Time and Change: The Ohio State-Michigan Rivalry, The Best in All of College Sports

By Avery DePaola on November 30, 2019 at 8:30 am
Band member holds the beat blue banana.

Time and Change is a weekly series highlighting the history of some of Ohio State's storied traditions.


The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry started long before the two teams met on the football field.

Michigan and Ohio battled it out when the two states both claimed the area known as the “Toledo Strip” which was formed by discrepancies in maps. The “Toledo War” finally ended in 1836 when Michigan agreed to hand over the Toledo Strip to Ohio in exchange for union membership.

The Toledo Strip
The Toledo Strip

The two teams first played each other in 1897 which resulted in a 34-0 Michigan win. It became an annual tradition in 1918 and is the last game of the regular season, beginning in 1935. Michigan leads OSU all-time in the series with a record of 58-50-6, taking into account Ohio State’s vacated win from 2010.

Ohio State football team, 1897
Ohio State football team, 1897

Only five Ohio State coaches hold a winning record over Michigan, Woody Hayes being one of them.

In 1969, Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes faced off for the first time in what would be the birth of the, arguably, most intense rivalry between two coaches. The two met ten times between 1969 and 1978 and this period was dubbed the “Ten Year War.”

Schembechler was a former player and assistant coach under Hayes at Miami (OH) and Ohio State, so the two had a history before Schembechler stepped foot on Michigan’s campus. The heated rivalry between the two coaches ended with Schembechler winning the series, 5-4-1, but the duo maintained a close friendship until Hayes’ death in 1987.

Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler in 1981.
Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes in 1981

Francis Schmidt (4-3), Earle Bruce (5-4), Jim Tressel (9-1) and Urban Meyer (7-0) are the only other Ohio State head coaches with winning records over Michigan. At least Jim Harbaugh has a worse win percentage in the rivalry than John Cooper.

The rivalry has also made way for some of Ohio State’s most loved traditions.
In 1934, Francis Schmidt, beat Michigan 34-0 in his first year as head coach and is credited with saying that Michigan players “put their pants on one leg at a time same as everybody else.”

The Gold Pants club was created the next year by Ohio businessmen who handed out golden charms in the shape of football pants each time Ohio State beat Michigan. Each pair is engraved with the date, the initials of the player and the final score.

Francis Schmidt and his gold pants.
Francis Schmidt and his gold pants

The week leading up to “The Game,” is not so lovingly referred to as Michigan Week. Michigan Week is kicked off by waking up on Monday morning to all of the letter M’s on campus being covered with red tape. No one really knows who officially does it or how this is done, but it’s an impressive production.

Another Michigan Week tradition is the Senior Tackle which dates back to 1913. Seniors hit the tackling dummy one last time in front of their team, coaches and loved ones. This event is usually held at the last practice before OSU plays Michigan, but has been held closer to the postseason in other years.


Ohio State fans, unless you’re eight years old or younger, have experienced the highs of winning and the lows of losing against a heated rival. To an even further degree, there are some who have endured the John Cooper era and others, like myself, who have rarely witnessed an Ohio State team loss.

The innate disdain for the opposing team, but mutual respect for the rivalry has lasted for generations and that complicated feeling can't sufficiently be put into words.

Nevertheless, the M’s have been crossed out around Columbus, Thanksgiving has been enjoyed with family and friends, and the No.1-ranked Buckeyes are set to face off against No. 13 Michigan in the 116th meeting between the two teams.

Ryan Day is coaching in his first Ohio State-Michigan game as head coach with the opportunity to break the record for Ohio State’s longest win-streak against Michigan. 

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