Time just can’t seem to tick away quickly enough for those crazy nuts in Columbus. Ohio State fans have had enough of waking up in a cold sweat and feeling that ever-so-familiar twinge in their stomachs.

Paul Wong
Joe Smith

Painting signs that read “Beat Michigan” seems almost patriotic – and cathartic – for the Buckeye nation. The fans are even trying something different this time around – participating in a “Beat Michigan” five-kilometer race before the big game.

They can run themselves into a frenzy all they want, but they can’t seem to find the cure to that annoying disease known as dontwannablowitagain syndrome.

And this year it’s at an all-time high.

“This is the biggest game that anyone on this football team has ever played in their entire life. Hands down, there’s no question about that,” said Ohio State quarterback Craig Krenzel.

This isn’t just another game for the Buckeyes. It’s a “season within itself.” It’s their livelihood. It’s their legacy.

Once again, pesky Michigan is impeding the Buckeyes’ path to their first National Title since 1968, a perfect season and ultimate happiness … or devastating despair.

Just like in 1993 … 1995 … and 1996. Every time the Buckeyes had more to lose, they lost.

It got so bad that in 1998, after the Buckeyes finally beat the Wolverines to gain a three-way tie for first place in the Big Ten, Ohio State special teams captain Kevin Griffin wrote an inspiring editorial in the student paper, The Lantern:

“I know that there are three teams that are Big Ten champions (Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio State) but that really doesn’t matter to me because we beat Michigan. After the game a lot of the guys were really emotional. Beating Michigan relieved a lot of stress for this football program.”

That game may have relieved some stress from the Buckeyes’ minds, but it didn’t cure them of the Wolverines curse. Neither did last year’s win in Ann Arbor, when a 6-4 Ohio State team with nothing to lose beat a Michigan team that gave the game and the Sugar Bowl away.

Yes, the Buckeyes have a new coach in Jim Tressel, and their fans can talk all they want about “the past is the past,” as though the “2-10-1 record against Michigan” is gone. But it wasn’t poor old John Cooper who fell while covering Tai Streets in 1996.

That’s why the burden on the Buckeyes’ shoulders remains of far greater magnitude than Columbus can hold.

The Buckeyes still haven’t shown they can survive the pressure-cooker when it matters the most. And everyone reminds them of that, even former Ohio State legends like coach Earle Bruce.

Bruce was one of the numerous “motivational speakers” Tressel brought in to inspire the Buckeyes – as if they needed it. And his message struck a chord with the team.

“He broke it down for us as seniors,” linebacker Matt Wilhelm said. “We can go 12-0, lose to Michigan and there would be a question mark next to the 2002 team. That’s the type of pressure there is.”

Not that this Ohio State team needs any more question marks. These Buckeyes are far from dominating, having squeaked past their last two sub-par Big Ten foes in Purdue and Illinois.

To their credit, the Buckeyes have found a way to win. But the real season has yet to begin.

“You throw the records out,” said Ohio State safety Mike Doss. “This Saturday is a season within it’s own season.”

If so, the Buckeyes have suffered losing seasons in 10 of the past 13 years.

And you wonder why the Columbus faithful are all worked up?

Joe Smith can be reached at josephms@umich.edu.

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