This week feels a lot like a birthday.
Or maybe it’s Disney World, or the last day of school, or a snow day.
It just feels like you’re a kid again, and everything you’ve been waiting for is here — and it’s the best possible version of it.
Both teams are undefeated — a perfect 11-0 — as the third-ranked Wolverines head into Columbus with a burning hope to spoil No. 2 Ohio State’s season for the second year in a row. It’s the first time since 2006 the teams have both entered without a loss, and it feels, truly, like it’s anyone’s game. There’s a lot on the line: A Big Ten Championship berth, a College Football Playoff appearance, and what somehow feels more important than anything else — bragging rights.
Every year, The Game is the most important Saturday on the Michigan football team’s schedule. It defines coaches’ tenures, cements legacies and shapes history. And now, with the hours left until kickoff countable and nothing standing in the way, it’s here.
It’s a classic waiting to happen, perfectly gift wrapped with a picturesque bow on top, just waiting to be torn open Saturday afternoon.
But, before we can open it, there’s five days of waiting — and there’s no reason not to appreciate them.
“I mean, this is what we’ve been striving for all year,” graduate receiver Ronnie Bell said after Saturday’s two-point win over Illinois. “11-0, to get there and now just play The Game. And that’s all we wanted.”
It’s all any of us wanted, really.
Two unbeatens with nothing but each other in the way — it’s perfect; It plays out more like a Hollywood script than a college football season. There’s agony in defeat, and jubilation in victory. Contingent on your allegiances, there’s a good and an evil.
But a script wouldn’t be without drama, and just two days ago, we almost lost the plot.
Michigan was one fourth down conversion or one misplaced kick away from losing — marring its perfect record. All it would have taken was a successful Fighting Illini drive or defensive stop to send the Wolverines into The Game shaken and scarred.
Hours later, Ohio State nearly met the same fate. Late in the fourth quarter, Maryland had the ball down six points. Destiny, for all intents and purposes, was in quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa’s hands in the form of a football. Tagovailoa didn’t convert, instead pitching a pick six to the Buckeyes. They, too, escaped unscathed, entering this week perfect.
A loss for either team would have stolen some luster, like a precious gem dropped in mud. Sure, it would still be a gem — but it would lack the sparkle to catch your eye. The Big Ten Championship game and College Football Playoff would still be on the line, but not perfection.
Instead, we can chalk it up to suspense, built in by the mythical writers all along — simply teasing us that we might lose something so captivating. What’s a script without conflict after all?
But now we have it. For the first time in 16 years, Michigan and Ohio State enter this week unbeaten. Last time, we got “The Game of the Century,” an intense affair that did nothing but deliver. Just the potential of similar spectacle is reason to rejoice.
Because this week, all the best parts of The Game are still possible. Both teams can win. Either Heisman-hopeful can have their moment. Michigan can end its drought in Columbus, cementing itself in a new era. The Buckeyes can redeem last year’s loss, an embarrassment by their standards. From a last-second winner to a one-sided blowout, anything is possible.
Anything could be in that bow-topped box.
But like a child opening presents, when the wrapping paper is torn apart and thrown on the floor and everything is revealed, it might not be exactly what you wanted. It might not be the dream win you were hoping for or a double overtime fireworks show from kickoff to final whistle.
Perhaps the best part of opening presents isn’t the object itself — it’s the anticipation, the unknown, the lead-up. That’s why we wrap them. So enjoy the pageantry and build-up, the predictions and hopes and all the palpable excitement heading into The Game.
Because this week is a gift.