Luke Fickell knows what it feels like to lose to Michigan. He knows what it feels like to have Michigan take away his title hopes in heartbreaking manner. He knows what it’s like trying to get over something that has taken up permanent residence in his gut.
And that’s why he was so happy that his players can go another year without having to experience that kind of pain.
Fickell was a nose tackle at Ohio State from 1993-1996. The Buckeyes won once in that time — 1994, but it was the 1996 game that still sticks with everyone. That 13-9 win for Michigan against the No. 2 Buckeyes cost them a chance to go on and win a national title.
“I think that’s probably the greatest gift that I have the ability to give these guys is to make sure that they understand that this is something special,” Fickell said. “It’s not a normal game. It never will be a normal game and you have to treat it like that.”
It’s the loss of that 1996 game, as well as the others, that always makes this such a difficult week for Fickell.
“You know, I don’t like to reflect on some of those (previous losses),” he said after OSU’s 30-27 win over Michigan. “It’s a really tough week for me. Just knowing the situation that I went through as a player and the things that weren’t as successful on these Saturdays. Those things stick in my stomach, in my gut, and I don’t know if I get a little too close with it. I don’t sleep, I don’t eat the whole week. Not because of myself, but because I know with these guys how long it’s going to last. That’s why it’s so gratifying and to look in those guys’ eyes and know that they’ll remember these things for the rest of their life.”
That’s pretty profound, but never once did it sound like Fickell was blowing things out of proportion. He simply doesn’t want any of his players to deal with what he has had to deal with. And now that the Buckeyes have secured their fifth-consecutive victory in the rivalry, the defense will say goodbye to another graduating class that has never lost to the team up north.
“That’s what makes it so gratifying, because you know what it’s like on the other side,” he said. “It’s not that we didn’t fight and scratch and claw for the ones maybe when I was playing, but didn’t have the opportunity to be successful. Then you can go back and say, ‘Why?’ But the reality is that you learn from those things.”
Fickell has learned from each of his six losses to Michigan, which has helped him come out on the winning end 14 times now. So which of his victories is at the top of the list?
“You know what, it’s so hard to say because in the moment, obviously I don’t know if there’s one as up and down and this stressful and this gratifying to be honest with you,” he said. “The reality is, you’re sending your seniors out the way we did, in the last game here in the Shoe. I’m so happy for the Pat Eflleins, like Craig Fadas, and the Joe Burgers. It definitely ranks up there and I’m going to have a hard time topping it. Again, when you have success like this, that’s what makes it so gratifying, that your hard work pays off.”