Let's be clear: I grew up in Michigan and have watched almost every Michigan football game for the last 23 years. The 1992, 1995, and 1997 Michigan victories over Ohio State are, in my mind, historic events on par with the moon landing and the invention of beer. I will be in section 11, row 17 this Saturday in Ann Arbor when the Wolverines and Buckeyes play for the 109th time, pulling for a Michigan upset and possibly drinking airplane bottles of whiskey, smuggled into the stadium via my shoes, to ease the pain of the ass-kicking.
There is almost no difference between Michigan and Ohio State.
Let's look at it.
Michigan and Ohio are, culturally, the same.
I married a woman from Cincinnati and have spent a lot of time in Ohio. And, aside from landmarks and the color of people's football sweatshirts, there is no way to tell the difference between Michigan and Ohio. They are both well-populated but have a rural/country vibe, their economies are still struggling to adapt to the decline of heavy industry, neither is heavily Democratic nor heavily Republican, and they describe cola as "pop" rather than soda. We're not talking about the United States vs. the Soviet Union here.
They even look the same.
QUIZ: Where were the photos above taken? TRICK QUESTION. The one on the left is Illinois and the one on the right is Indiana. But it doesn't matter because the Midwest is the Midwest. No matter which part of it you're in, you're going to see scenic, flat forests interrupted occasionally by cornfields.
Ann Arbor and Columbus are outstanding college towns that are both outstanding for the same reasons.
Columbus is a lot bigger than A2, but they're just different versions of the same thing: They're places everyone likes because they combine big-city food, nightlife, and cultural options with affordability (well, relative affordability) and ease of getting around.
The schools themselves are nearly identical.
Both are prestigious public research universities with enrollments in the tens of thousands. Michigan gave the Unabomber a Ph.D., but Ohio State "educated" George Steinbrenner, so they're even.
The teams each play in architecturally unique and awe-inspiring stadiums.
There are a lot of college venues with great atmospheres, but Michigan and Ohio Stadiums are, along with the Rose Bowl, the Coliseum, and Notre Dame's stomping grounds, among the few that are truly MONUMENTAL.
They are not only both historically strong programs but have both been strong programs in the same way.
Bo and Woody are still the spirits of each program — hard-nosed but beloved old cranks (they were both age 61 at birth) who built teams on bruising running backs and dominant defensive front 7s. It's still an identity that each team strives toward, although Ohio State has been more successful of late at translating these principles into the modern era. (Urban Meyer uses a spread offense, but one that's been defined by pounding interior runners — Tim Tebow at Florida, Carlos Hyde at OSU.)
And all of their fans love Cedar Point.
It's the pride of Sandusky, Ohio, which is actually about equidistant from Ann Arbor and Columbus. Shout-out to the Millennium Force!
So what's this rivalry really about?
Sigmund Freud, a standout wide receiver at the University of Vienna, might attribute the M-OSU feud to "the narcissism of small differences," the tendency of similar people and groups to exaggerate the differences between themselves in order to feel special and unique.
Freud, however, would have been incorrect, and frankly the University of Vienna's football team was always overrated. Because — despite all they have in common — there is actually one major difference between Michigan and Ohio State:
Michigan is better.
CORRECTION: The freeway speed limit in Ohio is apparently now 70 MPH. This article was published before the author was made aware that Ohio had decided to join the 21st century. (11/27/13)