(1,008) Days of Winter

By Ramzy Nasrallah on August 10, 2022 at 1:15 pm
Ohio State Buckeyes running back JK Dobbins (2) runs the ball during the first quarter of a NCAA Division I college football game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Ohio State Buckeyes on Saturday, November 30, 2019 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor Michigan
© Joshua A. Bickel/Dispatch

Do you remember November 30, 2019?

Of course you do. Ohio State whooped the home team in Ann Arbor that day. Fans of the visitors delivered what was then a customary 2nd half O-H-I-O cheer around the stadium.

Phenomenal afternoon. But as it turned out, the start of a sabbatical from relative normalcy.

The first case of what became to be known as the novel coronavirus was reported the next morning over on the other side of the world. We were still enjoying that then-familiar morning-after serenity after the Buckeyes earn another set of Gold Pants.

Ohio State hasn't gone this many days without a win over Michigan since prior to 9/11.

Nearly three years later we are still mired in the public health crises and socioeconomic irritations fomented by pandemic life. But pulsing through the ventricles of our hearts and throbbing in the backs of our minds is the obscured reality Ohio State football been out of alignment since November 30, 2019.

The Buckeyes beat Wolverines, Covid arrived the next day - and now we're heading into Ohio State’s first 1,000-day rivalry drought of the current millennium. Yes, it’s all related.

in which f o u r steps with possession is an incomplete pass

When Ohio State hosts Notre Dame over Labor Day weekend, 980 days will have passed since the Buckeyes' most recent Glendale postseason nightmare. It’s either 1A or 1B in the rankings.

We won’t relitigate the dozen pivotal moments that all bounced Clemson's way - especially the overturned touchdown GIF'd above which you can watch 980 times in a row without finding the indisputable incomplete pass the replay booth discovered.

This was a loss pried from the jaws of victory. That rancid tasted couldn't be rinsed fast enough.

But barely two months later, the B1G basketball tournament was abruptly canceled with every program already in Indianapolis. Our normal slog back to football season looked bumpier. Unprecedented times still wasn't a cliché, but that was about to change.

March Madness was shuttered about five hours later. Chaos. Anxiety.

And that cursed Fiesta Bowl still sitting on the DVR, unwatched, as we entered what would become a golden era for television binging. The Buckeyes had gone undefeated in major bowl games between 2008 and 2019 - if you don't count the ones that included the goddamn Clemson Tigers (0-3).

Ohio State could have won that game a dozen different ways. Instead, it became the most manufactured and mystifying loss in 22 seasons. And with the world shuttered indefinitely, it was our prevailing college sports memory.

Aug 29, 2020; Columbus, OH, USA; Randy Wade, father of Ohio State football player Shaun Wade, speaks to fans during a rally organized by parents of Ohio State football players outside the rotunda of Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on August 29, 2020. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Robertson/Columbus Dispatch-USA TODAY NETWORK
Shaun Wade's father Randy speaks to fans during a rally organized by parents of Ohio State football players outside of Ohio Stadium © Kyle Robertson/Dispatch

Football and all other B1G fall sports are canceled for 2020. Justin Fields' Heisman campaign is over in August. Recourse for Clemson is not on the menu because there is no menu.

They couldn't quite figure out how to handle the pandemic the way other conferences did, as it had been banking on the virus conveniently disappearing in time for football season. It did not, and our great, annual detour from the mundanity of life was no longer available when we needed it more than ever.

The conference had sentenced itself to what was basically a death penalty. Bad was now worse.


B1G football returns, albeit sheepishly and abbreviated. Ohio State could no longer strive for 15-0, with its best possible outcome now 11-0 with a clean regular season and win in Indy plus two successful CFP outings. No hesitation. No margin for error. No bye weeks. And no fans.

Bowling Green, the trip to Eugene and Buffalo had already been peeled off the slate prior to the cancelation, and as B1G programs attempted to hopscotch around the virus Maryland and Illinois both fell off the abbreviated schedule. The latter was Ohio State's doing.

