From a lawn chair outside the bubble, they deserve each other, the way Sherlock deserved Moriarty, the way Batman deserved the Joker, the way the silly Trix rabbit deserved every last one of those blasted kids.
Urban Meyer and Jim Harbaugh were reportedly born at the same hospital (Mercy) in the same town (Toledo, Ohio), some seven months apart, the football fates casting them out along the long and winding road of life, only to draw them back in again.
Of course, few campuses offer the sheer gravitational pull of Ohio State and Michigan, for better or worse. This past March, when Reddit surveyed 5,000 college football fans nationally as to which program they “hated” the most, the Buckeyes topped the list, with 11.4 percent. No. 2? Big Blue, tied with Alabama at 9.2 percent.
The finer points proved no less visceral: Among the 15 states that cast 100 or more votes, Ohio State was the only program to appear among the top 3 most-hated within four different states (Michigan [No. 1], Ohio [No. 2], Illinois [No. 1] and Pennsylvania [No. 2]). The Wolverines ended up No. 1 (Ohio) or No. 2 (Michigan, Illinois) in three states, including their own.
Is it the brand? Or the bosses?
Meyer is the neighbor who rolls up to his driveway in a Porsche on Thursday and a Maserati on Monday. Harbaugh won’t get off the lawn until he’s signed your 9-year-old to a letter of intent.
Jealousy? Disgust? Coach envy? We appear to be diving headlong into a golden age of abhorrence, at least where Urban and Jim are concerned, an underlying fervor unseen since Woody Hayes’ right hook ended The Ten-Year War. Not because the Buckeyes and Wolverines are in a different class from the rest of their Big Ten brethren, as seen during the apex of Bo-vs.-Woody 40 years earlier, but because in an age of the personality cult, in an era of metrics, where the audience drives the news as opposed to vice versa, Meyer and Harbaugh simply move the needle more than their peers.
Especially in terms of social media: As of early Thursday morning, the Buckeye coach’s Twitter account had 583,000 followers; Harbaugh’s listed 529,000. The Twitter accounts of Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio (80.7K), Nebraska coach Mike Riley (148K), and James Franklin (129K) totalled 357,700 followers combined.
The Big Two and the Little Eight then. The Big Two and the Little 12 now.
I hate Jim Harbaugh so much, that if he was sent to an island to never be heard from again, he could take John with him and I’d be happy lol
— Dame (@DamStone) June 6, 2016
Literally hate Jim harbaugh with a passion
— Garrett Lemelin (@GarrettLemelin) June 5, 2016
Some of the venom stems from Harbaugh’s superb – and fearless – grasp of the medium. Some of it stems from Harbaugh being Harbaugh. Of course he was going to climb a tree. Of course he was going wrestle a recruit. Of course he was going to move his spring camp to Florida. Of course he was going to invite Ric Flair to National Signing Day.
People are starting to hate Michigan again because of Jim Harbaugh. It feels good to be hated again.
— Nobody (@CeeTheProphet) May 6, 2016
The hate for Jim Harbaugh is awesome. If they are hating, that means you’re relevant.
— W. (@TWeso11) June 1, 2016
That, or you’re damn good at your job. In February 2012, ESPN.com asked readers to vote for their most hated coach in the Big Ten. After some 27,000 chimed in, Meyer — who ruffled more than a few feathers after a contentious first winter on the recruiting trail — took home the crown, several months before he’d coached so much as a down in Columbus:
Urban Meyer tells little kids that Santa isn’t real #OhioStateHateWeek
— Gemma (@NotSoHiddenGem) October 16, 2015
Urban Meyer donates 5% of his salary to ISIS #OhioStateHateWeek
— R e i D (@CHARLOTTES_OWN) October 17, 2015
— Taylor Hoffman (@taylorjhoffman) October 17, 2015
And yet, as familiarity and contempt walk arm in arm, there’s Harbaugh, who’ll set up a camp in Reykjavik if there’s an Icelandic safety worth a helvitis, basking in the bile as a backhanded compliment. That and getting the last laugh, 140 characters at a time:
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) December 18, 2015
Or something like that. Besides, your hate can’t possibly wound a man who proclaims a lord of the Sith to be “his guy.” It only serves to make him stronger.
You can reach Sean Keeler via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @seankeeler