War As They Knew It: A U of M/Ohio State History Lesson

Posted In: Sports, Local Sports, National Sports,   From Issue 676   By: Mark Leffler

29th January, 2009     0

Most sports fans are so into watching their favorite teams live or on TV, they may not crack a book that doesn't come with a hat to drink beer from. So a little history of the U of M/Ohio State rivalry should make an excellent gift for the sports lover in your home. Or you. Set down the beer mug and nachos, and I'll fill you in one some history you may not have learned at Nouvel or Arthur Hill or Saginaw High.

Back in the early Sixties, on a campus south of here at Miami University of Ohio, while Patrick Jake O'Rourke was taking classes and dodging the draft like most young white kids (Cheney, Gingrich, Limbaugh, Bush, et al) Bo Shembechler was getting ready to move north to the Ann Arbor campus of the University of Michigan.

U of M was nothing to take notice of back in the day. A lackluster program, stomped repeatedly by Ohio State among others, was rebuilding for the future, and Shembechler would be at the helm of that effort. They had facilities that would shame a high school team today. Small locker rooms. A lineup of walk ons and scholarship kids who were great in high school but lacked the spark to light a fire on the gridiron on the level of the Big Ten. No bowl invitations worth mentioning.

At the time, Woody Hayes presided over the Ohio State Buckeye football program like a giant among lesser men. A student of WWII, he was a friend of President Nixon in later years, and would travel to Vietnam, showing Buckeye games on film to the troops.

In a few years, campuses all across the nation became radicalized by the war, fueled by the civil rights struggles to allow blacks to vote in the deep south, the feminist movement, and general anarchy and class revolution.

U of M was the hub of anti-war activism, giving rise to the Students for a Democratic Society, with leaders like Tom Hayden, later to marry activist actress Jane Fonda. Hayden was an Ann Arbor radical and the anti-war demonstrations made Ann Arbor a tense place for football.

This story has now been told by Detroit Free Press sports writer Michael Rosenberg. His meticulous research and fluid prose inform and entertain in equal measure.

"War As They Knew It"(Grand Central Publishing, 2007, 374 pgs) is an unsettling read about one of the most volatile periods in recent history. The generation gap of the Fifties, gave way to a generational chasm many families never bridged.

Hayes was a total believer in the US presence in Southeast Asia and supported Nixon to the bitter end. His belief came around the same time as Nixon's fall from grace. Hayes was fired for punching a player on the sidelines late in a game. And it was another team's player. Today, we call that battery and you can face jail time. It was like the entire world had changed.

This book details those changes on the campuses and in the world. It is recommended reading for any college football fan and a must read for anyone who follows U of M avidly. The book comes with a blurb by Mitch Albom, another fine sports writer from the Free Press.

He sees dead people.


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