Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry - Documentary Review

There is nothing quite like the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. For those who live it on a year-in, year-out basis, it needs no explanation. For non-football fans, watch HBO's new documentary "Michigan vs. Ohio State: The Rivalry" because after watching the hour-long program, you'll understand why every year, on the third Saturday in November, the states of Michigan and Ohio stand divided, and football takes center stage.

I just returned from an advanced screening of the program (debuting on HBO on November 13) and it was a packed Michigan Theater full of fans and former players (including Jamie Morris, current announcer Jim Brandstatter, and quarterback Rick Leach, who gave a speech after the viewing of the program) and everyone seemed to enjoy the presentation. And everyone got to boo Comcast when it was thanked for their assistance in putting on the night's event, which I think people found therapeutic (Michigan fans are at odds with the cable giant over a dispute with the Big Ten Network, leading to Michigan games, as well as other Big Ten games, not being aired on local television). Before I get to a review of the program, here's a trailer floating around YouTube which gives you an feel for what the show is like.

Overall I thought the documentary was good. It is hard to boil down the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, and all of its history and tradition to only an hour, but the producers did as good a job as could be expected. Certainly after watching it, you really got a good feeling for the start of the rivalry, and the Ten Year War between Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes. The program featured lots of interviews with former players (though no current, or even recently current players were featured. I think Desmond Howard was the most recent Michigan player interviewed), coaches (including Bo and Ohio State coach Earle Bruce), media (including Michigan alumnus and Hardball reporter David Schuster, who I was unaware went to Michigan), fans, and alumni (like Mike Wallace of 60 Minutes fame). And there was a lot of game footage, including some old footage I had never seen before.

I thought though, and I'm probably only saying this because I'm a University of Michigan alum (soon to be twice over), but I thought a little more time was spent on Ohio State than Michigan, and the program painted Ohio and Ohio State in a slightly better light. The show, for example, had a really nice five to seven minute segment on how dedicated Ohio State fans are to their school, and how football is a second (or, for some people, a first) religion in Columbus. It was a well put together segment and while some of the Ohio State fans came off as a bit nutty (as most super-dedicated fans are) I really respected their love and dedication to their team. There was no similar segment for Michigan and our love of school and state. The documentary did, though, spend a few minutes discussing all of the players Michigan has "stolen" from the State of Ohio.

Later, the program went through all of the Ohio State coaches after Woody Hayes was fired, including short segments on the tenures of Earle Bruce, John Cooper (which was more, admittedly, a pro-Michigan segment than anything else, since it highlighted Cooper's inability to beat Michigan), and Jim Tressel. For Michigan, there was no similar "post-Bo" segment, as aside from being seen on the sidelines in one video clip, Gary Moeller was never seen, and Lloyd Carr was never seen or even mentioned by name. Not once. That's remarkable. Ohio State's 2002 National Title was mentioned, but not Michigan's triumph in 1997. Again, I'm probably biased towards thinking Michigan got downplayed, but it was definitely something I noticed. And I was really surprised Bob Ufer, the legendary Michigan announcer, was not talked about more, and some his famed play-by-play calls were not used more. Maybe that was a cost issue (as obtaining the rights to Ufer's calls may have been prohibitive) but it was missed.

Overall though, the documentary was well done and well put together and you come out wishing that it were longer and wishing the Michigan-Ohio State game were this weekend instead of next. Check it out next week when it airs on HBO, it's the perfect appetizer for what should be one heckuva main course when Michigan battles Ohio State for the Big Ten Championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl at the Big House in Ann Arbor.

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flop said...

Holy crap, that's a good point. I knew something wasn't right (I was half-awake when I saw it, but still.) It seemed like a perfectly fine primer for those who don't understand the rivalry, but the more I think about it, the more I think it's got some major holes. I said some nice things about it after I first saw it, but I think I'd be harsher upon rewatching.

I assume Michigan just declined to help the producers out, but that's not really an excuse for something more than a year in the making, is it?

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