Troopers run for border in annual pigskin pranks

By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer

Page 1

They won’t be meeting on just the field tomorrow.

If tradition holds, Ohioans and Michiganders will be meeting under a flagpole on Airport Highway. Or in a parking lot in Monroe, armed with bumper stickers. Or maybe at the state line.

For state troopers in both states, the Ohio State-Michigan football clash has long provided an opportunity to let off a little steam, and to pull a few pranks on their colleagues across the border.

Like the time Michigan state troopers ran a U of M flag up the flagpole at the Toledo post of the Ohio Highway Patrol.

Or the year Ohio troopers crossed the border and slapped Ohio State bumper stick ers on Michigan State Police patrol cars.

Or the time Michigan troopers, in the dead of night, posted a “Go Michigan” sign on the Toledo post’s lawn, then snapped a few photos for evidence.

“People would go across the line and try to have a little fun,” said Trooper Greg Rayot, a Michigan fan who works for the Ohio Highway Patrol.

And you thought Ohio and Michigan hadn’t sent armed men on the hunt across the border since the Toledo War, which gave the Upper Peninsula to the Wolverine state and Toledo to Ohio.

Michigan Trooper Leon Baker played a part in the last major flourish of the border rivalry, in 1996. That year, Michigan shocked the undefeated Buckeyes, 13-9, dashing their national title hopes.

“We went down to the Toledo post with a poster we’d made up,” he remembers. “We ran across their front lawn right under the windows and put it up. Then we took flash pictures of it for evidence, but they saw us.”

Trooper Baker and his partner then went into the post for a few cups of coffee, prisoners of the border war.

“But sometimes you’d get away with it the whole night, and no one would notice until the morning shift came in,” he said.

Trooper Baker recalls the specter of enemy troopers crossing the border, prowling around opponent posts looking for an opening for the annual prank. “Your patrol units would watch out for their patrol units and follow them to see what they were up to,” he said.

Consensus with both sides now is that the tradition has died down after the sign-posting in Toledo.

Part of it was probably caused by the move of the Michigan State Police post from Erie to Monroe, a much longer drive from the Toledo post on Airport Highway. And, according to Trooper Baker, some of the key promoters of the rivalry retired or left their posts.

In any event, no real pranking occurred last year. Troopers on both sides deny plans for tonight, but then, that would be the point.

Troopers have long been half-accused of taking sides on game weekend in another way – pulling over fans of the visiting team heading to the game.

“It probably does happen,” said the Toledo post’s Sgt. Dan Arend, a diehard OSU fan. “Everybody jokes about it. Too bad for the Michigan people coming back from the game,” he said, without much sympathy.

“Oh, they try to get as many Michigan plates as they can,” joked Trooper Greg Rayot, a Michigan fan who works for the Ohio Highway Patrol.

“I try not to stop someone for those reasons,” Trooper Rayot said. “But if they’ve got Ohio State flags flying from their window, then I’ve got to get them.”

Presumably, he was joking.

Actually, those a little higher up the Ohio Highway Patrol chain of command were extremely quick to point out that troopers like Trooper Rayot were, um, joking.

“We treat any kind of special event like a holiday weekend,” said Timothy Hubbell, the staff lieutenant at district headquarters in Findlay. “Traffic will be pretty heavy, so we put extra people out on patrol. But in 17 years of service, I’ve never heard of someone stopping a Michigan car just because they’re from Michigan.”

Lieutenant Hubbell? He’s neutral. Actually, an Iowa Hawkeyes fan, but his preference in teams “is not an official thing.”