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David Briggs | The Blade | November 25, 2015

Michigan, Ohio State college football rivalry has its share of border crossings

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Horace Greely Prettyman liked college so much he tried it twice.

Call it the eight-year plan.

By the time the first University of Michigan football star earned eight letters, tormented defenses through three presidencies, and played his final game for the Wolverines in 1890, he was a 33-year-old real-estate agent.

Surely, there is a rivalry joke in there somewhere -- save for one small twist.

Prettyman not only endures as the only three-time captain in Michigan history. The son of a farmer born in Stryker and raised in Bryan was the first Ohioan to play for the Wolverines.

He would hardly be the last.

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In fact, the next border-crossing lettermen also hailed from northwest Ohio -- Tiffin lineman Alex Kiskadden (1886) and Toledo halfback Lawrence Grosh (1890) -- as did the first Ohioan to play for Michigan against Ohio State. On Oct. 16, 1897, William Baker, a tackle from Woodville, helped Michigan beat the Buckeyes 34-0.

Halfway between the Toledo War and the Ten-Year War, these pioneers reinforced our corner of the state as the front line of the best rivalry in college football and kicked open the borders for generations to come.

As Ohio State and Michigan prepare to meet Saturday in the 112th edition of The Game, the well-chronicled legacy of Buckeye-born players wearing maize and blue continues to live strong.

The Wolverines count 22 Ohio natives on their roster, including senior defensive end Chris Wormley (Whitmer) and senior linebacker Allen Gant (Southview). Before them, two of Michigan's three Heisman Trophy winners hailed from Ohio -- Desmond Howard (Cleveland) and Charles Woodson (Fremont) -- along with dozens of Wolverines All-Americans.

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Even Michigan's best coaches got away. Bo Schembechler, of course, grew up in Barberton and spent a season on Woody Hayes' staff at Ohio State, and Fielding Yost once hoped to coach the Buckeyes.

It was 1897, and Ohio State had already cycled through three football coaches in its first seven years.

The search for its next one included Yost, then a 25-year-old West Virginia native months removed from his college playing days.

Yost might have landed the job if not for his overenthusiastic illustration of proper football technique during his interview in Columbus.

"After Yost demonstrated his physical competence on both a student and a faculty member, instructions were given to 'get that wild man off campus,' " Jack Park wrote in the Ohio State Football Encyclopedia.

That wild man was instead hired at Ohio Wesleyan and later Michigan, where his famed Point-a-Minute teams went 55-1-1 from 1901-05 and begot an enduring national power.

The free exchange of football trade between Ohio and Michigan, though, traces its roots to northwest Ohio.

Prettyman, who grew up in Bryan but attended his final years of high school in Ann Arbor, enrolled at Michigan in 1882 at 24.

Football at the time was a shade less barbaric than gladiatorial combat. With the legalization of the forward pass still two decades away, players locked in brain-rattling mass formations before bemused crowds.

The East Coast sport was such a novelty that Michigan -- which fielded its first team in 1879 -- played one exhibition game on roller skates at an Ann Arbor roller rink.

"The Rugby team is now practicing foot-ball on rollers," reported the Michigan Argonaut, a student publication. "The University foot-ball team defeated the Princess team of Detroit in two straight innings."

Still, Prettyman's talent was evident.

Prettyman scored the first touchdown in Michigan's first-ever home game -- a 40-5 win over the Detroit Independents at the Ann Arbor Fairgrounds in 1883 -- and was named team captain the next three seasons.

The Wolverines did not lose a game during his captaincy, but perhaps it should be noted that the run of perfection spanned eight games against Albion College, the Peninsular Cricket Club, the Chicago University Club, and a rugby team from Windsor, Ont.

With no eligibility restrictions, Prettyman moonlighted as a businessman. In 1885, he and his wife bought an Ann Arbor boarding house known as the Campus Club where, according to the Michigan Alumnus, 16 students paid $4 per week for room and board.

Prettyman left school the next year after completing his postgraduate work to become a traveling a salesman, but football pulled him back in. He returned to Michigan's team for a three-year second act as a lineman in 1888.

By 1890, Prettyman -- who later became Ann Arbor's postmaster -- was joined on the Wolverines by two Ohioans: Grosh and end Thomas McKean of Edgerton.

The floodgates at the border were open, and soon the stakes became personal.

In 1897, Baker met his home-state school. With the Buckeyes tabbing not Yost but Princeton halfback David Edwards as their coach, they forayed into Michigan amid a 1-7-1 season that stands as the worst in program history. It would be a quick trip.

A roster of 16 players traveled by train to Toledo the night before the game, carried on to Regents Field in Ann Arbor in the morning, and were about ready to turn around by halftime. The game was called with five minutes remaining.

"The representatives of the Scarlet and Gray met the husky young men of the University of Michigan for the first time on the gridiron last Saturday," reported the Lantern, the university's student newspaper. "And when the dust had cleared away from the first half a score of 34 to 0 had been placed against O.S.U."

Few could have imagined what was born that day.

More than a century later, the game is now The Game, more personal than ever in these contested borderlands.

"It's everything," Wormley said of the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry in Toledo. "Half the city is Michigan, half the city is Ohio State. So all my friends, all my family were divided.

"It was fun rivalry back then, joking around about it. But now, it's time to get down to business."

This article was written by David Briggs from The Blade and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.

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