The Not So Calm Before the Storm
By Tony Gerdeman
The waiting, as they say, is the hardest part. That's certainly the case in the moments leading up to the Michigan game.
The locker room before the game, buzzing with intensity, energy, excitement. A last chance to take a breath and focus before the Silver Bullets start flying.
This is where the eleven games before it are truly counted, and the eleven months prior finally meet their welcome resolution.
And sitting in the locker room, waiting to take the field against that team up north, the anticipation builds to levels that can't even be explained by players who have been through it several times before.
"It's intense," senior linebacker Etienne Sabino said of the moments before the game.
"I don't think words can explain it. You kind of have to be there and experience it yourself. But it's intense. It's kind of different every year, it's intense though. You can just feel the atmosphere, it's intense. You know you're about to go into a big game."
Sounds intense, doesn't it?
Asking several seniors the same question about the pregame locker room, each had their own difficulty putting the atmosphere into words. However, there was one repeating description.
"It's obviously a very, very intense time," said senior linebacker Stewart Smith.
"It's a time where every outside influence is closed off and we really just come together as a team. We know that it's going to be a battle, every single snap, because obviously that team is a great team, and they play very hard and they're very well coached.
"Our locker rooms are pretty intense. They're always very focused. I think that helps us when we go out onto the field, to be able to be intense and focused."
That intensity fine tunes the focus. Focusing on what is about to happen, what each individual player can do to affect the outcome in a positive manner, but also on exactly what this game means long after it's been played.
"I think everybody just understands the gravity of the situation," Smith said.
But don't expect any fiery speeches from players or coaches, because there's no need to feed an inferno a box of matches.
"If you need a motivational speech for this game, you probably won't touch the field that day," said senior safety Orhian Johnson.
Each player brings his own emotion, desire and intensity. They won't need any help in finding the right frame of mind late Saturday morning.
Now picture those one hundred like-minded men, many with years of understanding of what it is that this game means, in their final moments before taking the field. The history, the stories, the legacies that this game has made manifest. And what it could mean to their own histories and legacies.
"You gotta be there, brother," Johnson said.
"You gotta be there. I mean it, honestly. There's nothing like it. About as close as football could get to war, that's probably about it."
Nervous energy pulsing through veins like a street race, yet controlled like a closed track. That's what preparation and understanding brings.
Collecting thoughts, putting them in the right places, and getting ready for that team up north. One of America's great fall traditions.
"It's special," said senior right tackle Reid Fragel.
"I think everybody kind of gets in their own zone more than usual. Everybody has their pregame rituals and routines, but Michigan's special because guys kind of get in their zone to the point where they don't really worry about anybody else, and kind of just do their own thing. There's not as much joking around, not that there is before any game. It's definitely special."
This year, however, brings an unknown with it. This is Urban Meyer's first Michigan game as head coach, and it will be the Buckeyes' first locker room before the Michigan game under Meyer's charge.
Will it be different? Can it be different?
Even some players aren't quite sure what to expect in the minutes leading up to kickoff.
"You know what, it'll be neat because this is our first year with Coach Meyer and Coach Mickey Marotti, he's the guy that really gets the guys pumped up in the locker room," said senior punter Ben Buchanan.
"This has been a different feel, the locker room, not just this Michigan game coming up, but every game. It's rowdy in there this year compared to last year. In the past it's been rowdy, but I can only imagine before we run out of the tunnel versus Michigan what it's going to be like. I don't have the answer, but I'm very much looking forward to finding out."
Buchanan may not have the answer, but Sabino certainly does. His prediction for the atmosphere in Saturday's locker room? You already know.
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