Ohio State

A real Ohio State – Michigan story

Rob Lytle made his final commitment to the University of Michigan and Bo Schembechler while staring into the angry eyes of famed Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. During Dad’s recruitment, he and Woody bonded while dissecting battles from the Civil War as if they were defenses from a future opponent. But now that Dad had made his decision to attend Michigan, Woody sat in the living room at my grandparents demanding to know why. That day, Dad summoned the courage to tell Coach Hayes that he thought Michigan “was a better fit” for him. The two men never spoke again, their relationship another casualty of being on opposite sides of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State.

Except things weren’t that simple. And, as my dad learned a decade later, Woody Hayes was too good a man with too much character for the story to end there.

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State is one of the most fierce in sports. However, as the following story from Jim Brandstatter’s Tales From Michigan Stadium shows, the respect between the competitors on each side is what allows it to persist as the greatest rivalry in sports (photos courtesy of Lytle family and not part of original story).

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Life on the Sidelines for Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett

I grew up in a Michigan family. My father, Rob Lytle, starred at running back for the Wolverines from 1973-1976, and I spent my childhood staring at posters of famous Michigan players on my walls and living and dying with the team many Fall Saturdays at Michigan Stadium. When it comes to supporting Ohio State, though, I learned a different appreciation than many Wolverine fans.

“There was no cleaner, more hard-hitting, or fun game than Ohio State. Out of respect for the rivalry, in our house we root for Ohio State as long as they aren’t playing Michigan.” Such words might seem hollow, but when the man saying them is both your father and the person who gained 165 yards for Michigan in a 22-0 win over Ohio State in 1976, they become more instruction than empty phrasing.

Dad’s words, then, played in my head as I cheered for Ohio State versus Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on New Year’s night.

I watched as the Buckeyes—from the supposedly slower, inferior Big Ten—overwhelmed the Crimson Tide with big plays and athleticism until Alabama’s SEC swagger disintegrated like a flake from one of Café du Monde’s beignets.

I watched OSU play faster and more disciplined, and I saw a quarterback making his second start go 5 of 9 passing for 153 yards on 3rd down. Cardale Jones stood tall, made decisive decisions, delivered contact, and imposed his will on the game. Credit goes to Cardale for his poised performance, but without question Urban Meyer and Tom Herman were better prepared than their counterparts.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Ohio State vs Alabama

I watched, with wide eyes and jaw dropping near the floor, as Alabama chose to not hand the ball to Derrick Henry from late in the first quarter to late in the third. Shotguns, option routes, precision along the passing tree are great, but winning is better. And winning football for Alabama that night meant feeding Henry. As Rob Lytle would have said, “It ain’t rocket science. Run the damn ball.” Sometimes, football can be simple sometimes.

I watched and it interested me that Urban Meyer, who as the coach of the Florida Gators announced the SEC’s dominance with an athletic thumping of OSU in 2007, stomped the beating heart of the SEC’s superiority with a Big Ten manhandling.

Finally, though, as I watched Tyvis Powell intercept the game’s final pass, my thoughts fled the on-field action and rushed to two players who never laced up their cleats for the contest: Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett. I pictured Braxton in street clothes, a white towel loose over his head, and I thought of J.T. moving on the field in his walker with his foot in a protective boot. Then, a sickness settled in my stomach.

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What Do You Remember

A curious thing happened last week when The Dave Matthews Band song Say Goodbye played on one of my Spotify playlists. Now, before anyone mocks the song, (or my general taste in music on Spotify) I do have a point to make.

As the intro played, I remembered all the times I heard that song and every other DMB song in late high school and college (and if I’m being honest a little after college). I said to myself, this intro lasts 1 minute and 22 seconds before Dave sings. Turns out, I was wrong.

The musical intro lasts 1 minute and 25 seconds – not a shabby memory considering the years and beers that have passed since I paid attention to this tune.

This moment then made me think about the other things I can remember with unusual detail.

For instance, I know I saw a ~7:30 showing of Rudy in Fremont’s Paramount Cinemas on November 20, 1993. I wore navy wind pants with a large Michigan block “M” on the left leg, a navy Michigan #21 jersey, and a white Michigan undershirt. Why? Because earlier that day my Grandpa, Dad, and I traveled to Ann Arbor, sat in Section 43 of Michigan Stadium, and watched the Wolverines upset the #5 Ohio State Buckeyes 28-0. We returned home in time to catch the end of Boston College’s stunning victory over then #1 Notre Dame before Mom, Dad, and I went to the movie.

Oh, Glenn Foley was the quarterback of that Boston College team. Notre Dame’s was Kevin McDougal.

