Michigan’s ‘Revenge Tour,’ and one of my own

Michigan LB Jabrill Peppers stares down Ohio State QB J.T. Barrett after a tackle in the 2016 OSU-Michigan game. Michigan will attempt to win only their second game against their arch-rivals since 2004 on Nov. 24. (Photo courtesy of Maize & Blue Nation)

It’s rare for someone to make a life-altering decision in first grade. It’s even rarer for that decision to be about sports. Yet, that’s exactly what happened to me.

I grew up in Columbus, Ohio, the home of the Ohio State Buckeyes. If you’ve ever been to Columbus, you don’t need me to explain the frenzy of Buckeye football. It is absolute madness.

In Columbus, everyone is born a Buckeye. Literally, during OSU-Michigan week, local hospitals outfit newborns in OSU gear, with beanies that look like helmets. It doesn’t matter if your parents didn’t go to OSU, or if you have no ties to the university. An absolute, unquestionable expectation exists that everyone in Columbus must be a Buckeye fan.

However, as a young kid, I was oblivious to this idea. Unlike my friends, whose parents and grandparents mostly all grew up in our hometown, my mom and dad are transplants from Los Angeles. I was born in Columbus, but wasn’t raised in a Buckeye household.

So, when the fourth weekend of November rolled around in 2005, I knew nothing about Ohio State football, not to mention the OSU-Michigan rivalry. One day, my teacher gave my first grade class outlines of “Brutus Buckeye,” the OSU mascot, for us to color in. Immediately, everyone instinctively reached for the “scarlet and gray” crayons.

Having no clue what was going on, I asked my friends, “Who are we coloring?” That quickly prompted a crash-course from my seven-year-old peers about Ohio State, Brutus, Scarlet and Gray, and most importantly, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry — dubbed “The Game.”

Thinking it would be funny, I grabbed the “maize and blue” crayons, and sacrilegiously colored Brutus in Michigan’s colors.  

Shocked, my friends huddled around, asking: “Are you a Michigan fan?”

Still having no idea what that meant, I replied with a yes. My life was never the same.

When I made that choice in 2005, Michigan had won 13 of the last 20 meetings. However, since that November, OSU is 12-1 against the Wolverines. The rivalry hasn’t been a rivalry; it’s been a one-sided, humiliating beatdown. An absolute nightmare for Michigan fans, and especially for me.

Every single year brought a new level of pain. For the same November weekend each season, I huddled around my TV wearing all my Michigan gear, clinging to some hope that maybe this year would be the year. I always enter The Game with that same hope, and for every season except 2011 (Michigan’s only win), I’ve always been let down.

In Columbus, OSU’s culture is ingrained in each person’s identity. In football season, “Hello” is replaced with “Go Bucks.” On game days, the streets are deadly silent; everyone watches each game.

And only one thing equals Columbus’ love of Ohio State: their hate for Michigan. As a result, I endured constant verbal abuse for my entire childhood, from my friends, classmates, teachers, peers, bosses, and even strangers, as Michigan’s football team’s failures made me the butt of every joke.

The worst day each year was the Monday after The Game. Walking into school after each fresh loss was unbearable. In every class, down every hallway, people would laugh and yell at me, relishing in their victory and my pain.

After two more horrific losses in my junior and senior years, both of which I had the unique pleasure of witnessing in person, I left Ohio and moved to Claremont, leaving my OSU-Michigan past behind.

I still pay attention to Michigan football, and watch nearly every game, but it’s not the same. Now that I’m in college, it’s strange rooting for a different one. In Claremont, when Michigan loses, I don’t walk out of my dorm room to jeers. Here, no one cares.

This year, there’s been plenty to pay attention to in Ann Arbor. After dropping their opening game to Notre Dame, Michigan has rattled off nine straight wins, vaulting into fourth in the College Football Playoff rankings.

Not only have they won nine straight, but they have absolutely dominated their opponents, especially in Big Ten play. Defensive coordinator Don Brown’s defense is the best in the country, and the offense, led by transfer QB Shea Patterson, has a swagger not seen in Ann Arbor in years.

Over three straight games in the past month, they took down rivals Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Penn State by a combined score of 101-27. Each of those teams entered as ranked opponents, and each defeated Michigan last season.

Fittingly, Chase Winovich, the high-energy All-American DE, dubbed Michigan’s Big Ten slate, the “Revenge Tour.”

Winovich explained the slogan to reporters after taking down MSU: “Me personally, I wanted our lunch money back, and I wanted them to pay interest.”

So far, Michigan has tore through the first three major stops, and only a single important one remains: Columbus.

This Thanksgiving weekend, they will drive down to my hometown, to avenge not only last season’s loss, but the 16 losses to OSU since 2000.

At the same time, I will also travel to Columbus for Thanksgiving break, on a ‘Revenge Tour’ of my own. I’ll tailgate with all my friends who go to OSU, and then I’ll proudly wear my Michigan jersey in the stands of The Game, hoping to avenge an entire childhood of loss and mockery.

If they can pull off the victory, it would push aside a lifetime of pain, even if just for a day. For once, I might be the one celebrating, listening to “Hail to the Victors” ring throughout the Horseshoe.

Just this time, I’d have the bragging rights. And even though it’d only be one win, it would feel incredible to put away my nightmares of years past.

After all, revenge is sweet.

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