I was walking around Ohio Stadium Saturday morning and saw something I had never really seen before. There were Michigan fans actually smiling on the day of The Game.
It was three hours before the game and there were more of them than I had ever seen, just milling about with an excited assuredness. It wasn’t hope, it was simply people waiting for facts to be made known.
They were talking and happy and completely at peace on what is as far from a peaceful day as you can find.
It was clear — they were expecting a win. There were no nerves. No stomach acid. No thoughts of a heartbreaking loss. Only confidence and anticipation for what they knew they were about to witness.
And they reflected the national expectation as well.
One week before the Big Ten Championship Game was even going to be played, this would be the crowning of a new Big Ten king.
Jewels were still being encrusted into the crowns, but they had already been fitted for the robes.
Michigan was headed for the playoffs and Saturday’s game was just a 4-hour layover. A mere formality until the next leg of a championship journey.
And then came a knock on Michigan’s door.
It was reality.
It was history. It was the present. It was the future.
And they all wanted a word.
Guarantees are never guaranteed in this rivalry. Some have made them and happened to be on the right side of the coin flip, but the only thing that is truly guaranteed is that if you step onto the field for The Game thinking you’ve already got it won, you have, in fact, already lost.
From Ohio State’s first possession on Saturday, they made it known that they had no desire to pass any kind of torch. Especially when Dwayne Haskins and the Buckeye passing game had so much torching of their own to do on the day.
Ohio State entered this game expecting a fight. Michigan entered this game expecting a win — which is exactly how you get beaten up.
The Buckeyes were the better team in every area. Players, execution, game planning, coaching, adjustments, it was a clean sweep for Ohio State. Their relentlessness went well beyond an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.
The Buckeyes were too big, too fast, and too determined to lose on Saturday. They never bought into the truths people outside of their locker room were trying to spread.
They respected the rivalry throughout all four quarters, and also respected the position that they currently hold in the rivalry.
Ohio State was invited to Michigan’s coronation — taking place in Ohio Stadium of all places — and they were expected to hand over their crown and simply bend a knee.
Wolverine fans had come from hundreds of miles away to witness a new era in Big Ten Football. It was going to be something to tell their children, and their children’s children. It would become lore.
This was also going to lead to Michigan’s first trip to Indianapolis and the Big Ten Championship Game.
Everything was coming together for the Wolverines. They were getting better as the season went on.
A dream season was being spoken into existence. Until all at once, it went silent.
The dream season had given way to the waking realization that, when it comes to this rivalry, nothing had changed.
And because they were so sure that this was the year, the devastation flooded Michigan fans with pain where they had almost grown to become numb to such things.
Their mistake was allowing themselves to believe again, and perhaps that was the cruelest part of Saturday.
Ohio State’s dagger, dulled at this point from overuse, was plunged once more into Michigan’s heart.
When Wolverine fans entered the stadium, they never stopped to hear the doors locking behind them.
Those same fans who were smiling before the game soon watched in horror as the Wolverines were once again led to the slaughter.
This was not a coronation.
It was an execution.
This was a 62-39 declaration that the status quo is the law of the land, and both the law and the land are doing just fine.
Yes, the crown may be heavy, but that’s so it won’t go anywhere.
And for at least another year, it’s staying right where it belongs.