Last week I discussed the need for humanity to both reach out into the stars and go watch Interstellar in theaters. According to my site statistics that post was read by people from countries around the world such as Brazil, Italy, and Taiwan to name a few. What better way to follow an urging to become borderless and reach out collectively to save our species’ future than to talk about a local football rivalry and the hatred between two states it continues to fuel? And I’m not even talking about the football that most of those countries would be interested in! But then, most everybody has a favorite sports team that they feel unreasonable passionate for. “Fan” is short for “fanatic” after all. My favorite sports team in the whole wide world is The Ohio State University Buckeyes football team, and this week they face off against the most diabolical, demonic, evil collection of scUM that ever flew screaming out of the gates of Hell onto this Earth: the University of Michigan Wolverines, booooooo! But why exactly do Ohio and Michigan hate each other? Why does this week, affectionately referred to as “Fuck Michigan” or “Hate Michigan” week exist at all? The answers are rooted in the creation of the Earth when the mitten of Michigan was jealous of the Ohio River. Okay maybe not that far, but it at least goes back to before the two states were both states, and it played a crucial factor in defining the boundaries within a blossoming America. Brace yourselves folks; this is gonna be a long one. The first major piece is a semi-detailed history of the first major instance of hostility between Ohio and Michigan that may or may not be excerpted from a paper I wrote in college, followed by a more recent account of the football rivalry between the two schools. Enjoy.
During the 19th century, the United States fought the bloodiest war in its history with itself for a number of reasons, the most prominent being America’s core value: freedom. The American Civil War was a four-year nationwide conflict that ultimately eradicated slavery in America and kept the country in one piece, thus defining it as one of the most important periods in our country’s history. Every American knows the significance of our Civil War, but how many are aware that there was an earlier war between northern and southern states?
The Toledo War was not a true war like the Civil War; there were no military battles and no documented instances of bloodshed, but it was important for establishing the boundaries of Ohio and Michigan, and for finalizing Michigan’s bid for statehood.
The Toledo War was “fought” from the turn of the 19th century through the 1830s. Although it is most well known for being a border dispute between Ohio and Michigan, it began as a result of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which established the governing structure for the entire Northwest Territory, which stretched from Ohio to Minnesota. (Obviously, what is considered the Northwestern portion of the USA has shifted somewhat farther west now.) This legislation expanded upon earlier ordinances for the Northwest Territory and described the procedure for its territories to become states. Ohio was the first of these territories to complete that procedure which not only set the standard for future states within the Northwest Territory, but for all future states. In regards to Ohio, the Northwest Ordinance decreed that its northern border would follow an east to west line that would be parallel with the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. Congress believed that this line would meet the western shores of Lake Erie north of where the Maumee River empties into it. This line was declared as Ohio’s northern border once again in the Enabling Act of 1802, which all but finalized Ohio’s status as a state. The boundary line was again referenced when it was declared as the southern border of the newly established Michigan territory in 1805.
The line that was now the boundary between the two territories was convenient for use in the legislations that established them, but it served as the central problem in what escalated into the Toledo War. Back in 1802, while Ohio’s Constitutional Convention was drawing up its primary legislation, a fur trapper informed the delegates that the southern point of Lake Michigan extended farther south than they believed, meaning their documented northern border was actually south of the mouth of the mighty Maumee. In Ohio’s own constitution that was enacted in 1803, the delegates maintained that the mouth of the Maumee River should be entirely within Ohio’s boundaries. They requested that a line be drawn from the Lake Michigan line to the northernmost point of Maumee Bay. The United States Congress accepted this claim, yet never officially established the new boundary line. As a result of Congress’ negligence, the Michigan territory began to feel cheated by Ohioans as it developed into a hopeful state candidate. Way to go, Congress.
