On Thursday afternoon, November 16th, 2006, Coach Bo Schembechler addressed the University of Michigan football team within the hall that bears his name. Despite retiring from active coaching duties sixteen years prior, the iconic leader still made time to speak with the team when necessary — that Thursday it was necessary.
The undefeated Wolverines, ranked second in the country, were but 48 hours from facing their greatest rival — the number one ranked Ohio State Buckeyes. No man present that afternoon knew he was listening to Coach Bo’s final speech, but that was the case. Less than sixteen hours later, the winningest football coach in Michigan history, the man who went toe-to-toe with Woody Hayes, and so many others, died of heart failure.
I was incredibly fortunate to be a freshman quarterback on that Michigan team. Six months prior I was graduating from high school in South Georgia, now I sat seven rows away from the patriarch of Michigan football.
Coach Schembechler did not bring up our quest for a national championship, nor did he make mention of the ‘team down south.’ Instead, he reminded us of the opportunity that lay ahead, not merely the chance to win a football game, but the privilege we had of representing our team, our state, and our families, as so many great players had done before us.
Coach did not draw any X’s and O’s, or pass along any schematic advice, rather, he made clear his expectations for us as Michigan Men, reminding each player that our team’s greatness would ultimately be determined by the quality of husbands and fathers we would eventually become.
The news of Coach Schembechler’s death spread swiftly the following morning. Even Ohio State held a vigil in his honor, and offered to postpone the pending contest — a true testament to just how much respect can exist between the most bitter of rivals. Michigan head coach Lloyd Carr graciously declined the gesture of postponement, and the stage was set in the Horseshoe, under the lights, for the first and only No.1 vs. No. 2 matchup in the history of the rivalry.
After a 60-minute shootout for the ages, which many lauded as “The Game of the Century,” Ohio prevailed 42-39, propelling the Buckeyes to their first outright Big Ten conference championship in over twenty years. With this, they earned a berth in the national championship, and their star quarterback Troy Smith walked away with the Heisman Trophy.
Sixteen years later, the stakes are just as high. Michigan and Ohio State will once again meet in Columbus as undefeated foes. The division, the conference, the college football playoff, and the Heisman trophy are all on the line.
The Buckeyes are ranked second nationally, and have beaten every opponent this season by double digits. Michigan sits at third, and is looking to win the Big Ten championship in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2003/04. Out of the previous 116 installments of a rivalry known simply as “The Game,” twelve of those matchups came with both programs ranked in the top five — with the home team having won ten of those contests.
Come Saturday at high noon, more than 100,000 spectators will gather in Columbus, and another twenty million will watch from their televisions, to witness yet another prime example of what makes college football great. Yes, there will be vitriol, yes there will be contempt, but no great rivalry can survive on hate alone, for without respect, the fabric of the feud falls apart.
I will neither have the honor of sitting in Michigan’s meeting room this week, nor will I travel with the team as they make their 188 mile trek into hostile territory. I will not take any snaps, or score any touchdowns for the Wolverines on Saturday. Instead, I will watch from home, this time as a husband and a father, and I will reminisce, as I do every year on this week, back to the fifteen minutes of wisdom I was able to soak up from the final address of Coach Bo Schembechler.
Win, lose, or draw, I will sing “The Victors” proudly, for I know I’ve done my part, to the best of my abilities, to live in accordance with the Michigan mantra: THOSE WHO STAY WILL BE CHAMPIONS.
David Cone is a co-host and producer of the Daily Wire’s sports show Crain & Company, as well as a contributor to Morning Wire. David is also a former quarterback for the University of Michigan. You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @davidadamcone
The views expressed in this piece are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of The Daily Wire.