THE LION shall lie down with the lamb, the Tuna's embracing T.O., and this Friday—shortly before midnight, on a lonely road in Findlay, Ohio—something stranger than either of those events will transpire when the Buckeye lies down with the Wolverine.
In a bipartisan display that should shame Congress, 100 frat brothers from Ohio State and Michigan will run the game ball for Saturday's No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown (page 52) from the Big House in Ann Arbor to the Horseshoe in Columbus, a trip that will take 30 hours, over 186 miles across two states that despise each other.
In Findlay, halfway between the two schools, a member of Michigan's Phi Gamma Delta house will hand the ball off to a fellow FIJI from Ohio State, who will advance it a few miles down the road before handing it off to another brother. And so it will proceed, through the dawn, by a kind of bucket brigade until the ball reaches the Horseshoe an hour or two before kickoff.
Phi Gamma Delta is the BCS's UPS, delivering the Ohio State--Michigan game ball the last three years, much as their FIJI brethren on other campuses shuttle game balls between Georgia and Georgia Tech, Virginia and Virginia Tech and Kansas and Kansas State. Each runner will average two miles per carry, often exciting the attention of local authorities, suspicious of "a guy running down a road with a football at two in the morning in Bucyrus, Ohio," as Adam Barbina, a senior FIJI at Ohio State, puts it. Especially when that runner is sandwiched between lead and trailing support cars moving at the stately speed of four miles an hour. The only football handled with more gravity is the nuclear one.
Last year, while traveling from Columbus to Ann Arbor at 2 a.m., Michigan's trail car was hit by a drunk driver. Two years ago the Michigan motorcade was pulled over in Ohio for DWW—Driving While Wolverines. The cops let 'em off not with a warning but with a heckling: "They said, 'Go OSU,'" says Michigan senior Alex Garnepudi.
Ohio State--Michigan is the best rivalry in all of sports, with something for everyone to dislike. "Their fight song," says Steven Zehring, a junior FIJI at Ohio State, ranking the Wolverines' most detestable qualities. "Their helmet. Pretty much everyone here doesn't like the whole state of Michigan." (Indeed, if all goes perfectly, the game ball will arrive at the Buckeyes' Skull Session pep rally on Saturday as the Buckeyes' band is playing We Don't Give a Damn for the Whole State of Michigan.)
"Script Ohio," says Michigan's Garnepudi, itemizing the Buckeyes' most loathsome traditions. "Dotting the i. Their mascot is a nut. And when NFL players say they're from The Ohio State University?" Don't get him started.
To the rest of us, neither state appears exceptionally bright. In 1835 Michigan and Ohio engaged in a bloodless war over Toledo. (Ohio won and still took Toledo.) They've been warring ever since.
Bobby Digiandomenico graduated from Ohio State last spring but will be a ballcarrier this weekend. He attends games dressed as sweater-vested Buckeyes coach Jim Tressel and worships Woody Hayes. "I love how he wouldn't stop for gas in Michigan," says Digiandomenico.
So how did these two houses—like the houses of Montague and Capulet—spawn a love so taboo? To start, both FIJI chapters were shut down in the late '90s, Ohio State's for insolvency and Michigan's for ingenuity. (Two members were rumored to be running a for-profit bar out of their house.) Ohio State's chapter was brought back with the money and enthusiasm of FIJI-an Rick Smudz, class of '75, who died of cancer a year ago. Michigan's house was re-chartered in 2002, and among the first new members was Jeff Chiambretti, whose leukemia was diagnosed at age 17.
Three years ago, the Michigan FIJIs suggested to their Buckeyes brethren that they become the longest-running Greeks since Pheidippides left Marathon. And thus was born the FIJI Rivalry Run, which last year raised $25,000 for the American Cancer Society. If you've never put money down on a big game, now's a good time to start, at www.fijirivalryrun.com.
On Saturday, having slept a little and schlepped a lot, Buckeyes and Wolverines FIJIs will watch the game together in Columbus. But their love has its limits. "Ohio State's the only place I've been where they throw full cans of beer at you," says Chiambretti, whose leukemia has been in remission for nearly five years. During that time the 23-year-old Michigan sophomore has changed his major from engineering to nursing, out of a profound admiration for his caregivers.
So let me handicap Saturday's game. The most important stat will be the combined rushing total for teams from both schools, before kickoff: 327,360 yards.
If you have a comment for Steve Rushin, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
In a bipartisan display that should shame Congress, frat brothers from Ohio State and Michigan will run the game ball for Saturday's big matchup from one campus to the other.