Dark Weekend for Michigan Football

In College Football's biggest rivalry, Ohio State beat Michigan on Saturday. The pregame fervor was darkened by the sudden death Friday of legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler.

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ANDREA SEABROOK, host:

From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Andrea Seabrook.

The game of the century lived up to its billing. Last night in Columbus, Ohio, the nation's number one ranked college football team, Ohio State, beat number two and archrival Michigan, 42-39. Over 105,000 fans at Ohio Stadium and millions of TV viewers watched the two teams battle after days of incredible pre-game hype.

NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: Much of that emotion spilled over Friday, the day before the game, when legendary Michigan coach Bo Schembechler suddenly died. The timing of such a tragic event seemed unreal, as did some of the responses. College football's nastiest rivalry took a sentimental turn. A Friday night Hate Michigan rally in Columbus was renamed Beat Michigan rally. The featured band, a punk group named Dead Schembechlers, announced that after 16 years of whipping up hatred of all things Michigan, it would change its name forever and donate all proceeds from Friday's concert to a charity of the Schembechler family's choosing.

Yesterday before the kickoff, Michigan fans in their maze and blue, and home field Ohio State fans in their scarlet and gray, stood together and shared a moment of silence for Schembechler. But then the nice stuff was over.

(Soundbite of a phone ringing)

Mr. CHRIS WEISS(ph) (Michigan Fan): Hey, Tom.

GOLDMAN: Hey, Chris. How's it going?

Mr. WEISS: I'm doing fine, although we're getting killed right at the moment.

GOLDMAN: With time running out in the third quarter, I called 44-year-old Michigan fan Chris Weiss to see how he was holding up. Weiss had made the three-hour drive from Ann Arbor to watch the game in person, and now he was watching Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith dominate with three touchdown passes up to that point. Ohio State led 35-24, and as we spoke the situation for Michigan got worse.

Mr. WEISS: Interception by the Buckeyes.

GOLDMAN: Michigan would score two more touchdowns, but the Wolverines vaunted defense just couldn't stop Troy Smith. His fourth touchdown pass would put the game out of reach and make it three times in his college career that he has sparkled against Ohio State's biggest rival. Smith praised his team for its hard work and training.

Mr. TROY SMITH (Quarterback, Ohio State University): You wouldn't be able to understand unless you ran the hills that we ran, pushed the sleds that we've pushed, when that heat and that sun is beating down on your back in the summer, the commitment and the focus. Everybody focused in. Probably be wearing this smile, you know, for the rest of this week.

GOLDMAN: And most likely up until January 8th, when the undefeated Big Ten champion Buckeyes will play in the National Championship Game in Arizona. Their spot is secure because of the win over Michigan. Ohio State's opponent in the title game has yet to be determined, although after last night there's talk that it should be Michigan.

Wolverine Junior running back Mike Hart who shredded Ohio State's equally porous defense for three touchdowns, thinks the close loss proves Michigan deserves a shot at the championship.

Mr. MIKE HART (Running Back, Ohio State University): I think we're still both the top teams in this country, regardless of what anyone says, so on a neutral site it will be a whole different game.

GOLDMAN: There was hardly anything neutral in happy Columbus last night. At El Vaccaro Mexican Restaurant, local dentist Jim Cook and 14 friends celebrated by knocking back margaritas and knocking aside that earlier goodwill between fans.

Dr. JIM COOK (Ohio State Fan): In Columbus, Ohio it is now 10:55 and Michigan still sucks. Yeah, that's one of our favorite expressions in Ohio.

GOLDMAN: And surely one of the reasons the Wolverines want in on the title game in January. Sure, a shot in a national championship would be nice but getting a measure of revenge against the hated Buckeyes, who've now won five of the last six games against Michigan, that would be sublime.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

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Michigan Coaching Legend Schembechler Dies

Bo Schembechler on the sideline during a Michigan game. Duane Burleson/AP hide caption

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itoggle caption Duane Burleson/AP

The man who became one of college football's great coaches during two decades at the University of Michigan has died. Bo Schembechler collapsed during the taping of a television show. He was pronounced dead of heart failure.

Schembechler, who was 77, coached the Michigan Wolverines from 1969 to 1989; he came to embody the team's bruising style with his blunt but accessible manner. He died just one day before the huge game between undefeated rivals Michigan and Ohio State.

Last month, Schembechler was hospitalized after an almost identical incident at the same studio. At that time, doctors implanted a device in his chest to regulate his heart beat.

At Michigan, Schembechler's teams won 194 games and lost just 48. His team's games against Ohio State's Woody Hayes provided signature moments in college football during the late 1960s and '70s — even more so because Schembechler was once a Hayes assistant.

At a news conference earlier this week, Schembechler said preparing for Ohio State took precedence over everything else.

"It was our strategy here at Michigan to do something to beat Ohio State every day," Schembechler said. "And, even if it's in the first meeting, to talk about it. But, we're going to do something every day."

The coach suffered his first heart attack on the eve of the 1970 Rose Bowl. He suffered a second heart attack in 1987. Schembechler also underwent two quadruple heart bypasses. The chief of cardiology at Providence Hospital said that in the end, Schembechler's heart muscle just gave out.

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