Not enough? Well, in winter 1993, I learned this quote by George Washington Carver: “Take what you have, make the most of it, and never be satisfied.” I scribbled it on a napkin and kept it in my desk drawer for many years. I can also tell you that I learned the quote during a speech at my church by former Bowling Green State University coach Gary Blackney, sat at a long, rectangular table just left of the center of the stage, and they served steamed carrots as part of the meal. That was the first time I ever ate carrots prepared that way.

The first time I saw My Girl was on December 19, 1992. I watched the game alone in my basement while flipping the channel between the movie and the Fab Five’s basketball game versus Iowa State. My sister had three friends over and at some point I played the game Mall Madness with them. This is all true.

I find this fascinating because besides the day I first watched Rudy, the other memories are not extraordinary. In fact, they are completely unremarkable moments that should melt into all the other memories of my youth. For some reason, though, I’ll never forget them.

It occurs to me that it’s impossible to anticipate the moments that stick in our brain – the moments that form who we are. We have no idea what words will leave a lasting impression on our children or our students. Just like we never know if a compliment, thank you, or offer to help will leave a positive impression with our friends and family long after the occasion itself passes. Who knows, maybe a joke or a laugh given to a stranger while waiting in line for coffee is exactly what he or she needs to have a better day?

Although we can’t choose if, or when, others will remember our actions, we can choose how they’ll remember them. By treating others with respect and kindness, fairness and appreciation, we can ensure that the memories that do last are ones that will make us proud.

Lessons from a Coaching Legend: Be Prepared to Work

“Every day you either get better or you get worse. You never stay the same.”

Photo from Wikimedia Commons

From Michiganensian/Wikimedia Commons

If you played for Bo Schembechler, you grasped the meaning of work. Bo’s first winter at Michigan consisted of running, running, and more running. Players ran everywhere, inside the football stadium, around the basketball gym, and through the chilly halls of the hockey arena. As Bo said when describing the efforts of his initial Michigan football team: “No one else in the Big Ten knew we were doing crazy drills in the bowels of dark, cold gyms, and running the world’s ugliest laps in the morning fog, but we knew what we were doing. We were getting somewhere” (Schembechler/Bacon, 41).

For those players who survived winter conditioning, Bo had a treasure waiting for them in spring practice: hitting. The practices, so grueling that they exhausted the team physically and mentally, caused many players to quit and spawned Coach Schembechler’s famous quote, “Those who stay will be champions” (Schembechler/Bacon, 38). Bo promised the team that he would reward them if they toughed it out.

That reward arrived on November 22, 1969, when Michigan upset Ohio and ended their run towards a second consecutive national championship. This game kick-started The Ten Year War between Bo and Ohio coach Woody Hayes.

I didn’t grow up listening to any fatherly talks advocating the importance of one’s work ethic. It was just a fact of life, the price of admission paid for setting a goal. The work (especially when it came to school, playing sports, or my knee rehabs in high school) started early and ended late. Get better or get worse because you aren’t staying the same.

Talent means nothing without the desire to work, and having a goal is useless without the willingness to sacrifice. The price of success is desperation, the moments when it seems as if one more repetition (or edit or draft) will suck all your remaining energy and leave you wasted on the sidelines, unable to return to the game. “Getting somewhere” only happens if you have the guts to spend your early mornings and late evenings conquering frustrations and spilling sweat onto a gym floor or into the development of an idea. Inspiration isn’t possible without effort.

If you want to improve then work your ass off when your eyes are the only ones watching.

I didn’t always listen to this advice. Lord knows I took my share of shortcuts along the way. But I knew the choice to work belonged to me and nobody else. And I’ll take having learned that lesson any day.

Prior Lessons from a Coaching Legend: Introduction, Respect and Equality, Do Your Job.

I Thought the World of Him…

My dad made his final commitment to the University of Michigan and Bo Schembechler while staring into the angry eyes of famed Ohio State coach Woody Hayes. During Dad’s recruitment, he and Woody bonded while spending hours together dissecting battles from the Civil War as if they were defenses from a future opponent in the Big Ten. Now that Dad had made his decision to attend Michigan, Woody sat in the living room of my grandma and grandpa’s house demanding to know why. That day, Dad told Coach Hayes that he thought Michigan “was a better fit” for him and the two men never spoke again, their relationship another casualty of being on opposite sides of the rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State.

Except things weren’t that simple. And, as my dad learned a decade later, Woody Hayes was too good a man with too much character for the story to end there.

The rivalry between Michigan and Ohio State is one of the most fierce in sports. However, as the following story from Jim Brandstatter’s Tales From Michigan Stadium shows, the respect between the competitors on each side is what allows it to persist as the greatest rivalry in sports.

(more…)