May 23, 2013 at 2:42 pm

Terry Foster

'Not in Ohio' football just a fun part of the Michigan-OSU rivalry

Jeremy Gallon and the Wolverines meet the Buckeyes again on Nov. 30 at Michigan Stadium. (John T. Greilick / Detroit News)

The Michigan-Ohio State rivalry is sort of like the NFL these days. It goes on for 365 days a year.

The latest controversy involves some test footballs that were sent to Michigan by adidas. Some of the players were tossing them around when they noticed something strange. The footballs carried this message: "Made in USA. Not in Ohio."

They got a good laugh out of it and wide receiver Bo Dever decided to take a picture of the ball and tweet it to the world. It caused a big stir.

It's silly that it was controversial, but it illustrates how big this Michigan-Ohio border war continues to be.

Critics say Michigan should focus on beating Ohio State on the field, and I agree. But this was not a case of Michigan trying to stir the pot or get under the Buckeyes' skin. It was adidas having a little fun, and some of the Michigan players in turn having a little fun. Michigan didn't ask for the balls to be labeled that way.

But let's pretend Michigan did commission the company to make the footballs as they were sent.

So what? What's wrong with a little fun? Michigan-Ohio State might be the greatest rivalry in sports.

"I think (the rivalry) is totally on the upswing," Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon said during a recent radio interview. "I think the best years are ahead in terms of the level of competition and the approach both of these programs are taking in making that a game that defines your season."

Ohio State has dominated Michigan in recent years but Hoke is 1-1 against OSU.

Here is why the message on the football didn't bother me — and shouldn't bother you if you are a Michigan fan. When I was growing up, Michigan football was looked at as old, stodgy, boring and unimaginative. It was a winning program, but one that could not laugh about itself. The school chased a certain image.

In the last couple years, however, we've seen some refreshing changes. Alternate uniforms have been worn and everybody survived. The legendary wing-tip helmet was even given a matte finish for the Outback Bowl and that did no harm.

Hoke can be charismatic when he wants to be, and he has added some life to the program. As a big bonus he is helping bring together a fan base that became divided under Rich Rodriguez. Hoke came in yelling "Go Blue!" and "This is Michigan!" right from the start.

If Hoke's players want to toss around footballs that make fun of Ohio, so be it. I've got no problem with that.

The Buckeyes and Wolverines are big-time rivals. They are supposed to hate each other.