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The Game, The War, and The Hatred

(This post was originally written November 16th, 2006, but I've decided to make it an annual thing.

The connection to college hockey here is relatively slim but here's my attempt at a justification. Mike Emrick, the legendary hockey announcer, and a graduate of both Miami(Ohio) and Bowling Green, hosted a daily radio series called "Off Mike" in which he discussed the NHL for 12 years. Every year, on Super Bowl Sunday, Emrick would take the day off from hockey, and tell a story of how the Chicago Bears were once forced to play the Super Bowl in old Chicago Stadium due to weather conditions. I figure that if Doc was able to take the day off from professional hockey for the pinnacle of US professional sports, I should be allowed to take the day off from college hockey, for what is arguably the pinnacle of college sports.

In recent years, fans have taken to calling the annual tilt between Michigan and Ohio State "The Game," with a heavy emphasis on the word "the". This title makes sense in some ways. Afterall, it is the one game that each team's season seems to be measured by, and it is always the most important game of the season for each team. But calling it a game implies that there's an amusing, childish feeling to it and seems to betray the nature of the hatred in this rivlary. The University of Michigan isn't sending down their campus police to protect visiting fans for just a game. Liquor stores in Columbus aren't stopping the sale of domestic beer in bottles in the city for just a game. No, this isn't just a game. It's as close to interstate warfare as you're going to get.

Most everyone knows that the gasoline was poured onto the fire of this rivalry in the late 60's when Bo Schembechler's Michigan teams began challenging Woody Hayes' Ohio State teams for the Big Ten title nearly every season. But the hatred between Michigan and Ohio goes back much further, to a time when Michigan wasn't yet a state in the union, and these two rivals almost did go to war.

There was a tension between settlers of Michigan and Ohio ever since the first white settlers moved onto the land. Ohio was mostly farmland and drew settlers looking to create a life by growing crops. Michigan was more wilderness, and inhabited with hunters and trappers. It wasn't an easy life to live, and it took a rough, and rugged character to survive. Ohioans looked down on these hunters and trappers and started referring to them as "wolverines" as a way to make fun of their rough, aggressive lifestyle.

In 1803, Ohio drew up it's state constitution, and made the northern border of their state the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Two years later, the territory of Michigan was created, and their surveyors found that Lake Michigan actually extended further south, and included an area at the mouth of Maumee River that would go on to become Toledo. After that, each state sent their own surveyors out to inspect the land and see who held claim to that land. Each side came back saying that they had rightful claim to that land. Eventually each side cooled down, and the territory of Michigan governed over the area.

But when Michigan applied for statehood in 1833, the issue became heated again. Ohio's congressman used their influence to make sure that Michigan would not be allowed into the Union unless they ceded that strip of land to Ohio. President Andrew Jackson's attorney general backed up Michigan's claim to the land, but Jackson supported Ohio because he didn't want to risk losing votes in Ohio in the 1836 presidential race. Ohio's Governor, Robert Lucas, took control of the area, by making it an Ohio county(that area is still Lucas County to this day), and appointing officials to posts.

Michigan's young governor, Stevens T. Mason(for whom the University of Michigan's Mason Hall is named), rounded up a militia and led them into the disputed area to protect their land. The battle had begun. Ohio's state government approved $300,000 for use in a fight with Michigan. Michigan countered by approving $315,000 for us in a fight against Ohio. The fight lost a little bit of momentum when both sides got lost in the swamplands of Ohio. Eventually, Mason's militia ended up capturing and arresting 9 surveyors who were trying to mark the state line for Ohio, and firing shots over the head of many others who ran away, but there was no bloodshed. The only casualty of the war came in a tavern fight when an Ohioan named Two Stickney(his older brother was named, and I'm not kidding about this, One) stabbed a Michigan sheriff.

Eventually, President Jackson stepped in and tried to end the dispute. Partially because he was still a few months away from being re-elected Jackson declared that Michigan would be admitted into the Union if they gave up their claim to the Toledo Strip, and in return, accepted to the western three-quarters of the Upper Peninsula. This proposal was met with outrage by both Michiganders and Yoopers. Michigan had no use for a land they viewed as nothing but snow, bears, and Indians, and settlers in the UP had made overtures to Washington D.C. about possibly becoming their own state. But Michigan reluctantly accepted the offer and became a member of the Union.

Of course the irony of this is that even though Michigan lost Toledo(By the way, Ohio, we *love* what you've done with the place), they gained the resource-rich upper peninsula which has long served as a vital part of Michigan's economy. Meanwhile, the Canal Era died out in the US, and Toledo never became the booming shipping metropolis between the Mississippi River and the St. Lawrence River that people thought it would be.

So while the war between these two states may have faded out before it really got started, it's still a unique piece of history when two states mobilized for war against other. The dispute between the two states is long settled and mostly forgotten, but the underlying hatred still remains. That hatred may never have been played out on the battlefield, but this Saturday, just like every year on the third Saturday in November, it gets played out on the football field.