Two Fans, One Rivalry: OSU vs. Michigan

On the eve of the Big Ten title game, beloved former Michigan coach Bo Schembechler died. Two big fans weigh in: OSU graduate Sandy Theis, a former political reporter for Cleveland's The Plain Dealer, and Geoff Larcom, former sports editor of the paper at Michigan and now a columnist for The Ann Arbor News.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Coming up, crime novelist Kate Atkinson knows how she'd deal with rule breakers.

But first, there's a pall of sadness over today's hotly anticipated game between two undefeated old rivals, number one ranked Ohio State and the number two ranked University of Michigan. Michigan's legendary former coach, Bo Schembechler, died yesterday of heart failure while taping his weekly football show. He was 77. For 13 of the 20 years that coach Schembechler led the Wolverines, they won or shared the Big Ten Championship. Coach Schembechler's doctor Kim Eagle told reporters that stress about today's game may have aggravated the coach's ailing heart.

We're joined now by two self-described huge fans who are on opposite sides of this old rivalry. For the Buckeyes, Sandy Theis, a former political reporter for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and an OSU graduate. She's at WCBE in Columbus.

Sandy, thanks very much for being with us.

Ms. SANDY THEIS (Cleveland Plain Dealer): Thanks for having me.

SIMON: And for the Wolverines, Jeff Larcom, who was - he's sports editor of the paper at Michigan, now a columnist for the Ann Arbor News. He's at WUOM in Ann Arbor.

Thanks very much for being with us, Jeff.

Mr. JEFF LARCOM (Columnist, Ann Arbor News): Glad to be here, Scott.

SIMON: And you knew coach Schembechler. An extraordinary record he had during his 20 years coaching the Wolverines. You have a personal insight to him we should hear today?

Mr. LARCOM: Just that he affected more people probably in Ann Arbor over the last 40 years than anybody around. He was a football coach but he was also a molder of young men, an inspiring community figure, and that effect continued on after his coaching years, when he became active in charity and kept an office in Schembechler Hall, sort of icon in residence.

SIMON: Hmm. Sandy, I was struck by what Ohio State's coach Jim Tressel is quoted as saying. He said he - meaning Bo Schembechler - he will always be both a Buckeye and a Wolverine. It's an extraordinary thing to say about a man who symbolized the other side of this rivalry, isn't it?

Ms. THEIS: Well, it was an extraordinary thing but it was also a true statement. And I think that you can't love this game and love this rivalry without loving what Woody and Bo did for it.

SIMON: Yeah. Woody Hayes, who was the longtime Ohio State coach. And boy, when they coached against each other it got personal, because Bo Schembechler had played for Woody Hayes, hadn't he?

Ms. THEIS: Yes, he had. And even people who didn't like football or didn't understand football found themselves drawn to this game when Woody and Bo were the coaches. I was in college at that time and I know I had a couple of friends who used to sneer at me because I would dress funny every football Saturday. But when the OSU/Michigan game was played, they always wanted to watch because they wanted to see how these two characters - what they were going to do and say about each other.

SIMON: There's still a football game to be played. And there will be a moment of silence for coach Schembechler, and obviously a lot of remembrances and memorials. But let's do talk about the game, because everyone is focused on that.

Jeff, how do you see the Wolverines winning?

Mr. LARCOM: I think the Wolverines have a wonderful chance because so much of football revolves around defense, and that's been their anchor all season. They will rely on that. Their defensive line will perhaps be able to harass Troy Smith, the quarterback of Ohio State, and they will be able to manage the game on defense.

SIMON: Okay. Sandy, you see it differently, huh?

Ms. THEIS: Obviously. Michigan might be able to stop the run but they cannot stop Troy Smith. Troy is going to have a monster game. He's going to lock up the Heisman Trophy, and Jim Tressel is going to advance his record against Lloyd Carr to five and one.

SIMON: Hmm. Isn't it an advantage to be playing at home, Sandy, or does that increase the pressure and expectation?

Ms. THEIS: Well, I think it's a huge advantage. I know our fans have a reputation sometimes for being a little obnoxious. But they are very loud and they are very loyal. And every Buckeye who's ever been asked has said that playing in the Horseshoe is a huge advantage.

SIMON: Hmm. Jeff, the last time these two teams faced each other, when they were both undefeated, was back in 1973. And the game rather famously ended in a tie, didn't it?

Mr. LARCOM: Bo Schembechler still describes that as his career low point, when the game ended in a tie and Michigan came back from being down 10 points and the Big Ten athletic directors voted to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl.

SIMON: Yeah. Well, because they just seemed the better bet in the Rose Bowl, didn't they? I mean there was - Michigan had an injury that...

Mr. LARCOM: Michigan's quarterback, Dennis Franklin, was injured, but he was okay to play by the time the Rose Bowl occurred...

SIMON: This is 1973, Jeff.

Mr. LARCOM: Schembechler never did get over that.

SIMON: You really do remember this, don't you?

Mr. LARCOM: I'm afraid so.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Sandy, you're going to have a party, aren't you?

Ms. THEIS: Yes, I'm having a big party.

SIMON: And some Wolverine fans will be there too.

Ms. THEIS: Yes. And we'll let one of them dot the I at the end of the party.

SIMON: Dot the eye?

Ms. THEIS: Yes, you know, Script Ohio, our band spells out Ohio spells out O-H-I-O, and then a tuba player gets to dot the I...

SIMON: Yes, that's right.

Ms. THEIS: Whenever the Buckeyes win, we do Script Ohio at the end of the party. So we might even ask, in Bo's honor, one of the Wolverines to dot the I.

SIMON: Oh, you are a gracious host, aren't you?

Ms. THEIS: Yes.

SIMON: And Troy Smith, he has a good game, he wins the Heisman Trophy, you think?

Ms. THEIS: I don't see anybody who's even close. Even if he has a mediocre game, he wins the Heisman Trophy.

SIMON: Well, I want to thank you both very much for being with us. Jeff Larcom is a columnist for the Ann Arbor News, and he joined us from the studios of Michigan Radio there in Ann Arbor there.

Jeff, thanks for very much for being with us. Geoff Larcom is a columnist for the Ann Arbor News and he joined us from the studios of Michigan radio there in Ann Arbor. Geoff, thanks very much and good game-watching to you.

Mr. LARCOM: I send my condolences to Sandy.

SIMON: Sandy Theis, public policy researcher from Dublin, Ohio at WCB in Columbus, thanks for being with us Sandy.

Ms. THEIS: Thanks, and go Bucs.

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