Ohio State - Michigan: How a bloodless war led to one of sport's - Cleveland 19 News Cleveland, OH

Ohio State - Michigan: How a bloodless war led to one of sport's best rivalries

TOLEDO, OH (WTOL) -

Some of college football's most heated rivalries stretch back to century-old issues beyond football.

Alabama and Auburn began out of a bitter dispute in the state legislature during and after the Civil War. Missouri and Kansas can stretch its roots back to Bleeding Kansas in the 1850's.

Then there is Ohio State and Michigan, where the roots of the rivalry were planted during a dispute over a small strip of land on the Maumee River.

This perennial gridiron ground war that is waged every year between OSU and Michigan, has been ongoing non-stop for just about a century. The football rivalry began as a recurring annual showdown back in 1918 though the teams first played in 1897, long before there was the Horse Shoe in Columbus or the Big House in Ann Arbor.


The seeds of this rancorous rivalry between the two states are back to 1835 when Michigan and Ohio were ready to spill blood over who owned the early real estate of Toledo

The standoff between the two states was about whether the territory of Michigan or Ohio was going to get the Port of Toledo.

At the center of the dispute was a strip of land, then called the Toledo strip, a narrow belt of land about five miles wide. It was a sort of no man's land because of because of old treaties, bad map making and too many surveys.

The original Northwest Ordinance declared there would be a line from the tip of Lake Michigan through the territories to the tip of Lake Erie.

But it turned out though that Lake Michigan was much farther south than these first crudely drawn maps depicted. The new line, the bottom line, put Toledo in Michigan. That line included the coveted Maumee Bay and Lower River, which back then and still now was an economic plum for shipping and transportation.

It was a strip of land the states believes was well worth a fight.

In 1835, Michigan's boy Governor, 19-year-old Steven Mason, was brash and ready to do that after he declared that Toledo was theirs.

Mason sent a deputy to arrest the eccentric but wealthy developer of Toledo's Vistula, Benjamin Franklin Stickney, who was a grandson of the founding father Benjamin Franklin. At the time, Stickney lived at his home where Riverside Hospital currently sits.

Throughout the month of July of 1835, Ben Stickey had been arrested several times by Michigan's deputy.

Finally in August, Two Stickey, the aptly named second son of Ben, got into an confrontation with the deputy at a tavern and ended up stabbing the deputy. The wound was not fatal, but the drastic action was a call to war for Michigan's young governor.

Governor Mason called a militia together to take Toledo by force, but the battle Mason wanted never happened.

Instead, President Andrew Jackson stepped in declaring Governor Mason had gone too far and demanded a political solution.

As a result, the US awarded Ohio the coveted Toledo Strip while Michigan was awarded the Upper Peninsula and eventual statehood.


The bitter feelings between the two states remained for the decades following what was dubbed as the Toledo War.

In 1897, those bitter feelings were released not on the battlefield, but on the gridiron.

Every since, the rivalry produced memorable  games and players.

One of those players is Chic Harley, who first brought the Buckeyes into national prominence between 1916 and 1919.

Partially thanks to Harley, Ohio State brought in so many fans, they built what is now known as the Horseshoe in 1922.

Then there was Tom Harmon, a running back from Michigan feared by his opponents as the man who could not be stopped.

His speed and ballet-type performances set records and won championship for the Wolverines in the 1940's.

One of the memorable games came in 1950, when a blizzard pelted Columbus. There were five inches of snow on the ground and 30 mph winds. Still 50,000 fans showed up to the watch the game. Michigan would go on to win 9-3 in game known now as the "Snow Bowl."

The rivalry reached its peak between 1969 and 1978 when Wood Hayes headed Ohio State while Bo Schembechler walked the sidelines at Michigan.

Known to fans as the "Ten Year War," the games between the two rivals were not only at its competitive peak, it featured some of the best teams ever put together at Ohio State and Michigan. On top of that, the coaches only fueled the hatred between the two programs.

When Ohio State played at Michigan, Woody Hayes would stop in Toledo the night before the game because he wouldn't have to spend a cent in that "State up north." Hayes even refused to utter Michigan.


While Woody and Bo are gone, the intensity of a dispute started 182 years ago lingers to this day. While there was little blood spilled during the war that created this rivalry, there has been plenty spilled since on the gridiron.

It seems both teams are still determined to battle it out to keep their grip on the trophy known as the Toledo Strip.

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