In order to assuage the border situation, Congress ordered the boundary to be surveyed in 1812, but the survey was delayed by a little conflict called the War of 1812, aka American Revolution 2: The Empire Strikes Back. The survey was conducted after the war on the authority of Edward Tiffin, the Surveyor General of the Northwest Territory. In 1817, Tiffin, who was also Ohio’s first governor, sent William Harris to survey the northern boundary of Ohio based upon its description in Ohio’s Constitution. Lewis Cass, the governor of the Michigan Territory, sent John Fulton (who is not the namesake of Fulton County, Ohio, which is now part of the area in question; it is named after Robert Fulton who invented the steamship) to conduct a survey based upon the line described by the Enabling Act of 1802. What arose was a 468 square mile strip of land between each of these lines that became known as the Toledo Strip. The Fulton Line placed the greater Toledo area within Michigan, while the Harris Line put it within Ohio’s bounds. Obviously, Michigan favored the Fulton Line, while Ohio desired the Harris Line to be put into effect.
Tensions became increasingly strained for Ohioans as Michigan neared statehood in 1833, for many believed that if the Toledo Strip was not officially declared to be Ohio’s land before Michigan became a state, then Michigan would win the disputed land as part of their induction as a state. This worry was justified because Michigan had been governing the area, and those who lived within the Strip participated in Michigan elections. After urging the federal government to make a decision, Ohio received support from the United States Senate. Nevertheless, the House of Representatives did not agree with the Senate. The states of Indiana and Illinois also sided with Ohio as their own northern borders were further north than the Harris Line (which meant the area now known as South Bend would be securely in Indiana if the Harris Line was accepted – remember this for later). Michigan’s territorial governor, Stevens Mason, a feisty fledgling who was 22 years old in 1833, requested the creation of a commission to discuss possible solutions. Ohio’s governor, Robert Lucas, rejected this request. 1835 saw the Toledo Strip reformed into counties by Ohio’s government. The county that contained Toledo, the grand prize city for the winner of the Strip, was named Lucas County after Ohio’s governor, thereby adding fuel to the fire already burning hot within native Michiganders.
While the Senate and fellow states supported Ohio’s claim, Michigan was not alone in their fight for the Strip. Former President and accomplished lawyer, John Quincy Adams sided with the northern territory and went so far as to say, “Never in the course of my life have I known a controversy of which all the right so clearly on one side and all the power so overwhelmingly on the other.” What he referred to as “all the power” was the overwhelming number of political personnel Ohio had at its disposal, due in part to its position as a state, compared to Michigan’s one non-voting representative. This political advantage was what allowed Governor Lucas to reject Michigan’s requests regarding the Strip. Michigan attempted to combat this by passing the Pains and Penalties Act which allowed the government to fine anyone within the Strip who was not a Michigan resident or a federal officer.
As tensions rose, both sides activated militias and sent their troops to the border. Governor Mason pleaded to President Andrew Jackson to stop the battle before it started, so Jackson sent two representatives to conduct a negotiation with each sides’ representatives. The initial proposal given by the federal government was that both Ohio and Michigan govern the Toledo Strip until a better solution could be worked out. Ohio agreed to this arrangement, but Lucas still provided the militia with $300,000 to prepare to seize the Strip in the case that Michigan did not uphold its end of the bargain. Michigan responded by providing their militia with $315,000. That is a lot of moola for those days, so clearly both Ohio and Michigan meant business. Ohio’s militia advanced to the southern bank of the Maumee while Michigan’s looked across from the northern bank. This was the closest the actual fighting forces from each state got within each other, yet neither attacked the other. Michigan did “enforce” their Pains and Penalties Act when they arrested nine Ohio surveyors and supposedly fired their muskets at some other Ohioans who fled, yet no one was hurt. The only violence that occurred happened when Ohioan Two Stickney (now that’s an 1800s American name) stabbed, but did not kill, a Michigan Sheriff in a fight.
