One of the great fallacies of any great event is the supposed "calm" that settles in before the event occurs. Soldiers will talk about things being quiet just before the shelling began or people will say it was beautiful right before the hurricane hit. I guess it's all relative. In war, if some one's not shooting at you, then I suppose it truly is calm. If all of a sudden you see a spark of daylight after two weeks of rain six foot swells mashing your coastline, then the same may apply.
Likewise, there is a strange air that is hanging in the ether prior to this year's Michigan Ohio State game. Unlike previous years where the crackle of snide comments and championship dreams rage across the Michigan Ohio border, this year is more subdued. With both Michigan and Ohio State coming off of losses prior to the game, the first time that's happened since 1959, things seem substantially quieter than they have in years past.
Maybe it's because only one of these teams will get to go to a BCS bowl. Maybe it's because Michigan has sucked so bad all year. Maybe it's because everyone thinks OSU was exposed for the team they truly are rather than a No. 1 ranked power. Maybe it's because ESPN's analysts can't wait to throw more dirt on the coffin that was this year's Big Ten season.
So instead of the Clockwork Orange style sensory overload we faced prior to last season's game, both Michigan and Ohio State fans approach this game alone, without the national spotlight glaring down at 10 million volts. Maybe that lull's the outside world into a sense of calm before the Game. It shouldn't.
If there is one thing this rivalry doesn't lack it is subplot and intrigue. For Michigan it is the final home game for Jake Long, Chad Henne, and Mike Hart, three of Michigan's most distinguished athletes and spokespersons for an entire generation of Michigan fans. For Ohio State it may well be the last regular season game for almost half their defense, as Gholston, Laurnitis and others eyeball cash money and a starting job in the NFL. For Michigan there is the specter of losing an icon for the second straight year as Lloyd Carr's retirement decision has, not-so-quietly, been leaked to the world. For Ohio State there is the question of the end of Carr's era and the nervous anticipation of who comes next. For Michigan, whither go Mario Manningham and Adrian Arrington after season's end? For Ohio State, what happens to Robiskie or Jenkins?
For both teams this game represents their final opportunity to demonstrate their respective losses are not representative of their seasons. Should Ohio State prevail, they have as legitimate a claim to a national championship berth as any one loss team. Should Michigan prevail they accomplish their goal of going to the Rose Bowl despite a disastrous start to the season that would've sunk a lesser team. Both have so much to prove, not just to their rivals, but to the people and media that wrote them off so readily.
Both teams have ample to prove, but Michigan clearly has the most on the line. With the pending announcement of Carr's retirement, there is not only the pressure to salvage a season with a win over Ohio State but to salvage a legacy that has been kicked hard over the past three years. Over the past 6 years Michigan is 1-5 against Ohio State and has just one bowl win to show for its last six games. Despite three trips to the Rose Bowl in that time, Michigan has left Pasadena empty handed.
Saturday marks Carr's final chance to not only leave Michigan with a winning record against Ohio State, but his final shot at a Rose Bowl win since beating Washington State so many years ago.
You can include Chad Henne, Mike Hart, Jake Long, Jamar Adams and Shawn Crable in the pile of people with legacies at stake. This group has never beaten Ohio State. They've led Michigan to conference championships, but never a bowl or OSU win. It's hard to say that especially about Hart and Henn, two players that now dominate the Michigan record books. But it must be said. How they will be remembered will be determined on Saturday. They know that if they don't prevail on Saturday all their individual and team accomplishments will only precede someone saying, "but...."
That's why it seems so strange that there is this national sense of calm. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Injuries to key players abound. A coach prepare to retire as his opponent prepares to do everything in his power to ruin his going away party. Players with an obvious and vehement dislike for one another prepare to do battle.
The crackle of excitement you heard last year will begin to rumble again, and if you haven't heard it already, you will. Last year there was a birth in the national championship at sake. This year there are legacies to be decided. There is no calm before the storm. The storm is already here.