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Saturday, Nov. 18, 2006 | The way Jim Harbaugh sees it, Bo Schembechler will take a seat Saturday alongside Woody Hayes in football heaven to look down upon the Michigan-Ohio State game.

Schembechler died Friday taping an interview for a Detroit television station on the eve of a 103rd meeting in a series that may be the greatest rivalry in sports. If Bo had to pick a way to go, talking Michigan football is probably a play he would have called.

Harbaugh, coach of the University of San Diego’s unbeaten football team that hopes to learn Sunday it has earned an at-large berth in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, started at quarterback for three years at Michigan under Schembechler. Harbaugh also says Bo’s influence is the reason he made it to the NFL as a quarterback for 15 years and as a head coach the past three seasons at USD.

With the Toreros, Harbaugh has enjoyed so much success his name was one of the first mentioned when the Michigan State job opened two weeks ago and again when the Iowa State job opened up last week.

Harbaugh is believed to have met with Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard this weekend at a site between San Diego and Ames, Iowa, about the vacant Cyclones position. He left USD’s practice early Thursday afternoon and has been unavailable for comment, even with the death of his mentor.

“We are having a hard time with this,” Harbaugh said in the statement released by USD. “Bo was like a second dad to me. His legacy of coaching has reached thousands, and we are fortunate to have been trained by him. He is the reason I made it to the NFL and as a head football coach. He was a man of integrity, a man of honesty, and a man of charisma, and he will be remembered as one of the great teachers and winners in the game for all time. It’s ironic that on the eve of the Michigan-Ohio State game that Bo and Woody will be reunited once again to battle over the outcome of the Michigan-Ohio State game.”

Right now you’re probably wondering, besides Harbaugh’s USD job, why I think we should care in San Diego about the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry. We should care plenty.

One reason is so many of us are from either the states of Michigan or Ohio or alumni of Big Ten universities. For years, we endured the “Big Two Little Eight” era until other Big Ten schools started taking football as seriously as Bo and Woody. As a Michigan State graduate, no man caused me more sports misery than Bo Schembechler.

Another reason is the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry throughout the 1970s, when television sports was coming of age, was fueled by the larger-than-life-personalities of Woody and Bo. TV grew up on broadcasting the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry, with shots of the volatile Woody tearing up the yard markers at Michigan Stadium during the game.

Before Schembechler arrived at Michigan in 1969 and upset unbeaten Ohio State’s bid for a repeat national championship, the Michigan-Ohio State rivalry was one of many big rivalries in the nation. Bo – a former assistant for Woody who responded to Woody throwing at chair at him in a coaches meeting by throwing the chair back at Woody – elevated a Michigan program that had dropped off.

Woody was so angry at Michigan standing in his way to the Big Ten title and Rose Bowls, one time on a recruiting trip to Michigan, the Ohio State assistant doing the driving told Woody they were running out of gas. Woody wouldn’t let him stop for gas until they crossed the border back into Ohio.

Another reason we care about Michigan and Bo in San Diego is for so many years Bo brought his Michigan team to the Rose Bowl. It’s hard for high school and college players to understand today with the way the Bowl Championship Series has changed the face of college football, but there was nothing bigger in college football – particularly for kids in the Midwest and the West Coast and in the pre-Super Bowl era – than playing in the Rose Bowl.

Curt Stephenson, a La Jolla High alumnus with a Southern California real estate company, went to Michigan to play for Bo. He caught a touchdown pass in the 1978 Rose Bowl when Michigan lost to a Washington team that broke the USC-UCLA stranglehold on Rose Bowl berths from the then-Pac-8 Conference.

“In the early 1970s the only teams that went to the Rose Bowl were USC, UCLA, Michigan and Ohio State,” Stephenson told me. “Those were my four teams I considered when I got out of La Jolla.”

Believe it or not, Bo’s influence on televised college football and the Rose Bowl gives him a bigger place in San Diego football than you might think.

Tom Shanahan is’s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at Or send a letter to the editor.

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