I can still picture former Michigan quarterback Drew Henson as he scored the game-sealing touchdown the last time the Wolverines beat Ohio State in The Horseshoe in 2000.
That game took place two months into my freshman year at the University of Michigan after growing up in Columbus as an Ohio State fan who endured most of John Cooper’s infamous 2-10-1 record against That Team Up North. Words cannot describe how good it felt to finally experience winning The Game — if only because I switched sides. Whatever guilt I felt was drowned out by me and my best friend belting out “Hail to the Victors” as Buckeye fans streamed out of Ohio Stadium with an annual look of misery on their faces.
At the time, I thought I’d finally be able to experience college football from the winner’s circle. Instead, being a Michigan fan has been an agony unknown to mankind.
Since that beautiful day in Columbus, Michigan has now lost 14 of 16 to Ohio State. And if Braxton Miller had been able to hit a wide-open DeVier Posey in the closing moments of the 2011 game, it would be 15 of 16 and an ungodly 13 losses in a row to the Buckeyes.
During this stretch, Michigan has lost to Ohio State in pretty much every way imaginable.
There have been the ass kickings, like last year’s 42-13 loss in Ann Arbor or the Rich Rodriguez years in which OSU won the three matchups by a combined score of 100-24.
There have been the oh-so-close losses, like in 2013 when Michigan failed to convert a go-ahead two-point conversion with 32 seconds left and 2002 when Will Allen intercepted John Navarre at the goal line as time expired, propelling Ohio State to a national title.
And then there have been the “rip your heart out and hand it back to you in a doggy bag” defeats that are reserved for when everything is on the line for both teams. I’m still haunted by Shawn Crable’s late hit on Troy Smith that was the difference in the 2006 “Game of the Century” and left me (right) looking like this:
But nothing could compare to what I experienced on Saturday.
Michigan dominated The Game for three quarters yet found itself leading only 17-14 after a litany of errors including a pick-six, a second interception returned inside Michigan’s own red zone and an unforced fumble at Ohio State’s goal line. Add two crucial missed pass interference calls and a controversial fourth down spot in the second overtime to extend the game and you have all the pain and frustration of being a Michigan football fan over the last 15 years rolled up into one diabolical, double-overtime, four-hour football game (seriously, The Game had more commercials than the Super Bowl).
For inquiring minds: Yes, I have pondered all this being payback from the Football Gods for being a traitor and am not ruling that out.
Sadly, the purgatory of being a Michigan fan isn’t just limited to the Ohio State game. There was also the 2001 Michigan State game, better known as “Clockgate.” The 2005 Rose Bowl defeat on a Texas field goal as time expired. The 2007 season-opening loss to then-FCS member Appalachian State. The disastrous Rich Rodriguez Experiment that blew up in Michigan’s face. Brady Hoke’s headset-less buffoonery. And on and on.
That’s why Jim Harbaugh was treated like the Messiah when he returned home to coach Michigan two years ago.
But for as great of a coach as Harbaugh is, even his “enthusiasm unknown to mankind” can’t save Michigan fans from sadistic losses like Saturday’s death by 1,000 cuts or last year’s Michigan State game lost on a botched punt as time expired (just typing that made me throw up in my mouth).
I know we won’t get much sympathy from fans at places like Kansas but it’s one kind of pain to just be terrible; as a Cleveland Browns fan, I’ve just become numb to losing on Sundays. It’s a new form of agony to continually get your hopes up only for them to keep come crashing down in the end.
And yet we Michigan fans trudge on with Harbaugh as our beacon of light and our eternal hope that someday all this pain and suffering will be worth it and optimism that we’re just one win over Ohio State away from the tide of the entire series shifting back up north.
After all, there’s only 362 days left until Meyer-Harbaugh III.
See you in Ann Arbor.
— Written by Jim Weber, a veteran college sports journalist and member of the Athlon Contributor Network. Weber has written for CBS Sports Network, NBCSports.com, ESPN the Magazine and the college sports website he founded and sold, LostLettermen.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JimMWeber.