The Daily conducted interviews with 23 alumni who covered the Michigan football team's game against Ohio State from 1963-2020. File Photo/Daily. Buy this photo.

Expecting to get maybe a handful of responses, I emailed the Michigan Daily Sports Alumni base asking if anyone would be willing to share their experiences covering the Michigan-Ohio State game for the Daily. An hour later, I had 15 responses. By the next morning, I had somewhere near 40. In the end, I’ve conducted and compiled interviews with 23 alumni who covered the Michigan football team between 1963 and 2020: 

1963-1998: The dominant years (or at least the even years)

What were the major storylines in the year you covered the team?

Mike Block (1963): I was really looking forward to covering the Ohio State game. It was just fun to be in the press box and do all the cool stuff. But then, Kennedy was assassinated (the day before the game), so the focus, as you might imagine, was way less on Ohio State. The University and the Big Ten handled it really badly. … They didn’t cancel until the last minute, almost literally. So people, besides being extremely upset about the assassination, were really not happy with how things were handled.

Bob Miller, former sportscaster for Fox Sports, (1978): The first that comes to mind if you’re talking about Michigan and Ohio State, it was last year that Woody and Bo were coaches in that game together because after the season was over was the unfortunate incident where Woody Hayes hit a Clemson player in the bowl game and got fired.

Phil Nussel, editor at Automotive News, (1986, 1987): (Michigan) beat Ohio State at Ohio State after Harbaugh guaranteed the victory. I sat next to him when he did it. We all thought he was being crazy. And we go ‘Wait, Jim are you serious? Are you just bullshitting or is this on the record?’ He goes ‘Absolutely, I’m on the record. I’m guaranteeing a victory at Ohio State.’ We all looked at each other. … We all just couldn’t believe it. He didn’t clear it with Bo, that’s for sure, because Schembechler got all over his ass later on that day. 

Nick Cotsonika, columnist for (1997): I had Michigan finishing fifth in the Big Ten. Penn State was the odds on favorite to win the Big Ten, followed by Ohio State. I didn’t think they were going to be great. (Michigan went on to win the National Championship)

Did you expect Michigan to win? What was the state of the rivalry at the time? 

Miller (1978): I feel bad for the people that came after me because I think that you want that kind of importance tied to the rivalry. … It was Woody versus Bo. And it was special to the effect that the game lived up to its hype. It was a low-scoring game, but it was the kind of game that kept everybody in the stadium till the final gun.

Ryan Herrington, managing editor of (1993): When I was in school, I mean, we had really good teams, and I think the rivalry was really fun because we kind of owned it at the time. We won. We haven’t lost to them at all. It was the tie in the year before, but it was never the kind of thing like now where you go into the game, kind of just presuming you’re gonna lose because we just don’t have the talent. We had the same talent they did. There was no talent gap, and more often than not, we played harder than them at the time. And we were able to beat them even when maybe there was a year or two where we weren’t as good on paper.

What are your memories from The Game? Or from covering the team generally? 

Phil Hertz (1969): The most celebratory mood in the Daily offices that I can recall was that Ohio State game. People were going crazy. You know, booze everywhere. I don’t remember if there was a whole lot of drugs around — I mean, clearly drugs around the campus, but you know, there were too many non-Daily people around, coming in as hangers on and checking out the scene. It was really crazy. And I remember having to kick a couple of people in the butt to get their stories written because they were getting drunk and talking more than they were writing, but eventually we got everything done.

Cotsonika (1997): I think every single person in that stadium realized what a significant moment that (game) was. Right? And obviously something that we know now. You know, nothing quite like that ever happened again. Since you know, it was just an unbelievable day. If we look back now, you realize how spoiled and lucky we were. … I don’t think any of us realized that that was going to end fairly soon.

What was it like to cover the team as a college student?

Miller (1978): The week before the Ohio State game, we’re down (at the practice facility), as usual, waiting to get some post practice quotes, and it was freezing. It was so cold and standing outside the hall waiting for (Schembechler) to come out.. It’s just incredible. And he’s never taken that long before. And when he finally came out, he looked at us. ‘What are you doing here?’ We said ‘What do you mean what are we doing here? We’ve been here every day for the whole season.’ He goes ‘I didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to stand out there in that cold weather. I didn’t come out because I didn’t think you were here.’ He goes ‘Get in my car,’ so the three of us got in his car. He turns on the heat full blast so that we could warm up, and I’m in the front seat along with him and my two friends are in the backseat. … So the subject got (on) Iowa’s head coach. He was in trouble because Iowa was having a really poor season. And Bo looks at me and he says, ‘Can you believe the student newspaper at the University of Iowa called for the firing of their head coach?’ And he’s looking at me, and he’s got fire coming out of his eyes. And I’m like, ‘No, I wasn’t aware of that.’ And he grabs my wrist and he is holding on to it in a death grip. And he looks at me and he goes ‘You would never do that, would you?’ And I’m thinking ‘Okay, if I value my life, the answer is ‘No Bo, I will never call for your firing as the senior editor of the student paper.’ And so then he’s kind of like let go and we just started talking a little bit more. He lightened up and it was an amazing performance that we — mere mortals — had the opportunity to see what the football team saw week in and week out day in and day out.

Adam Schefter, sports journalist at ESPN (1988): It was a tremendous lesson to hang around a legend like Bo Schembechler. At the end of the Michigan football season, my senior year, I remember going over to him at a luncheon at Weber’s. I went over to him and I thanked him because I always miss class to go to his press sessions and eat a free lunch. …  And he slapped me on the cheek and he said ‘You like to bullshit son, don’t ya?’ But I meant it. You know, I meant it. I felt like I got to be around a legend and listen to him talk about football. And that, to me, was invaluable and educational.

