Though the University of Michigan and Ohio State University began playing each other annually in 1900, some believe the teams didn’t really become rivals until coaches Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes faced off in a series of bitterly-fought games starting in 1969.
The origins of that rivalry are the subject of a new documentary scheduled to air on HBO next week. A reservation-only HBO advance screening is scheduled for tonight at the Michigan Theater at 7:30.
The film covers nearly every aspect of the rivalry, from its famous figures like Bo and Woody to the effect that the games’ outcomes have on fans.
At first, Director George Roy admitted, he might not have fully understood the intensity of the rivalry. But he didn’t get beyond the order of the names in the title before he realized how much people care about the two teams.
“I’ve already had people ask why am I calling it Michigan vs. Ohio State,” he said. “(People said) ‘It’s really Ohio State vs. Michigan: The Rivalry’, so we just said, ‘Wow, well, we’ll leave it alphabetical.’ “
While air time featuring each school is split evenly, the film doesn’t focus on each school separately. Roy said the rivalry is a story about football, culture, family, heritage and the unique – and at one point violent – relationship between the two states that date back to the early 1800s.
“It’s a dramatic story,” Roy said. “It’s much more than a chronology of the teams and events; it’s an actual story.”
The documentary includes interviews with famous alumni from each school, including Michigan players Dan Dierdorf, Desmond Howard and Jim Mandich, Ohio State coach Earle Bruce and two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin.
The documentary also includes Schembechler’s final long-form interview, conducted at Michigan Stadium on Nov. 16, 2006 – the day before his death.
Though the documentary focuses on football, some non-football related alumni appear in the film, such as Ohio State graduate and golfer Jack Nicklaus and University of Michigan alum and “60 Minutes” journalist Mike Wallace.
Wallace, who graduated from the University in 1939, spoke glowingly in an interview about the football tradition at his alma mater.
When asked his opinion about the rivalry, Wallace responded, “I cannot think of a happier experience.”
The documentary details the Ten Year War between Hayes and Schembechler, which took place from 1969 to 1978.
Many credit the coaches with launching the rivalry into its modern day national spotlight. Michigan narrowly won the series with a 5-4-1 record.
“The relationship between Bo and Woody really kind of captures the dramatic element, both personally and professionally,” Roy said. “They are characters, and every great story has a couple great characters.”
This year’s game in Ann Arbor will mark the 104th game between the schools. Michigan leads the all-time series 57-40-6.