Happens Every Year

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Michigan and Ohio State will play the latest "Game of the Century" today, but it will not be the first time the rivals thrust that phrase into college football legend. In 1969, a rookie coach named Bo Schembechler led the Wolverines to an upset of No. 1 Ohio State, pushing Texas to No. 1 and Arkansas to No. 2.

Those two teams would play a game on ABC the next week, and it would be the final game of the centennial season of college football. A few clever ABC executives met, and a slogan was born: the "Game of the Century."

Ever since, historians and talking heads have slapped the moniker on games from the past, present and future, turning the phrase into more of an idea than a defining term. A Google search of "College Football" and "Game of the Century" yields 26,300 hits.

"It's kind of become blase to say it, almost," said Bill Little, an assistant athletic director at Texas who has been with the school since 1968. "It kind of lost its value."

"The phrase I hear most often is, 'This year's "Game of the Century",' " college football historian Michael MacCambridge said. "People realize what they're doing, and they call themselves on it."

The earliest "Game of the Century" is Notre Dame's 18-13 upset win over Ohio State in 1935, a game that helped vault Notre Dame to its exalted status. Another 1935 game, Southern Methodist-Texas Christian, was labeled the "Game of the Half-Century."

Now the phrase has spiraled nearly out of control. Commentators referred to several games this season, such as Ohio State-Texas and even Louisville-West Virginia, as "Games of the Century." Cumberland University created a Web site dedicated to the 222-0 loss it suffered to Georgia Tech in 1916 and referred to it as the "Game of the Century."

"There have been so many," Dan Jenkins, the former Sports Illustrated college football guru who now is a historian for the National Football Foundation, wrote in an e-mail. "What do you want to count?"

A few throughout history still merit consideration, including the Arkansas-Texas game that made the label ubiquitous.

"Well, it was unbelievable, the hype that went into that game," said the legendary Darrell Royal, the former Texas coach. "You can expect the hype to increase considerably, because of more press and more television and more radio and more everything, when Ohio State and Michigan tee it up."

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