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November 21, 2012

Meyer, Robinson, share unique bond in rivalry

Follow Noon | Givler | Axelrod | Birmingham

COLUMBUS, Ohio - From Woody, Bo, Archie, Eddie, Desmond, Charles, Carr, Tressel, and Troy, perhaps no rivalry has been defined by its personalities like the one between Ohio State and Michigan.

This Saturday, two of the 2012 version of The Game's key figures- one coaching in his first, another playing in his last- will take the field on opposing sidelines, after coming so close to spending the past four seasons together.

The year was 2009, and there wasn't a coach in college football hotter than Urban Meyer. Then Florida's head man, Meyer had led the Gators to two national championships in three seasons, producing NFL first round picks and a Heisman Trophy winner out of the likes of Percy Harvin and Tim Tebow.

And Meyer was determined to make Denard Robinson his next star player.

"We were real close. That was my guy," Meyer said of Robinson. "We sat at his house for like two hours. Another school was supposed to come in at like 8 o'clock, and I said, 'We're not leaving.' So I stayed there 'till 9 o'clock. He's a great guy."

Having built a close relationship with the Deerfield Beach native, who played high school ball 300 miles away from Florida's Gainesville campus, Meyer appeared to have an edge when it came to recruiting the four-star athlete. But with the Gators' stable of signal-callers already containing the likes of Tebow, future Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton, and John Brantley, the prospects of Robinson getting on the field as an actual quarterback at Florida appeared to be dim.

Ultimately turning down Meyer's offer in favor of running then head coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense at Michigan, the player nicknamed "Shoelace" for his unwillingness to tie his game shoes became a three-year starter for the Wolverines, breaking the Big Ten's record for total offense in 2010. But while Robinson will go down in history as one of the all-time greats in Ann Arbor, just how close did he come to strapping on his untied cleats for Meyer at Florida?

"I almost committed to him," Robinson said. "So what do you think?"

Figuring out just how Robinson's career would have played out had he opted for orange and blue instead of maize and blue is tough to do, and not just because it's hard to determine what position he would have played for the Gators.

Following Robinson's sophomore season in 2010, Meyer stepped down from his job as Florida's head coach, citing health reasons. It wasn't long, however, until the two-time national champion head coach put himself on a collision course to meet with his former target.

Just two days after one of the crowning moments of Robinson's Michigan career- a 337-yard, five-touchdown performance in the Wolverines' 40-34 win over Ohio State on Nov. 26, 2011- Meyer accepted the Buckeyes' vacant head coaching position. Eight months later, the two reconnected while representing their respective schools at the Big Ten's Media Day in Chicago.

"The only thing I said to him was my parents say hi to him," Robinson claimed. "I was recruited by him, so my family had that relationship with him, so I told him my parents say hi, and they asked about him and hopefully he's doing well and hopefully his family's doing well."

Despite the 6-foot, 197-pound Robinson's decision to play elsewhere in his college career, Meyer has nothing but positive things to say about the Wolverines' star.

"I have great respect for him as a person and as an athlete," Meyer said. "He's one of the finest athlete in America."

And while they'll both be on sidelines that neither one of them may have been able to imagine that they'd be on back when Meyer was overstaying his welcome at Robinson's parents' house, there will be plenty on the line for each in this Saturday's version of The Game.

On one hand, Meyer will be looking to add a second undefeated season to the two national championships on his resume, after posting a 12-0 record at Utah in 2004. Having made it to the final game of the 2012 season unscathed, it's hard to imagine a more disappointing finish to Meyer's first-year in Columbus than a loss to the Buckeyes' arch-rival.

Although he played running back for the Wolverines last Saturday after returning from an elbow injury, Robinson is listed as Michigan's No. 1 quarterback on this week's team depth chart. While it remains to be seen whether or not he'll actually play quarterback against the Buckeyes, doing so would give him the chance to become the first Wolverines signal-caller to earn two wins over Ohio State since Brian Griese won three game against the Buckeyes from 1995-1997. With an Iowa win over Nebraska on Friday, a Michigan win on Saturday would also give it the Legends Division championship, and the right to play for the school's first Big Ten title since 2004.

But regardless of whose legacy is strengthened and whose takes a hit on Saturday, Robinson is convinced that both he and Meyer will both just go down as two figures who helped make the rivalry between their respective schools great.

"Before I ever got here, before Coach Brady Hoke got here, before Coach Urban Meyer got here, it's always been The Game," Robinson said. "When Charles Woodson was here, you see him fighting against David Boston. You see that. Was Coach Hoke the head coach then? Was Urban Meyer the head coach? No. That game will always be The Game."



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