True University of Michigan football fans boast that their blood runs maize and blue, not red. After all, who would want blood in the color of the U-M’s arch-rival, Ohio State University?

But this month, U-M fans will get to prove how deep their spirit really goes, as the Michigan and OSU campuses gear up for their twentieth annual Blood Battle to collect the most blood donations in the weeks before their football teams face off on Saturday, Nov. 24. Special blood drives on both campuses will start November 4 for all eligible true-blue (and true-scarlet) fans.

This year, the “blood feud” between the two gridiron opponents takes on even more importance, as the nation’s blood banks try to keep up their supply in the wake of a massive donation effort following the September 11 tragedy that yielded more than a million units of blood.

Though some blood from the post-attack drives wasn’t immediately needed and was frozen for the national reserve, the demand for fresh blood to help accident victims, cancer patients, disease sufferers and others never goes away.

And the U-M vs.OSU Blood Battle comes just in time, since those who rolled up their sleeves to donate soon after September 11 will be eligible to give again in mid-November, once their 56-day post-donation waiting period is over. So, the Wolverines will be in top form to reclaim the Blood Drop Trophy that they lost by only two units in a crushing 1,681 to 1,679 defeat last year.

Says Robertson Davenport, M.D., medical director of the U-M Health System’s Blood Bank, the blood battle is a good way to encourage blood donation that can help save a life at the U-M or elsewhere. “Every day, we’re fighting a battle – a battle against disease, bleeding, and trauma,” he says. “We need blood every day to support that battle, and this is a battle that we’re going to win. It’s a great time to support the University of Michigan, and to show our true colors.”

With OSU leading the series 10 – 9, U-M fans this year have even more incentive to beat the Buckeyes.

Davenport, an associate professor of pathology, runs the lab where thousands of units of blood and blood products are processed each day before being given to patients at the U-M’s hospitals, emergency and trauma units, Comprehensive Cancer Center, and outpatient centers.

Last year alone, his staff prepared more than 35,000 red blood cell transfusions, more than 57,600 units of platelets, and about 11,800 units of plasma, from blood donated via the Red Cross throughout Michigan. This year, he hopes that U-M fans will come through with even more donations than before, and then make a habit of donating so they can help keep the supply coming.

He notes that even though a unit of blood can be kept for up to 42 days unfrozen, and almost a decade frozen, the nation’s 5,000 hospitals go through it much faster than that. “We almost never have blood go out-of-date, because we need it and we use it,” he says.

Before Sept. 11, the U.S. blood supply was often enough for only two to three days, and locally sometimes dipped down to a one-day supply. U-M tries to maintain a two-day supply of blood products at all times, using blood obtained from the Red Cross and processed in the lab.

The recent disaster may have yielded many first-time donors, but their continued support will be needed to overcome the shortages of the past, says Davenport. He advises donors to keep up their giving spirit by remembering that there’s someone in need of their blood right now.

“The most important thing is that you’re doing something for the community, and you’re doing something for a specific individual,” he says. “You certainly don’t have to wait for a special drive to give – there’s a need every day, and there’s a blood drive every day in your community.”

Those whose loved ones, friends or colleagues have been in car crashes, had surgery or faced cancer can find even more reason to give, because those people benefited from the blood donations of others. In other words, Davenport says, with every donation, “You’re helping out not only people that you don’t know, but you’re also helping people that you probably do know.”

For those who still haven’t donated, but are thinking about making an appointment to help the U-M win the Blood Battle and keep up the nation’s supply, Davenport offers reassurance about how easy and low-risk the process is.

“The actual blood drawing process is very simple – there’s a needle stick and it burns for about half a second, but then it’s over. Stubbing your toe is much worse,” he laughs. And the process has been made more risk-free than ever for both donors and recipients.

It will take every drop of maize-and-blue blood to beat OSU, but U-M football coach Lloyd Carr has faith in U-M fans. “A Wolverine can give more blood than a Buckeye!,” says Carr.

As for Davenport, the U-M Medical School graduate is rooting for his alma mater both on and off the field. “I’m certain the U-M will win the Blood Battle, and as for the game, there’s no question: it’s U-M all the way!”

Facts about the U-M vs. OSU Blood Battle, and blood donation:

  • This year’s Michigan-Ohio State Blood Battle is the 20th annual competition.
  • The battle was originally organized by the U-M and OSU chapters of Alpha Phi Omega, an international co-ed service organization that continues the tradition today.
  • Last year, OSU beat U-M 1,681 units to 1,679 units.
  • The win in 2000 gave OSU a 10-9 advantage in the longstanding series.
  • The victor each year wins the Blood Drop trophy, and bragging rights for the next year.
  • This year’s battle begins on November 4, and ends just before the November 24 game.
  • Blood donors must be in good health and at least 17 years old, and weigh at least 110 pounds.

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