Kirk Herbstreit on Ohio State-Michigan rivalry: ‘You need pain’

Kirk Herbstreit might be the foremost living expert on the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, especially from the side of the Scarlet and Gray.

From growing up pretending he was an Ohio State quarterback in his backyard to actually being the Ohio State quarterback at Ohio Stadium to calling contests for ESPN, he has seen The Game from many different angles.

(He even attended the 1987 edition as a Michigan recruit.)

And since Herbstreit was born before the turn of the century, seeing the Wolverines win back-to-back games against the Buckeyes isn’t foreign to him, either.

“My twins are 22, my next son is 20, and my next son is 16,” the 1988 Centerville High School graduate told The Toledo Blade in an interview published Tuesday. “I had to teach them and brainwash them about Ohio State-Michigan, but they didn’t have the pain in their entire lives.”

The Buckeyes were 0-4-1 during Herbstreit’s playing career, part of a 2-10-1 tenure for head coach John Cooper that ended in 2000.

Jim Tressel replaced him and went 9-1 against the Wolverines only to be followed by Urban Meyer, who went 7-0 as head coach of the Buckeyes in The Game.

But Michigan has won two in a row in the series, is making a strong recruiting push in Ohio this spring and looking to make a third straight College Football Playoff appearance.

Coach Jim Harbaugh’s team also wants to extend Ohio State’s misery with another win in Ann Arbor this fall after knocking the Buckeyes out of the Big Ten title race in back-to-back seasons.

“We used to always kid, what’s your record now?” Herbstreit said of conversations with his sons. “And they’d be like 13-1, 17-2. And I’d be like, ‘Guys, this isn’t normal. You need pain. You need to realize that when Ohio State takes the field and has everything on the line and they lose in Ann Arbor and you hear that song, then you’ll be crying and you’ll understand what that rivalry is about.’

“And they’ve felt it the last two years, especially one of my sons (Zak) who’s on the team. I think fans that are younger that forgot about the ‘90s are being reminded, ‘Oh my gosh, we really don’t like them.’

“This is what the rivalry is. This is what it’s supposed to be, to feel some pain along the way. It reminds you what makes this thing so good.”

Speaking to The Blade at the same event, Tressel expressed a similar sentiment.

“I’ve really grown to be a believer — whether it’s a society, a family or a football team — until you suffer a little bit, it’s hard to learn lessons,” Tressel said. “Now we’ve suffered.

“I tell people all the time the strength of our 2002 national championship team was that they were done suffering. They’d been 6-6, 8-4, 7-5. They’d had it. They weren’t going to lose… Michigan might have suffered a long time, and maybe they felt like they’ve suffered enough. We’re all allowed to learn lessons. It’s not just the Buckeyes. Now I think you’re going to see a real square-off, and I’ve got confidence in the Buckeyes.”

Herbstreit and Tressel both endorsed the job Ryan Day has done as head coach, too.

Day is 45-6 with a pair of Big Ten championships and three CFP appearances, but he is 1-2 against Michigan and likely will be an underdog in The Game in November.

While Tressel said, “Ryan has done a great job,” Herbstreit described a vocal minority of Ohio State fans he sees as just wanting to be mad about something.

“The 15 percenters, they get mad at anything,” Herbstreit said. “That percent is going to be mad at something always. He could win the Michigan game, go to the playoff and lose, and they’ll be mad about that. That group is just a bunch of jackasses who kind of embarrass all of us as Ohio State fans. So I don’t really care, honestly, what that group thinks.

“But the people who matter, the logical people who actually have a brain and understand the sport, they love what Ryan Day has done. The fact that this is even a topic is almost comical.”

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