2000-2015: The transition years

What were the major storylines in the year you covered the team? 

Scott Bell, sports editor at Dallas Morning News, (2006): It was pretty crazy because it ended up being No. 1 Ohio State against No. 2 Michigan, the last game of the year. That was also the year that Bo Schembechler died two days before the game. So it was quite a lot going on, but it was cool, and it was obviously an honor and a privilege to just get to chronicle such a crazy time. 

Dan Feldman, writer for NBC Sports, (2008): So this was Rich Rodriguez’s first year. The team was bad, and it was the first bad Michigan team in a long time and ended a real long bowl streak. It was very slowly but surely figuring out, ‘This team is bad’ and ‘How bad?’ and, ‘Oh, they’re not going to win a bunch of games,’ ‘Oh, they’re not even gonna make a bowl.’ Obviously, it had been a long (losing) streak against Ohio State, but Michigan was a big underdog going into the Game — it was just hopelessness going in. 

Did you expect Michigan to win? What was the state of the rivalry at the time? 

Kyle O’Neil (2003): Certainly anybody who watched in the ‘90s knew how Michigan had found a way to dominate and I probably thought that we were just set for probably back and forth and back and forth. I wouldn’t have guessed that ‘03 would have been kind of the last monumental (game) next to 2011.

Courtney Ratkowiak (2008, 2009): (Michigan) lost. I think it was like 42-7 and the team was completely uninspired. Nobody wanted to talk to us after the game. I remember there also being this sense that it didn’t feel like (Rich Rodriguez) really understood the gravity of the rivalry, but he would tell you he did, of course. But he said ‘We’ve only lost this one game.’ That’s all I remember him saying. And it’s like, ‘Well, actually Michigan’s been losing to Ohio State for quite a few years now.’

Tim Rohan, senior writer with Religion of Sports, (2011): If I remember correctly, people were cautiously optimistic. Ohio State had dominated the rivalry, but Michigan seemed like they had the better team that year. All the emotion of Michigan not having won in so long and the Rich Rod years and all that. Everyone just stormed the field (when Michigan won). … At the time, it felt like maybe, Michigan was on the cusp of something. But the very next year, Ohio State hired Urban Meyer, and they’ve won ever since.

What are your memories from The Game? Or from covering the team generally? 

Brady McCollough, sports enterprise reporter at the LA Times, (2002, 2003): (After losing in 2002), it was like, ‘Well hey, they’re coming back to Ann Arbor. You know, we got to put a stop to this. Can’t lose three in a row to these guys.’ … It’s funny enough looking back, Michigan actually won the game. And it was amazing and a great release and the whole students section rushed the field. I was a student reporter down there in the chaos and trying not to celebrate even though of course (I was) over the moon that Michigan actually did it and beat those guys.

Ratkowiak (2008, 2009): It was in Columbus. I was wearing a suit. We dressed up to cover all of the games, and we were walking to the stadium and carrying our laptops and all of that just getting full cans of beer thrown at us. I remember that so clearly and being like, ‘I’m not even in Michigan clothes. How do they know?’

What was it like to cover the team as a college student?

Zuniga (2014): Following the Ohio State game, Brady Hoke is fired, and Michigan went into a coaching search. Come December, it seems like everything’s pointing toward Jim Harbaugh being the new football coach. Myself and the rest of the football beat, who were still in the Ann Arbor area, managed to track down Jim Harbaugh’s flight as it was coming from the San Francisco area where he had been working. We were actually the ones who broke the story that he had arrived in Michigan and was set to take a Michigan football job. The following day at the press conference, he called me out (and) said really nice things about me, which was very cool. Because we were there; because we had a team of four people; because we were young and kind of crazy student journalists who were willing to take a shot because, you know, what do we have to lose? Right? We were the ones who were able to break that story.

2016-Present: The current state of the Rivalry 

What were the major storylines in the year you covered the team? 

Ethan Sears, sports reporter for the New York Post (2020): The storyline of that team was Josh Gattis was the new offensive coordinator. So it was seeing what that offense would look like after they had kind of (been) a disaster of a few games to end the year in 2018. And their adjustments that offense and then they lost were blown out early in the season in Madison against Wisconsin, and a lot (of the season) was based on how they would recover from that. And they strung together a couple wins. After they lost to Penn State that kind of turned it around in the second half (of the season) and from there, they were a much better team, but still not particularly good enough to compete with Ohio State.

Did you expect Michigan to win? What was the state of the rivalry at the time? 

Ethan Wolfe (2018): I think Michigan had lost so many of the previous matchups that there was certainly an outcry, but there wasn’t any ‘woe is me.’ People were just resigned to the fact that this is how it goes.

What are your memories from the Game? Or from covering the team generally? 

Sears (2020): It kind of sucked (that the game was canceled). We knew obviously going into that week that the chances that the game would be played were pretty low because Michigan had its game the week before that canceled. And we knew from other teams that had COVID outbreaks, but just a general timeline was you’re pretty lucky if you only missed one game. So I don’t really think it was a surprise. But obviously it was too bad and just kind of like the general vibe of that season was kind of just a train wreck in general.

What was it like to cover the team as a college student?

Mike Persak, sports reporter at the Pittsburgh Post Gazette (2018): Those big games, that’s why it kind of feels like a fever dream, right? You look around the press box, and it’s like all the people are here, everyone who matters in college football media, and yet you’re just there as a student newspaper writer. It just kind of feels odd. I don’t know if it’s always like that for the Michigan-Ohio State game, but for that one specifically it really did feel like that. It’s just kind of odd to be there reporting on the same level when there are people who’ve been doing it for 20 years who were also there and paying very close attention (to) this game because it mattered a lot.