In 1835, Mason became increasingly perturbed with the political process and with Jackson’s lack of action, and Jackson became equally annoyed with Mason who was not cooperating with his representatives, so Jackson replaced Mason with John Horner from Virginia. Much to the chagrin of Michiganders, Horner did not fight the federal government or Lucas, and on June 15, 1836, Jackson approved an agreement that ended the conflict: the Toledo Strip would officially become part of Ohio, and Michigan would get the 9000 square mile Upper Peninsula added to its territory. Furthermore, Michigan’s request for statehood would be reviewed, and on January 26, 1837, Michigan was admitted as the 26th state. They did have to abandon their original building location for the University of Michigan though, as it was supposed to be in Toledo. Today there is a plaque in downtown Toledo that marks where UM was intended to go.
Michigan apparently commemorated the Toledo War in a song that describes the major events and the brave and honorable actions of Michigan’s political figures, especially Mason, against those nasty Buckeyes who stirred up trouble. I couldn’t find that song, although I’ve got a few more modern ones from the Ohio side that primarily focus on football. We’ll get to them later.
Some people feel that the spirit of the Toledo War lives on today in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry and that the annual football game is a modern extension of the battle that never was. Today, there are many rivalries between states across the whole nation that are exhibited in athletics, differences in culture, and a variety of other forms; nevertheless, none of these other state vs. state contentions have the almost bloody history that began the relationship between the states of Ohio and Michigan. The Toledo War is one of the most unique conflicts the United States has ever experienced, and its occurrence probably helped to encourage Congress to handle future territory and state boundaries more carefully. It is unlikely that we will ever see another situation like the Toledo War again in the United States; history may repeat itself, but I think we’ve probably learned from this mistake here in America.
Essentially, that is what the Toledo War was: a mistake. Poor procedure from Congress coupled with inaction left a legal gaffe that created unrest with Michiganders. This combined with the stubbornness of Ohioans nearly led to an armed conflict. Fortunately, the conflict was resolved without physical fighting, but there was plenty of legal combat featuring notable American figures on both sides of the border. Initially after the issue was “resolved”, it seemed that Michigan had come out on the losing side. Nevertheless, the mineral deposits and woodlands of the Upper Peninsula provided Michigan with enough revenue to more than make up for its “losses”. Thus, the Toledo War was not a real war, and there were no real winners; however, considering the wealth Michigan obtained within the Upper Peninsula which most likely would have become part of Wisconsin had it not been awarded as Michigan’s consolation prize for relinquishing Toledo, it seems that the Badger State was the lone loser of the bizarre conflict before it even became a state.
Now that you’ve had an extensive history lesson about why Ohio and Michigan were never really besties, allow me to tell you about why their annual football rivalry is the fiercest in the sport.
Starting in 1897, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry was always a bitter feud but rarely an even one. Michigan is the winningest college football program of all time and a big reason why is because they were about the only consistently good team for many of the early years of the sport. The second meeting was a scoreless tie, but Ohio State didn’t beat the Wolverines until their 16th meeting. A three year Buckeye win streak began, but was followed by the Wolverines winning six in a row. This streaky trend of Ohio State getting a few consecutive wins, then Michigan getting a few more continued until 1951, when Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes was hired as head coach at Ohio State.
Woody Hayes is regarded as the greatest coach in Ohio State history, and for good reason. The man knew how to win football games and was especially good at beating his rival, which he refused to name and instead called “the team up north”. Woody Hayes beat Michigan 12 times in his first 18 years, shifting the dominance in the Big Ten Conference from the maize and blue school up north to his scarlet and gray Buckeyes. But the rivalry really got a blast from its spice weasel when Bo Schembechler, a former assistant and personal protegee of Woody Hayes, took the head coaching job at Michigan in 1968. They say Satan was God’s favorite angel. Bo did the unthinkable and coached his players to a victory over the defending national champion Buckeyes in 1969. So began the intense Ten-Year War.
Woody was pissed. Well, Woody was always pissed on the field, but he was really, really pissed after this. He vowed revenge, and the next year he got it. The Ten-Year War saw a back and forth battle each season. It would have lasted longer, but Woody Hayes’ temper got the better of him in a bowl game at the end of the 1978 season and he punched a player who intercepted a pass to seal a Buckeyes loss. Ohio State kind of had to fire him after that. The Ten-Year War was a hallmark period for national notice for the rivalry as the dramatic off-field history between the two elite coaches produced some great games on the field and the winner almost always went on to play in the Rose Bowl. Plus there was that year they tied! All in all, the record during the Ten-Year War favored Bo’s blue bastards 5-4-1.
