If you truly give yourself over to the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, it can consume you.
Like a glacier peeling the ground beneath it, it leaves gaping wounds that eventually become overgrown, but the remnants of the destruction are always there if you look closely enough.
For those who have experienced anguish from this rivalry, that pain never truly goes away. The joy of a win has an expiration date. The pain of a loss is forever. The scars from this rivalry are unnecessary reminders of things too painful to ever forget.
Just thinking about this rivalry for a few seconds puts a flutter into your soul. It’s a jump-start that then takes you either to the light or the dark, depending on how things have gone recently.
And yet even for Buckeye fans who have experienced so much light, the darkness should never be far away. If you cannot see the darkness, then you have either never experienced it or you’re just not as invested as you should be.
Light is surrounded by darkness, after all, and the dark is always waiting to storm the gate, wanting to swallow up everything within its unstoppingly expanding blackened reach.
Keeping the darkness of a loss at bay is an ongoing battle, and when that yearly battle gets won, the joy is only overshadowed by the relief. The relief that the darkness has been avoided for another year. But even then, in the midst of a win, you find yourself thinking about what could have happened. Or what may happen the next time.
The joy isn’t necessarily in winning a rivalry game, it is in not losing.
The pain, the anguish, they can remain as memories. At least for another year. They can be boxed up and put in the attic, but the pittering footsteps of a past loss will still be heard overhead. Scurries of nerves skittering above on a quiet October night. Footfalls that grow heavier by the day.
Out of sight doesn’t necessarily mean out of mind, nor should it. The weeks and months are unrelenting and the only thing that can slow it is the anticipation. Or the dread.
Losing isn’t the end of the world, but it’s as close as you’d ever want to get.
The entire football season is an Advent calendar counting down the days to either the best or worst day of the year. And you never really know which one it’s going to be until you’re done with it.
The bruises never fade, they only change colors. The pain of the past can be pulled up like the present tense.
Saturday will be two years in the making. But it’s also much more.
Tomorrow is the breath we have all been trying to catch since last year’s game was taken from us, and nobody knows if their lungs are going to be able to handle it.
Ohio State vs. Michigan is the most important rivalry in sports. It’s what every other rivalry is compared to. No matter the record or the ebbs or flows, it is still the standard.
And if you are an Ohio State or Michigan fan and don’t feel that way, then give this rivalry to somebody who would actually appreciate it.
Wins are not your birthright. Losses are not your curse. Every year is its own triumph or tragedy.
Regardless of any outcome, however, you should count yourself fortunate to have been a part of something so important.
Something so real.
Something so worth the hurt.