Milestones. They’re defining moments in history. For players it’s the record, the stats they put up, they’re milestones. For teams, it’s wins, playoff moments, National Championships. For a league? It’s the longevity, the course through which the league has carved out it’s place, it’s legacy. And 500 games is quite the legacy.
Season one seems so long ago, and how far we’ve come in such a time. There were eight teams then, conferences didn’t come into form until the following season, and half the league made the playoffs. The schedules were longer, recruiting was different, and the games were all over the place. Blowouts, Screen Bowls, triple overtimes, and the rise of the CFSL’s first superstar, in Auburn quarterback Blake Moon who took games on his back, who took part in the first triple overtime the league had ever seen, where Auburn and Iowa both put up over 70 points each.
The CFSL has seen it all, from close finishes, record setting games, seasons, and careers. Legacies that players have carved within the league, to the games they were a part of. From triple overtimes, to All-Americans, to the elusive Player of the Year trophies. National Championship games that have left fans in awe, and left them with heartbreak. Teams who have been here since the beginning, teams who are new to the league. They’ve all joined and helped to carve out the legacy of the CFSL, shaping it with incredible matchups, performances, careers, and finishes. From the story of Blake Moon, to the legend of Ray Tatum. They’ve all contributed and left behind a legacy, and 500 games? That’s a legacy. And, The Game, carries its own legacy.
The CFSL has long been defined by rivalries, and it has bred some excellent ones. Auburn and Notre Dame, pitted against each other in the first National Championship game sparked one such rivalry. Texas and Clemson, two teams that entered the CFSL together, recruited fiercely against each other, and ignited their rivalry. Ohio State and Texas at one point marked a rivalry, but none have ever been able to match this rivalry. No game in the regular season has ever quite held the weight, not like The Game does.
Few truly know what this game means. To the outside, it’s just another rivalry. But those who are fans, those who are apart of these teams, they know what it means. From “That Team Up North” to the season two showdown between two teams with a trip to an Orange Bowl and the shot to win a title all on the line, this rivalry has had some of the heaviest implications upon it. The Game stands as being widely regarded as the greatest rivalry in all of sport, not just football, but all of sport.
Throw out everything about the season and all the playoff stakes. For Ohio State and Michigan, their seasons are defined by this game. Success or failure to a season hinges on this game. You can go into The Game 0-7, but if this is your only win, it’s a successful season. You can be 7-1, win the National Championship game, but if your one loss is to the other team, the season is a failure. The greatest example of this for the league? The first meeting between these two rivals.
Ohio State and Michigan, it’s a tale that has been etched in time, a rivalry that defines the season for these two teams. Beginning in the CFSL’s second season when Michigan joined the league. They were widely regarded as the best, the favorites. They were the ones that seemed destined for the Orange Bowl where Hawaii waited. Led by quarterback Javon Mack, who ran for over 1,000 yards in season two, and throwing for 2,000 more, earning him Offensive Player of the Year honors. The Orange Bowl lay before them, with the Buckeyes standing between them.
Ohio State’s season had been promise to start. But a loss to LSU, by the hands of legends such as Ray Tatum and Jared Tetonis was the smallest of bumps. The Buckeyes were blown out by Hawaii shortly thereafter, before quarterback DJ Moss would throw six interceptions against Notre Dame in another blowout. The Buckeyes were cast aside, no longer believed to be in the running, and were widely doubted ahead of The Game. It was believed that Michigan would roll through, that Mack would do to them what he did to Florida State that season and run for 369 yards.
So gameday arrived, the season fell in such a way that the winner would go on to the Orange Bowl, to face the Rainbow Warriors of Hawaii, to have the opportunity to win a title. Michigan entered Columbus as the heavy favorites. But, Michigan’s Javon Mack tossed three interceptions, Ohio State’s DJ Moss tossed four touchdown passes. This wasn’t just a battle between two rivaled teams, but two rivaled quarterbacks. DJ Moss, the highest graded recruit in that season’s recruiting class, and Michigan’s Javon Mack was the number two prospect. The game started slow, even, two teams fighting through the first half, but as the game dragged on, Ohio State began to pull away, forcing opportunities and striking with them. The Buckeyes saw the efficiency of Moss, and the versatility of halfback Adric Khaan, who put up 100 yards both on the ground and through the air, lead the Buckeyes to the Big Ten crown, and to the Orange Bowl against Hawaii.
The rivalry between these two teams has seen ebbs and flows, with each team trading wins in the series. And now, in the 500th game of the CFSL, that series is tied, and is eerily reminiscent of that first meeting two years ago. With USC’s loss to Notre Dame, the Buckeyes’ path to the playoffs lay before them, theirs to control. And all that stands between them? That Team Up North. The Michigan Wolverines who stand to play spoiler, to bar the Buckeyes from the playoffs as they did to Michigan six seasons ago.
“The Game vs. Ohio State means EVERYTHING to a true Michigan fan like myself. It obviously held a little more luster last season when a true OSU fan was their AD, but this game really carries a lot of weight for me personally every season because that rivalry is ingrained in me to my core. No successful season can be a true success unless we beat those guys, and on the other end of the spectrum no season can truly be a failure if we beat them either. This game can help salvage some of our momentum for the offseason, and a loss to these guys would be absolutely devastating. We will be taking this game very seriously and expecting to win to carry good momentum into the offseason.”– Allan Bargenquast (Neversatisfied), AD of the Michigan Wolverines
Tanner Jones, Dior Chapman, Tim Benjamin, Joose Staley, Cletus Castle and the rest of the Wolverines hope to stop Ohio State in their tracks. They know it is a tall order, but they seem determined. Michigan wants nothing more than to go on the road into enemy territory, against its most hated rival, and dash Ohio States playoff hopes right there on the spot. They will be playing angry and with a clear purpose.
“We knew going into this week the stakes were already set beyond the roof as CFSL’s 500th game approached, but now even more is on the line. When all is said and done, our main goals are to stay undefeated at the Horseshoe this season and take our series back more than anything. A playoff appearance would be a nice supplement to that, these players have earned it and need to prove it one more time against TTUN.”Will Stern (Legion of Slugs), Interim AD of The Ohio State Buckeyes
On the other hand, Ohio State has been on a tear recently in the CFSL. They have won three out of their last four games and seem poised to push themselves into the playoffs once again. Powered by an offense anchored by Jimi Germaine and Manuel Silva they look to score early and often. If they are stifled, they expect that stingy defense lead by Michael Kreuger, Lloyd Silver and Colten Allen, who is coming off a record setting performance of nine tackles for a loss, to step up and shut down a potent Michigan offense.
“The Game,” this year seems to be just as, if not more important, than in previous seasons. There are playoff implications and both teams have been preparing for this game all season. It all comes down to game time. This game is more than just a rivalry, more than just a game with a trip to the playoffs at stake. This meeting tonight between Ohio State and Michigan is a milestone. It’s a milestone for The Game, and for the CFSL. 500 games for the league, and few have ever been bigger than The Game.