The parallels would have been unmistakable.
In 1969, a brash new Michigan coach had arrived on the scene, instilling toughness in his team and bringing new hope to the program. Going into the final game of the season, the Wolverines had two losses, including one to Michigan State in conference play, but had generally exceeded expectations.
That same year, Ohio State was the defending national champions. The Buckeyes brought so many players back from the '68 title squad that many declared them one of the best teams of all time. They had a 22-game winning streak under the most feared coach in the Big Ten.
Michigan pulled off the 24-12 upset, igniting the Ten Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes that took the rivalry to new heights.
This week's version of The Game was shaping up as a possible mirror image of the '69 edition -- until Michigan State beat Ohio State 17-14 last week in Columbus, snapping the defending champion Buckeyes' 23-game winning streak.
That result was in itself instructive. Since the moment Jim Harbaugh returned to Ann Arbor to resurrect his alma mater, people have been ready to declare the start of a new Ten Year War between Harbaugh and Ohio State's Urban Meyer. But the conditions for combat have changed in the conference.
Start with Michigan State. The Spartans are an elite program now, and they've beaten both the Wolverines and the Buckeyes on the road already this season to gain control of the Big Ten East Division. To assume that Meyer and Harbaugh will simply rotate league titles for the next decade, as Hayes and Schembechler did between 1969 and 1978, would disrespect what Mark Dantonio has done and ignore current reality.
"It's not like it was back then when Michigan and Ohio State totally dominated," said Jim Brandstatter, the Wolverines' longtime radio voice who played on those 1969 Wolverines. "It would be much more difficult this day and age to have that kind of Ten Year War, because there are five or six teams in this conference that can knock you off on any given Saturday. I don't think that between '69 and '78, you could say the same thing."
Still, it's fun to imagine how intense this rivalry will be with Harbaugh and Meyer on opposite sidelines -- and marvel at the similarities they share with their famous predecessors.
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