Woody was replaced by another of his former coaching assistants, Earle Bruce. Bruce racked up a 5-4 record against Bo’s Michigan teams, capped off by his team’s upset of the Wolverines a week after he was unjustly fired (he didn’t punch anybody) in 1987.
John Cooper was the next Ohio State coach, and while he won some major contests and recruited some excellent, talented players who went on to NFL Hall of Fame status, he just couldn’t win the one that mattered. The 1990s were a dark time to grow up a Buckeye fan as Cooper posted an abysmal 2-10-1 record against Michigan, losing three times with a previously undefeated team. He was fired in 2000 for a few reasons, but we all really know why. Cooper is now known more for his shortcomings at Ohio State than his accomplishments, like the legendary 1997 Rose Bowl.
Hope would return to Columbus, Ohio for the 2001 season. Hope dressed to impress in a sweater vest. Jim Tressel was part of a legendary coaching family for lower division college football, but it didn’t take him long to establish himself at a major Division I program. When he was introduced he told the OSU student body and fans at a Buckeye basketball game, “I can assure you that you will be proud of our young people, in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan on the football field.” Atta boy Jim! He made good on his promise too, beating Michigan in that hole in the ground sardine can of a stadium (they built in the ground so that it would be closer to Hell) in Ann Arbor for the first time in 14 years. His second year he beat them again (and 13 other teams) en route to a National Championship. Michigan won the next game, the 100th in the rivalry, but they never beat Tressel again. He posted a 9-1 record against them before resigning in the aftermath of an NCAA investigation. The “Tattoo Five” fiasco brought NCAA sanctions down onto Ohio State’s program, and they vacated the 2010 season and lost a postseason bid for the 2012 season. Tressel returned to Ohio Stadium in 2012 for a 10 Year Anniversary celebration of the 2002 National Championship team, causing many national football “experts” (often the less talented brothers of some NFL player) to wonder why Buckeye fans cheered on the man whose tenure was ended in shame and was perceived as the primary reason Ohio State could not go to a bowl game that year. I’ll tell you why they cheered him on: in addition to most Buckeye fans believing that Tressel fell on the sword for higher-ups (a debatable point), he has the highest win percentage against Michigan of any Ohio State coach ever with at least five seasons (a certain fact). You could steal every Buckeye fans’ first born child and still be forgiven if you beat Michigan 9 times. Kids are temporary; beating Michigan’s forever.
Tressel’s biggest win over Michigan came in 2006 when the two teams played the true Game of the Century. Both were undefeated at 11-0 and had beaten tough teams along the way. There was even a question of whether they might play again in the National Championship if it was a close game. And it was. I have never seen a more entertaining back and forth slugfest like that game. Ohio State prevailed 42-39 (eerily enough, the Ohio Lottery Pick Four that night was 4-2-3-9) and went on to the Championship game against not Michigan, but Florida. After a promising first play, the Gators got the better of the Buckeyes and then some, but it all worked out in the end for OSU….
After a season of trying out our linebacker coach, Luke Fickell, at head coach in 2011, Ohio State hired briefly retired Urban Meyer to carry on the program. Meyer was an assistant for Earle Bruce and a proven champion; while at Florida he did orchestrate the upset of the 2006 team I just talked about after all, as well as another championship win a few seasons later. Of course, he did have our Lord and Savior Tim Tebow on those teams. He hasn’t needed Tebow so far though. Meyer has won his first two games against the Wolverines and looks to get a third this Saturday. Despite a so-so record coming into the game last year, Michigan gave undefeated Ohio State all it had in a surprisingly contested match that resulted in a 42-41 Buckeyes win. Michigan scored the final touchdown of the game in the last minute and made the bold decision to go for a two-point conversion instead of kicking the easier one-point field goal to tie and go to overtime. Thankfully Tyvis Powell saved Ohio State’s season with an interception at the goal line. After that thrilling heart attack of a game I texted a friend saying, “I don’t care what happens with auburn-alabama or florida state-florida or in any of the later rivalry games today because what just happened cannot be topped!” Then off course this happened. Hahaha, seriously, what kind of devil magic did Auburn have last season?