That left the Buckeyes susceptible to disqualification for conference championship consideration. Either Michigan State or Michigan could eliminate Ohio State by both either beating them on the field, or one simply not playing them at all.

A week after pausing football instead of playing in Champaign, Ohio State beat Michigan State 52-12 without a head coach, 60% of its offensive line or dozens of other players. Official attendance in East Lansing that afternoon was zero.

 Michigan Avenue sign in the Harrison West neighborhood of Columbus has the M crossed out with a red X, an annual sign that the Ohio State - Michigan football game is approaching. This year's matchup, scheduled to be played on Dec. 12 at Ohio Stadium is possibly in doubt due to COVID-19
The Michigan Avenue sign in the Harrison West neighborhood of Columbus, December 2020. © Adam Cairns/Dispatch

Michigan, having lost of four of its past five with the sole victory being a 3-OT thriller against Rutgers opts out of the 2020 edition of The Game on Dec 8, citing infections within the program.

The cancelation prohibited Ohio State from meeting the threshold to qualify for the trip to Indianapolis. B1G leadership hastily assembled and canceled its two-month old six-game requirement, allowing Ohio State to play Northwestern for the conference title.

Indiana would have been next in line, but the Hoosiers would not have been able to play either - so Penn State (3-5) would have played the Wildcats for the title without the rule change. Ohio State (5-0) represented the East and the result was an oddly hollow fourth-straight B1G title, via the Trey Sermon game.

As for the Wolverines, Michigan held a "spirited practice" less than 24 hours after The Game would have been played. The duck test has never had a more relevant football application.


Earlier, at the onset of our anxiety and panic:

Recourse for Clemson is not on the menu because there is no menu.

While the Buckeyes mashed Clemson in a largely empty Superdome, the conference's handling of the 2020 season killed Ohio State's chances of seriously challenging Alabama 10 days later. Programs that were on schedule had Covid outbreaks behind them, leaving only half of Ohio State’s starting defense was available against a team with twice the seasoning.

Losing a national championship game 122 days after learning the season was canceled was a wild, anxious and largely unenjoyable ride. Waiting each week until Friday to learn if Saturday would be canceled is no way to enjoy college football. Receiving embargoed lists of unavailable contact-traced or Covid-positive players from Ohio State early on game mornings still feels surreal.

But a football season without a Michigan outcome was a whole new kind of emptiness. At least losing that game comes with a degree of closure.

A fully-intact roster with an entire season under its belt might have made a difference for the Buckeyes against Alabama, but that merits less revisitation than the bad bounces against Clemson. Ohio State didn’t play Michigan. That still feels more hollow than losing to the Crimson Tide with a skeleton crew.

Michigan Wolverines cheer during the NCAA football game at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2021.
Michigan fans enjoying the closing moments of the 2021 edition of the Ohio State game. © Adam Cairns/Dispatch

Ohio State loses to Michigan for the first time in a decade, a year after the canceled date.

The Buckeyes have not earned a set of Gold Pants since 2019, and the last time they were able to hold a traditional Gold Pants ceremony Urban Meyer addressed the team.

Ohio State football been out of alignment since November 30, 2019.

One abbreviated B1G title and two major bowl wins since the pandemic began is still the envy of the conference, but Ohio State hasn't gone this many days without a win over Michigan since prior to 9/11.

There have been colder, lengthier droughts and stretches in program history. Buckeye fans are entering what is arguably a fourth gilded decade in a row and have very little to loathe in fall. The youngest ones have no concept of what sustained mediocrity is.

But in light of everything that's transpired since the morning after back in 2019, this is the warmth that could serve as symbolic closure for such a bizarre, maddening and tragic period - both during football season and all of the other ones too.

Beat Michigan, forever. It’s the most important game every year. Especially this year.

View 94 Comments