Boren considered traitor a 2nd time

Published 2:46 am Wednesday, November 18, 2009

COLUMBUS — In these parts, people don’t change sides easily. You’re either born a Michigan fan or your bassinet has scarlet and gray trim.

That’s why, in the days leading up to No. 9 Ohio State at Michigan on Saturday, there is so much talk about the curious case of Justin Boren.

Boren is from Ohio and starts at left guard for the Buckeyes. But he used to play for the Wolverines.

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Ohio State coach Jim Tressel did not permit Boren to speak with reporters this week. But many of his teammates, current and former, had a lot to say.

“When I was a freshman he came in during one of our meetings (on a recruiting visit) — and he just fell asleep,” said Ohio State’s Jim Cordle, who now starts next to Boren at tackle and calls him one of his best friends. “This big meatball just comes in and falls asleep. You heard all the talk about him going to Michigan and stuff, and then he did.”

For the next two years, the Buckeyes seethed that a kid who grew up less than 20 miles from Ohio Stadium was now wearing maize and blue. So he was considered a turncoat — for the first time.

“During the Michigan game when you go out for warmups, both teams are coming out of the same tunnel,” Cordle said, reflecting on the 2007 game. “When we went out for warmups, he was coming back in, and I saw him and I kind of stared him down. I was like, ’There’s Boren.”’

But then Boren grew disenchanted with Michigan when coach Lloyd Carr retired two years ago and was replaced by Rich Rodriguez. Boren — whose father played at Michigan — stunned both states when he announced he was transferring to Ohio State because, as he put it, “family values have eroded” in the Wolverines’ program.

“That was just an excuse about why he wanted to leave,” Michigan defensive end Brandon Graham said. “He put that on himself. He didn’t give (the coaches) a chance when they got here, and he was just so used to the coach Carr era, he didn’t want to get used to nothing else.”

Michigan offensive lineman David Moosman clearly didn’t want to discuss Boren.

“Just didn’t want to be here. … Probably shouldn’t have come in the first place,” he said. “Who’s fault was that?”

Asked if he would ever allow his own son — should he someday have one — to attend Ohio State, Graham scowled.

“No. I wouldn’t do that. I couldn’t do that,” he said. “I’m not Justin Boren. I couldn’t do that.”

Once seen as a traitor by Ohio State fans, now Boren is a favorite son. Once a starter for the Wolverines, he’s now seen as Benedict Arnold in shoulder pads by Michigan faithful.

“He came to the good side, and here he is,” Cordle said with a grin.

Without insight from Boren, no one knows what he is thinking this week. Even his teammates are wondering.

“He’s going to have a lot of internal things going on,” Ohio State safety Kurt Coleman said. “It’s going to be a motivation for him to play. He’s usually an animal out there with his mindset. I think this is going to be a totally different game. I would like to watch him throughout the game.”

It’s almost unheard of for one player to switch uniforms in this most heated of rivalries. Yet Hall of Fame Michigan coach Bo Schembechler was from Ohio and a loyal assistant to Woody Hayes at Ohio State before becoming Hayes’ nemesis in their “Ten-year War” from 1969-78. Gary Moeller was the captain of the 1962 Ohio State team, but later was coach of the Wolverines.

Sometimes “The Game” splits families.

Perhaps the most famous matchup in the series was the 1950 “Snow Bowl” game played in Columbus. A blizzard with freezing temperatures and 40 mph winds hit Ohio Stadium that Saturday, paralyzing the city.

The Wolverines won 9-3, thanks to a safety and Tony Momsen’s blocked punt and recovery in the end zone.

Momsen was the older brother of Ohio State’s Bob Momsen, who had earlier blocked a punt to set up the Buckeyes’ only points.

Must have been an interesting postgame dinner for the Momsens.

Ohio State wide receiver Dane Sanzenbacher grew up in Toledo, in the middle between the schools and almost split down the middle in its allegiance this Saturday.

Sanzenbacher grew up an Ohio State fan and wasn’t recruited by Michigan, but felt the pull of the rivalry at a young age.

“You’re always split down the middle, especially in Toledo,” he said. “There were always plenty of Michigan fans to tell you about it.”

More than most, he recognizes how a game like Ohio State-Michigan can both unify and polarize.

“For both of these teams the passion from their fans runs a little bit deeper,” he said. “They’re not going to be flip-floppers about it.”