Twenty-five years ago this fall, I was a freshman at The Ohio State University (which, apparently, had far more relaxed admissions standards in 1992).
I was going through many exciting “firsts” in my life that fall, including my first time living alone, my first college parties, my first time doing my own laundry and my first time skipping classes for weeks at a time. Of all the “firsts” I was looking forward to that fall, however, one stood out among the rest.
That fall, I was going to my first Ohio State-Michigan game.
Having grown up in a predominantly Notre Dame household, I had never attended an Ohio State football game in my life until I arrived on campus and purchased my student ticket. I had been to all of the Buckeye games that season, but was truly looking forward to the opportunity to experience my first OSU-Michigan game up close and personal.
Then, something happened.
A week before “The Game,” the Troy High School football team won its Division I regional semifinal game and earned a spot in the regional finals. Elsewhere that same night, the Piqua football team also won its regional semifinal playoff game to earn a spot in the regional championship game, where it would be playing … Troy.
Two months prior, the Trojans and Indians had played their annual regular-season meeting in front of roughly 14,000 people at Troy Memorial Stadium. With both teams undefeated and ranked in the Division I state poll, the Troy and Piqua communities nearly collapsed under the sheer magnitude of the contest. I remember folks lining up hours before kickoff to ensure themselves a sliver of bleacher space. I remember news helicopters filling the sky. I remember the deafening roar when players came out of their respective locker rooms — and that was just for pre-game warm-ups. I remember a sea of red on one side of the stadium and an ocean of blue on the other.
I remember thinking, “Every autumn night should be so glorious. This is one of those things I’ll look back upon, many years from now, as a life-altering moment.”
As things would turn out, I was right.
When I found out the teams were going to be playing again in late November — this time in the playoffs — I was faced with a quandary. In one hand, I had a ticket to the Ohio State-Michigan game. In the other, I had a ticket to the Troy-Piqua game. Without the benefit of my own transportation at the time, I also had a choice to make. I could spend Saturday afternoon watching the greatest rivalry in college football or I could spend Saturday evening watching the greatest rivalry in high school football.
Truthfully, it wasn’t much of a choice at all.
I sold my brother my ticket to the Ohio State-Michigan game (I still don’t think he’s paid me back for that ticket a quarter of a century later) and I would attend the Troy vs. Piqua playoff game, something that had never happened before, hasn’t happened since and — so long as the two teams are in different divisions — won’t happen again in the foreseeable future.
Needless to say, I have no regrets.
As it has for so many, this high school football rivalry has become an integral part of my life. It’s something I think about (and I’m not exaggerating here) 365 days a year, whether it’s recalling games from the past or breaking down potential future match-ups. I can’t think of a single event, short of death, that would preclude me attending the game on a yearly basis. My entire year revolves around this game, which will be played Friday for the 133rd time. Heck, my wife and I purposely planned that our children be born during the summer months so we didn’t put me attending the Troy-Piqua game at risk (thanks, dear).
I love the rivalry so much I even wrote a book about it (shameless plug: still available locally at Jay & Mary’s Book Center in Troy and online at amazon.com).
So long as there is breath in my body and Troy and Piqua are playing, I will be there, simply because there’s nothing else in the world quite like it. I hope everyone in both communities appreciate what we have. I hope we can all cherish it, be proud of it and embrace it.
And may no power on Earth — even Ohio State vs. Michigan — ever change that.
Reach David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong