Let me start by saying that, as a rational human being, I know there’s not much that could be done to improve college football’s greatest rivalry. ESPN weighed in a few years back on the matter, calling Ohio State vs. Michigan the best rivalry ever…in all of sport. What more is there to say?
Well, it’s the off-season, and I’m bored. And when I’m bored, I tend to think, whether I like it or not. And sometimes, those thoughts take me down dangerous paths, paths that leave one muttering in dark corners asking the absurd questions of madmen. Questions like: What does a rivalry that isn’t missing anything really need to make it even… wholer?
And one knows he has penetrated too far into the darkness when he can claim, without hesitation, that he has discovered the answer.
Which in this case is: more Toledo.
That’s right, I think the time has come for Buckeyes and Wolverines alike to get back to the roots of our loathing, and remember why we really hate one another. And for that, we have to thank Toledo—or, more accurately, an 8-mile wide swath of land stretching across northwestern Ohio known as the Toledo Strip.
The Toledo Strip owes its existence to a lavish ignorance of geography. Had GPS been perfected a few years earlier—let’s call it two centuries—the Strip would have never come to be, and college football would be all the poorer for it. In a nutshell, the story goes like this:
When Ohio became a state in 1803, its politicians set its northern boundary according to the dictates of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which called for the boundary to follow a line running east from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Great, so long as one knows where the southern tip of Lake Michigan is. Fortunately, Ohio didn’t, and proceeded to draw the line too far to the north. At this time, as there were only about three people living in Michigan—which was not even technically a territory yet, let alone a state—no one really complained.
A few years later, though, once a few more people moved out (I think Lloyd Carr was there) and Michigan started to think about applying for statehood, its politicians decided to re-survey the line. By this time, it was well-known just how far south Lake Michigan extended, and so they drew the line as it had been intended by the Northwest Ordinance—a little further south than the Ohio line.
So now both Ohio and Michigan claimed the land in between the two lines, which happened to include the valuable Maumee River flowing into Lake Erie, where the port city of Toledo was starting to thrive. The disputed area became known as the Toledo Strip, and gave rise to a series of comic events now known as the Toledo War.
Ohio would block Michigan’s bid for statehood on grounds of the disputed territory, and in 1835 both Ohio and Michigan would call out their respective militias which, depending on the version one reads, either got lost in swamps and couldn’t find one another or did find each other but spent the encounter lined up some distance apart so they could appropriately taunt one another—sort of like Mike Hart at the fifty-yard line before a game. Eventually, both governments passed laws forbidding the people living in the Toledo Strip to submit to the authority of the other government—an act which would ultimately lead to the war’s one casualty: When a Michigan sheriff tried to arrest an Ohio militiaman named Major Stickney, the sheriff would be stabbed in the leg by Stickney’s second son, a man named—and I’m not making this up—Two.
Buckeyes lead 1-0. (Or should I say: Two-0?)
Ultimately, the War would end when President Andrew Jackson, got involved. Many third party politicians—Jackson’s own Attorney General and former president John Quincy Adams, among them—felt like the law lay in Michigan’s favor. Luckily for Ohio, Jackson was never a president who needed to be guided by things like laws. (Think: Trail of Tears.) What Jackson thought ran something along these lines: “Hmmm. Got an election coming up. Ohio, a state, has lots of votes. Michigan, a territory, has none.”
Thus, in order to become a state, Michigan had to cede the Toledo Strip, though they did get a large portion of the Upper Peninsula as compensation. In other words, they got copper and iron deposits and a national park, and Ohio got a city affectionately referred to as the armpit of the Midwest, a baseball team named the Mudhens, and an area of its state where one can still find at least as many Wolverine sweatshirts as Buckeye sweatshirts today.
Ohio 1, Michigan 1. No offense, Toledo.
I think it’s worth taking a moment to consider the impact such a rich, divisive history has on our current rivalry. Is it possible that we have the greatest rivalry in college football because it sprang from such a pure, honest loathing over something tangible that only one of us could have? Consider that most other rivalries, especially intrastate rivalries like Indiana-Purdue, Oregon-Oregon State or USC-UCLA, are only justified by a cheap Hollywood western, this-town-ain’t-big-enough-for-the-both-of-us kind of mentality and one begins to realize that what Michigan and Ohio have is a special kind of hatred reserved only for the most worthy of adversaries.
Which leads me back to my original thought: that we need to somehow preserve that history, that root of our loathing, that Toledo-ness in the rivalry today. Embed it in the very fabric of the game to minimize the possibility that future generations of Buckeyes and Wolverines will ever start getting along, and will instead whisper to each successive generation with their dying breath: “Remember the Toledo Strip!”
There are lots of ways to accomplish this. While the game currently gets rotated between Ann Arbor and Columbus, every third year it could be held in a northwestern Ohio swamp. Or perhaps we could add some appropriate terminology to the game: Instead of referring to the fifty-yard line, how much more fun would it be to hear an announcer say: “Boeckman hands off to Beanie, who carries it across the Toledo Strip and into Michigan territory.” Or: “What a hit by Laurinaitis! Holy Toledo! Mike Hart’s going to feel that in the morning.”
Heck, the game itself could be referred to as the Toledo War. And, come to think of it, why stop there?
Other college rivals play for some tangible trophy each year: Minnesota and Wisconsin go after Paul Bunyan’s Axe, Oregon and Oregon State play for the Platypus Trophy (combination of Duck and Beaver), heck, even Appalachian State plays Western Carolina for the Old Mountain Jug. Yet Ohio State and Michigan currently play for nothing but pride.
Well, I say let’s put it all at stake, every year, just like it was in 1835. We have the greatest rivalry, the greatest origins, why shouldn’t we have the greatest stakes?
From now on, each year, the loser gets Toledo.