Michigan fans: The Game key for future of Harbaugh, program

Carol Thompson
The Detroit News

Ann Arbor — Ann Arbor is buzzing with energy Saturday as a pair of Big 10 rivals face off in the Big House in The Game, one of the biggest in years.

Both Michigan and Ohio State are 10-1, although the Buckeyes have an edge — they are ranked No. 2, while the Wolverines are ranked No. 5. The stakes are high. Whichever team wins will play in the Big Ten Championship Game and be headed toward the College Football Playoff.

Fans cheer and hold signs while watching the live broadcast of ESPN's "College GameDay" from the Pioneer High School parking lot before the game.

Today’s matchup will be tough, and it could decide the future of Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh, said Henry Morley of Grand Rapids. 

“If he wins this, he’ll be around a while,” Morley said. “It’s a program-changing win if he wins today.”

Tim Long, standing alongside Morley and their tailgate setup on Stadium Boulevard, agreed.

“Personally, I am rooting for Harbaugh to win because transitioning to a new coach is tough,” he said. 

Henry Morley, Joe Morley, Dave Spencer and Tim Long, all of Grand Rapids

Wolverine One and Wolverine Two were parked in a prime spot outside the Big House, surrounded by a crowd of energetic fans.

The buses are decked out in Michigan memorabilia. Tom Anderson of Holland, who owns the first bus — said the fans who join the festive fleet at home games have become friends and family.

“This is my fall family,” said Scott Snyder, standing next to Anderson.

Tom Anderson, left, owner of the Wolverine One bus, and Scott Snyder

The “family” really turns out for The Game. A throng of mostly Michigan fans gathered around the buses, dipping into crockpots and good cheering before kickoff. 

This game has always been an important one, said Snyder, who attended the University of Michigan from 1995 to 1998. “It’s always about spoiling each other‘s seasons,” he said.

Snyder, of Ypsilanti, is a diehard Michigan fan no matter which team is on the other end of the field.

“This university changed my life,” he said. “It gave me the opportunity to be gainfully employed. I’m just supporting my alma mater.”

In the backdrop of this game is Ohio State's resounding triumph over Michigan State on Nov. 20. The Buckeyes beat the Spartans 56-7. And that was after a Spartan win over the Wolverines on Oct. 30 by 37-33.

A mixed crowd tailgates before The Game.

Saturday also marked a reunion for a group of friends who grew up together in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Their loyalties are divided, but they meet for the game every year to catch up and trade good-natured barbs.

“It’s just camaraderie,” said Michigan fan Matt Hollway of Rochester New York. "It’s tradition for us.”

The tradition was interrupted by the coronavirus last year.

“It was awful,” said Ohio State fan Janet Benedick, of Upper Arlington Ohio. “There was no The Game and we didn’t get to see our usual people.” 

Fans cheer and hold signs while watching the live broadcast of ESPN's "College GameDay" from the Pioneer High School parking lot before the game.

Activists also used the high-profile game as an opportunity to highlight sexual abuse scandals at the two campuses.

Victims of Drs. Robert Anderson, who is accused of abusing athletes at Michigan, and William Strauss, accused of abusing athletes at Ohio State, distributed T-shirts that read: "Me too, they all knew, the Sexual Abuse Game, Strauss vs. Anderson."

Former athletes from both schools — including former UM football player and Anderson-accuser Jon Vaughn and former OSU wrestler and Strauss-accuser Rocky Ratliff — hosted a press conference before the game to push the universities to address campus sexual assault.

More:Former UM, Ohio State athletes say dual sexual assault scandals show change needed


Reporter Kim Kozlowski contributed.