other choice.

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