Review: RIVALS is the Michigan football vs. Ohio State documentary reboot you’ve been waiting for

What is a rivalry? A new series seeks out to answer that.

No, not just which teams are rivals, but why do rivals exist? What are the sociological underpinnings that create such a concept?

Back in 2008, HBO tackled the Michigan football vs. Ohio State rivalry, A.K.A. ‘The Game,’ but we’ve since had 13 years since that was released. While it did dig into how much each program loathes the other, along with a lot of the traditions that go along with The Game, RIVALS digs a lot deeper.

Rife with familiar faces, and lots of entertaining set pieces, the series kicks off exploring The Game. It delves deep, with plenty of historical footage, but is enormously entertaining as it’s narrated by Michigan native and OSU fanatic J.K. Simmons. It also features Rich Eisen, Joel Klatt, John U. Bacon, Angelique Chengelis, Bill Rabinowitz, Tim May, Nick Baumgardner, Dan Dierdorf, Jack Park, Archie Griffin, Stephen Means, Michael Rosenberg, David Briggs, Sam Webb, Keith Byars, Devin Gardner and Bruce Madej.

Each school gets significant time to dig into the individual program lore, but it starts with the Buckeyes, especially the Woody Hayes era, but shifts quickly to Bo Schembechler’s tenure leading the Wolverines.

However, even as it takes a look at the ‘Ten Year War,’ it also delves into the sociology about how each team made the other better. But it shifts more between the sociological underpinnings than it follows along with chronology.

This documentary does feature much of the already well-known trivia, but it is rather comprehensive. It certainly doesn’t cover everything, but it offers something much different than previous iterations.

What certainly makes this documentary different is that it does feature more modern elements. Yes, it does significantly address ‘the spot,’ as well as Jim Harbaugh and Urban Meyer taking over the helms at each institution. And it also covers the 2021 win by Michigan.

RIVALS runs for nearly 90 minutes, and you’ll be glued to the TV for all of them.

RIVALS will premiere Saturday, Nov. 5, at 4 p.m. ET on Bally Sports Great Lakes and Bally Sports Ohio.  The two-hour film will also debut on Bally Sports Detroit at 5 p.m. ET on Saturday.  The documentary will replay throughout the month on these platforms. 


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Press release:

Today, Sinclair Broadcast Group and Tennis Channel Studios (TC Studios), in partnership with the Emmy-Award winning DLP Media Group, announced they have produced a new documentary special, RIVALS.  The film will take a deep dive into the high-profile, storied college-football matchup between Michigan and Ohio State, offering viewers unique perspectives from legendary players, sports journalists and announcers, scientists, historians and more.  It was created in collaboration with Jon Wertheim, Tennis Channel reporter, CBS’ 60 Minutes correspondent, Sports Illustrated senior writer and author.  RIVALS will premiere November 5on multiple Bally Sports regional networks, and run throughout the month on a wide variety of Sinclair and other platforms, with a nationwide debut on Tennis Channel November 20 at 7 p.m. ET (website with schedule information below).

RIVALS is set to debut throughout November across the Bally Sports regional sports networks (RSNs), Bally Sports+, Marquee and YES Network, along with the Sinclair broadcast stations, Tennis Channel and Big Ten Network.  In all, the documentary will run more than 350 times.  Its expansive distribution approach will see the film run immediately following highly viewed NBA, NHL and other events on the RSNs and stations, which often lead their local markets in ratings.  Michigan and Ohio State – both members of the Big Ten Conference – are scheduled to play on November 26, after which RIVALS will run on Big Ten Network.

“The opportunity to create and share this special came from the unique ability to program across Sinclair’s stations and RSNs, game adjacent to some of the most watched live competitions around the country,” said Ken Solomon, president, Tennis Channel.  “While this is a sports documentary, ultimately it’s not like anything anyone’s ever seen.  RIVALS is about people and our society, why sports matter to so many, and how competition pushes us to excellence.  And what better rivalry to explore this than through one of the greatest ever?”

RIVALS takes a comprehensive look back at the storied history between two of the top Division I football programs in NCAA history. Narrated by Academy Award-winning actor J.K. Simmons (who was born in Michigan but remains a rabid Ohio State fan), the show gleans the perspective of more than 30 others whose lives have been similarly impacted by the never-ending fight between the two schools.  Among them are Archie Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner; legendary players Dan Dierdorf and Keith Byars; broadcasters Rich Eisen and Joe Klatt; historians Jack Park and John Bacon; and veteran journalists from the Columbus, Ohio, and Ann Arbor, Michigan, markets, the homes of Ohio State and Michigan, respectively.  The two-hour documentary reveals the science behind what makes a sports rivalry so compelling, how the matchup repeatedly delivers nail biting performances and why it has been historically revered as The Game.

The film marks Tennis Channel’s debut of production studio TC Studios, and is the network’s first documentary for a sport other than tennis.  The RIVALS concept stems from the success of the network’s Emmy Award-nominated Strokes of Genius in 2018, also a collaboration with Wertheim and based on his earlier book of the same name.  Strokes of Genius looked at the long-running rivalry between tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal. RIVALS  expands the scope to college football and an annual standoff every bit as fierce.

“As we created Strokes of Genius we realized we were telling more than a tennis story,” said Wertheim.  “The film was less about the competition between Federer and Nadal and more about how they were each better for having to face one another again and again at the highest level, which is exactly what we see with Michigan and Ohio State football.  We really appreciate the help of both schools for this project, as well as the Big Ten Conference and the Big Ten Network.”

Sinclair Broadcast Group is supporting the launch of RIVALS with a partnership with direct marketer Valpak, which will promote the film in 3.1 million homes in Michigan and Ohio in late October.  Also this month, a one-minute RIVALS trailer will run in approximately 1,000 medical facilities, car dealerships and retail outlets around the United States.  The company will also hold watch parties in Columbus and Ann Arbor.

Additional information on RIVALS can be found at The website will feature updated program schedules, a channel finder, show promos and enter-to-win prize pack opportunities.

Trailer: RIVALS


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Story originally appeared on Wolverines Wire