While that is one truly incredible example of how Ohio State-Michigan has not been as relevant to the national landscape of college football when it comes to determining a national champion as it once was and as other rivalries have been lately, it still stands as the greatest sports rivalry in North America and quite possibly the best outside of soccer worldwide (that’s right, I said soccer, not futbol!) Everyone is attached to their own teams, I know, and this will not be a welcome statement to people reading this in the state of Alabama. But we can all agree on two things. First, Michigan sucks. Even when they’re good, they’re still a team that nobody but their fans like. Ohio State’s is fiercest, but it seems like everybody has a rivalry with Michigan. Michigan State hates them, Minnesota hates them and has the oldest college football trophy with them, and remember when I told you to remember that detail about the disputed territory and South Bend, Indiana? Well there’s this school there with a football team you might have heard of that isn’t necessarily a fan of the Wolverines either. Why the hell they’re ending (at least for now) their annual games against each other I have no idea. No wait, I do, it’s just stupid reasoning is all.
The second thing everyone can agree on is that Ohio State really does have what Woody Hayes called “The Best Damn Band in the Land”. Even if you’ve never cared about football you may have seen some of what Ohio State’s Marching Band can do, like the greatest college sports tradition of all time: Script Ohio. Forget where the inspiration for it came from (it originally was done – albeit certainly not that intricately – by Michigan’s band in 1932 when they spelled out “Ohio” to honor their rivals) ever since Ohio State perfected the formula in 1936 it has been dropping audiences’ jaws with the impressive maneuver. A senior sousaphone player gets to dot the “i” every time it’s done, except on very rare occasions when an honorary non-band member gets to do it. Often it’s an alumnus or other person connected to the university or Ohio who is chosen, like Woody Hayes, Bob Hope, and Jack Nicklaus. John Glenn and wife Annie Glenn dotted the “i” when the band spelled out “America” in 2012 to honor Glenn’s service as an astronaut and Ohio senator.
Temporarily off topic, I usually hate teaser trailers, but this was awesome. Anybody else notice that nasty looking storm system on the right screen in the control room? When will they learn? At least they hired the right man to wear that vest. If you do love you some Jurassic Park then watch this. You shouldn’t skip any of it, but the dinosaur arrives at 5:45. Did you notice what he ate? Here are some other gems from that greatest of bands: a subtle expression of their opinions on the state up north and Ohio’s official rock and roll song. That four second pause is perfect time to spell out O-H-I-O!
If you like that band’s music and also things that are lovably insane you just might like the Dead Schembechlers. Named after the “accursed one” and dressed like Woody Hayes, they are a wild rock band that plays passionate shows during Hate Michigan week and cuts records about the greats of OSU and the awfuls of scUM during the rest of the year. Here’s my favorite from them, and a fantastic interview with lead singer Bo Biafra filmed before the Game of the Century.
And ladies, if you’re wondering, yes, being a Michigan fan is a dealbreaker for me.
Thanks for reading, especially if you did manage to stomach the whole thing. Direct any questions, requests, or applause to the comment section at the bottom of the page or at email@example.com. If any Wolverine fans wish to leave a comment go to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks to the official state websites of Ohio and that shithole to the north for historical facts, and to Jack Park and his encyclopedic The Ohio State University Vault which lent a lot of football info to this post. If you or someone on your holiday shopping list is a fan of college football there are University Vault books for most major programs. Just be sure you don’t buy any blue and yellow ones in an Ann Arbor bookstore. Run to daylight back to this endzone next week for a more worldly topical post, and have a Happy Thanksgiving in the meantime.
P.S. Oh and Fuck Mount Union and that stupid rule about spiking the ball with less than 3 seconds on the clock. Go Streaks!