Thirty years ago Ohio State mounted its biggest comeback ever against Michigan.
The Wolverines jumped out to a 13-0 lead and piled up almost 300 yards of offense in that 1st half. It felt hopeless, but then the Buckeyes finished the game on a 23-7 run and the team from Ann Arbor lost in its own house. So much for their fast start and home-field advantage.
The visitors triumphantly carried their coach off the field for a final time. Thirty years later that 1987 comeback was statistically downgraded to Ohio State’s second-biggest comeback ever against Michigan after the Wolverines jumped out to a 14-0 lead and held the visitors to negative yardage in the opening quarter.
It felt hopeless, but the Buckeyes finished on a 31-6 run and the team from Ann Arbor lost to the visitors from Columbus for the 15th time in 17 tries. Fifteen of seventeen. Everything that happened before you were born feels like the Lincoln assassination to you, like it took place in some different world. Fifteen of seventeen is the only world incoming college freshmen and younger people can identify.
We still romanticize Earle Bruce’s final game and bittersweet triumph decades later. His team wore headbands with his name written on them, mimicking a trend started by Walter Payton with the Chicago Bears. Beleaguered and well on its way to being dominated, it lifted itself off the mat and stepped on Michigan’s neck in front of 100,000 disappointed faces.
That is peak Ohio State. For a century it was everything our dead ancestors ever wanted.
This century is different. The 2017 edition of Ohio State winning in Ann Arbor - for the seventh time in nine trips; we are in uncharted water here whether you're 11 or 95 - likely won’t get Bruce's sweet, sepia-filtered treatment as the years peel away. Urban Meyer’s mentor’s best coaching and recruiting days were clearly in his rearview, no matter how ham-fisted his firing might have been.
The euphoria that came with his final victory had hopes of better days ahead riding behind it, and we were right (I was 13; Lincoln had been shot 14 years earlier). We just didn't know what the timing would be.
Thirty years later, Urban has his sixth Big Ten division title in six seasons in Columbus, and we’re trying to figure out what in the hell is wrong amidst the constant fog of victory. Can't cover a tight end. Can't get the ball to running backs consistently. Still can't kick off properly. Got absolutely liquified by the Iowa Hawkeyes. And for about 20 minutes last Saturday, couldn't even tackle (!) all of a sudden.
Lower your eyebrows - Urban's lowest division finish at Ohio State has been first place. Division title number six is the fourth one that's been outright. The two in 2015 and 2016 had the losing end of head-to-head tiebreakers affixed to them - he has yet to win a tiebreaker. Co-champs are still champs. Blah. It's hard being a Buckeye fan.
This is peak Ohio State. It's everything you should want.
Ohio State clinched its sixth-straight two weeks ago and won in Ann Arbor the following week. The Bad Guys lost and the Buckeyes finished first. That used to be good enough, in part because it only occurred exactly one time between 1985 and 2002. It happens all the time now. That stretch is as long as the unprecedented one currently involving 100,000 disappointed Michigan faces.
The 2012 title was soured by a postseason ban. The 2015 one was Urban's most talented team and easily his poorest coaching performance in Columbus to date, from hiring Tim Beck to grossly mismanaging what to do with Braxton Miller to over-juggling the quarterback situation. The title from last season was his - and all of college football's - youngest team.
That 2015 squandering will sting for a long time, and its lousiness still hangs over our heads. It's Urban's weakest entry to date, similar to how there is a dumbest Nobel Prize winner and worst-tasting pizza. Disappointments in Columbus would be banners elsewhere.
Where the 2015 team seemed to lack direction and motivation, this current outright division title is easily Urban's most undisciplined and maddening team, capable of both domination and collapse within a single quarter of each other. On Saturday it practically abandoned its running backs - again - until the head coach's security blanket went out with an injury. One 1st quarter handoff, 12 prior to the injury late in the 3rd quarter, 27 total.
The Buckeyes owned the final three quarters while committing the most penalties, blowing the most coverages, missing the most tackles and making the most mistakes (apologies to John O'Korn) en route to winning the game. Saturday was the 30th anniversary of that previous-largest comeback victory, the 20th anniversary of gift-wrapping Charles Woodson's Heisman Trophy for him and the 10th anniversary of the Big Ten title game where Jim Tressel took the air out of the ball and the stadium early in the 1st quarter because he knew he could.
This is historically good stuff. It would be a shame if you missed it.
Up next, an extra football game. Another title shot. An undefeated opponent. An opportunity to make the playoff for the third time in its four years. At worst, a better-than-decent postseason destination and a pair of Gold Pants. This is now peak Ohio State. It's everything you should want. The in-game frustration is just a spicy bonus that fades with time. Eventually, you'll figure out that history only remembers the scoreboard.
Live a little and you'll realize what you have. Live a little longer and you'll discover what you've lost.