It's been more than a decade since Jim Tressel was Ohio State's head coach, but the former head Buckeye is still invested (pun intended) in the program. Tress is a Buck for life.
And he's especially invested on the final Saturday of each November.
Every Buckeye's world revolves around the rivalry with Michigan, but especially Tressel's, given that he's arguably the most important figure in The Game's history. It was his tenure that turned the tide from maize-and-blue to scarlet-and-gray, and he'd like to see Ryan Day and his descendants finish the job he started back in 2001.
“I hope I live long enough for that day when we’re over .500 [winning percentage]. Then I can go to sleep happy,” Tressel said at a United Way event with Day earlier this week, via the Youngstown Business Journal.
He's talking, of course, about Ohio State's all-time record with Michigan.
Before we move forward, think for a minute about how absurd it would have sounded for the Ohio State coach to even talk about pulling even with Michigan in the all-time series. At that time, the Wolverines enjoyed a 56-34-6 advantage -- and growing. Michigan won 10 of 13 games in the John Cooper era, including two straight and five of the previous six. Michigan also owned a recent national title at that time, and though Ohio State was still a successful program, its most recent national title was way back in 1968.
Then Tressel got the Ohio State job and everything changed. His entry into the rivalry began with the memorable speech at halftime of a Buckeye basketball game shortly after his hiring, where he memorably did not guarantee victory the following November but everyone knew what he was getting at. “I assure you that you will be proud of our young people in the classroom, in the community, and most especially in 310 days in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on the football field," he said on Jan. 18, 2001.
“I thought I was going to wave and get to work. They handed me the microphone. I wanted the people to know we knew what was important to them. You set the bar high, and the University of Michigan is setting the bar high. I wanted our team to know. I wanted our fans to know. I just wanted the world to know that we were going to take that bar," Tressel told the United Way gathering 20 years later.
Equally -- if not more -- important to the two national titles, Ohio State is 17-2 against Michigan since Tressel's 2001 hiring. Seventeen and two. They've closed the gap from 56-34-6 to 58-51-6.
Ohio State has won eight in a row and, if not for a brief implosion caused by Tattoogate and Tressel's 2010 resignation, the streak might just be 16 straight. The last time Michigan beat a fully stocked Ohio State team was way back in 2003.
But if we were to carry Ohio State's post-2001 rivalry winning percentage of .895 forward, the Buckeyes will pull ahead of Michigan in 2029. An Ohio State victory would then tilt the all-time ledger toward Columbus at 59-58-6.
That would be the first time Ohio State leads the all-time series... ever. The Wolverines and Buckeyes first met in 1897 with a 34-0 Michigan win. The second game ended in a scoreless tie. Michigan then won nine straight and it was off to the races. Ohio State didn't score its first win until 1919, and by 1927 Michigan owned a 19-3-2 lead, which surely seemed insurmountable and in the many decades that followed.
And then Jim Tressel showed up.