Clipped in Columbus

At the beginning of HBO Sports’s documentary, Michigan-Ohio State: The Rivalry, Buckeye zealot and Woody Hayes impersonator Bo Biafra describes the feeling the game inspires within residents of those two states as their annual Big Ten clash on the third Saturday in November draws nigh.

“You know the feeling you get in the pit of your stomach the night before Christmas. Now, times it by a million…” he said.

Well on Saturday, QB Juice Williams and the rest of the “Fighting Illini” put coal in the stockings of Ohio State and Michigan fans, not to mention HBO executives, when Illinois evicted the Buckeyes from atop the college football ranks.

The Wolverines, which had started this crazy college football season with a 34-32 debacle against Appalachian State and a 34-9 loss the following week to Oregon, had righted their 2007 campaign somewhat, returning to the 14th spot in the polls. That was before Wisconsin’s Badgers overwhelmed them, 37-21, on Nov. 10. Then in the late-afternoon window on ABC, Illinois pulled its 28-21 upset at the Horseshoe in Colubus, wresting from Michigan the prospect of ruining Ohio State’s perfect season on Nov. 17 and with it a chance for the national championship.

As the doc describes, a disappointing season for these teams can be salvaged by inflicting pain upon its rival. Or as former Michigan and Miami Dolphins tight end Jim Mandich termed it schadenfreude: taking joy in the misery of others. 

While elation or despair will dole itself out following the outcome on Nov. 17, Juice’s four TD passes and the job he did convincing his coach to go for it on an fourth and inches with some six minutes to go in the fourth quarter pretty much did that trick last Saturday for those whose ardor falls outside of Ann Arbor and Columbus. The Buckeyes’ stumble also removed much of the scheduling starch for HBO, which will debut the film at 10:30 p.m. (ET/PT) Tuesday night, four days before the 104th edition of the rivalry.

Not that Michigan-Ohio State isn’t worth watching anyway, even for those who don’t get choked up thinking about The Big House or watching the marching band dot the ‘I’ in Columbus Stadium. Stories surrounding the 45-punt snow game in 1950, a disputed border territory between the states, and the relationship and 10-year on- and off-the-field war between Hayes and his protégé Bo Schembechler are well-told and intriguing, with the latter perhaps worthy of its own doc.

Still, this fine film, examining the devotees who favor the maize and blue compared to those fanatics who root for the scarlet and grey, and HBO took a hit when Williams, in Illini orange, likely ran out the clock on the Buckeyes’ bid for the BCS championship.

The Color Purple. Green and purple have note in the world of tennis. Something about those being the colors of that little grass tournament hosted by the All-England Club. While the colors may work on merchandise and clothing around the grounds at Wimbledon, they didn’t fly very well for the season-ending women’s Sony Ericsson Championship Sunday night from Madrid.

Distributed on Versus, the match, which saw Justine Henin top Maria Sharapova in three hours and 24 minutes, the longest-ever for a women’s three-setter, produced some great drama. Both players, but especially the telegenic Sharapova, tired visibly in the final set. Yet, she strived not to give in to the world’s No. 1, who has now won 25 consecutive matches and is the first female player not to lose a match after Wimbledon, since 1989. Indeed, the final game included seven deuces, some great shot-making and a fifth championship point before Henin, who earned $1 million prize for her 10th tourney of 2007 to become the first woman to claim $5 million in tennis winnings during a season, ultimately prevailed.

Not that viewers could see all of the action from Madrid, where a lavender court, inlaid over a green perimeter surface made it very difficult to follow the ball. Shots hit into or delivered from the far court – the top of the TV screen – seemingly disappeared from view. 

As a contact lens wearer, I’ll admit my eyes aren’t the greatest. But I moved closer to the set to try and catch more of the action. Trust me, it was difficult to discern balls from the top part of the screen, until they fell into the net, were sprayed wide or landed in the near court.

Purple and green charm may hold charm in London, but not in Madrid.