Ohio State vs Michigan is the greatest rivalry in American sports and do not let anybody convince you otherwise. Oh, there are contenders like the Iron Bowl (Alabama-Auburn), the Civil War (Oregon-Oregon State) or even the Army-Navy game, but Ohio State-Michigan covers ground those rivalries cannot as far as I'm concerned. Outside of college football there are rivalries like Duke-North Carolina, Red Sox-Yankees, Lakers-Celtics, etc.
The Game trumps them all to me because of two words, unique history. I'll circle back to that. First, I think it's better than the non-football rivalries because of how many times a year this classic is played out- once. One time. You lose, you chew on it for a full year. If you lose at home, you can't make that right for two years. If the Red Sox lose to the Yankees, they'll see them the next night. If the staying power of any win is less than 24 hours, I can't put it on the same level as The Game. The Lakers and Celtics play only twice a year, and same with Duke-North Carolina and all of the divisional rivalries in the NFL, but that is still more than once. And despite a couple match ups in the Finals recently, Lakers-Celtics really has not been amazing since the Reagan Administration.
So back to college football, where rivalries do seem more powerful. The Game's biggest contender is likely the Iron Bowl. We've all heard about how families have been divided over Alabama and Auburn, but we've heard that for a lot of rivalries. Heck, fans of the Texas Longhorns never know who hates them more, Oklahoma or A&M family members. So the severing of familial ties is not unique to ‘Bama-Auburn. The other claim is “You don't know how much we hate that (insert other fan base here).” The hate factor. If that argument is at the top of your list, you're out of gas. Every fan base has another fan base they really can't stand. I mean, they'd leave them stranded on the side of the road if they could. That's not a separator.
Ohio State-Michigan has plenty of things that separate it from the pack.
First, Bo vs Woody, the 10-year war. Obviously any rivalry has their own coaching feuds, but did Nick Saban or Bear Bryant coach at Auburn? Where either of them an assistant under an Auburn coach, then take over the rival team and build them into a powerhouse? No. Never happened. Unique history. Michigan has further used Ohio's own against them when it comes to the Bronze Stiff Arm. Two of their three Heisman winners are from Ohio. The Buckeyes managed revenge in this area when Michigan native Craig Krenzel lead Ohio State past the Wolverines and to a National Championship. Find me those kinds of daggers in other college rivalries.
Second, the Big Ten title traditionally goes through Columbus or Ann Arbor. This has taken a hit because Michigan has become a jalopy, but for most of the last 50 years it has been the Big 2 and the Small 8. Since when could that be said about the Iron Bowl, Civil War, Army-Navy, etc? Pick any of them. How many times is it one or the other? Twice recently we've seen Cam Newton and a field goal ran back for a touchdown determine the fate of the SEC. Two times does not hold up to the historical dominance of Michigan and Ohio State in the conference.
Third, a rivalry tree. Practically ANY team from Ohio or Michigan is hated by the other fan base just because of this game. I think it took five seconds for Blue Jackets fans to hate the Red Wings just because of where they are from. Cleveland fans cannot stand the Tigers or Pistons, and not just because they share a division with the Indians and Cavs. You can't tell me that part of it doesn't stem from the fact that they come from “that state up north.” This does happen with New York and Boston, but it's not an automatic in every geographic rivalry. You can't say Cleveland and Pittsburgh when half the hockey fans in Cleveland root for the Penguins, and when was the last time you said “good” when the Panthers lost?
Fourth, and this is the nail in the coffin for me, Ohio and Michigan are the only two states to FIGHT A WAR. Yes, at one point Ohioans and Michiganders were in a shooting war. OK, so it only lasted about 20 minutes and shots were only fired in the air. It's still called a war! The Toledo War to be exact. Eventually the government stepped in and just said “stop it,” they gave Toledo to us, Michigan got their Upper Peninsula. Toledo thanks Ohio by rooting for Michigan to this day. Scoundrels.
The Game has all the trappings of the other rivalries like big names, memorable plays and huge upsets. But when you factor in other evidence, I cannot find a rivalry with the depth of The Game.