In just six days, one year of waiting will finally be over.
On Saturday, Ohio State and Michigan will take part in their annual battle to determine who gets custody of the misery and who gets to walk away with the kind of joy that can only be exhibited through equal moments of maniacal exuberance and silent, thankful reflection.
It’s the one day a year where time stops and you don’t know what life is going to be like when it starts back up. All you know is that with a win, it will be better. The sun will burn brighter. Your burdens will feel lighter. The bounce in your step will reflect the smile on your face. With a loss, the claws of darkness sink deep. The heaviness smothers you to the ground.
There is no escape, but you knew that going in. The only possible freedom comes from the calendar, and even then it may only be a spiteful mirage.
The promise of a new day is not always a promise that brings peace. In this rivalry, torment is an eventuality. It comes for everyone. This rivalry leaves nothing unturned. It may move slowly at times, but that’s because it is playing the long con.
This is the greatest rivalry in sports because it’s about more than just sports. This is a painfully unique privilege. It is not for the weak, and it will make you question just how strong you can actually be. Nothing gives and takes like this rivalry. It is both unrelentingly selfish and overwhelmingly selfless. It can give you so much one year, and take even more from you the next. There is no hurt like it. No joy that hits the same way.
There are times you wish you had never been part of it, but even in those dark moments you realize that this is the one affliction that you couldn’t imagine ever having remedied.
Losing this game brings about a pain that lasts a year, and it leaves a wound that never truly goes away. It’s a constant reminder of what could have been. And a constant reminder that somebody else remembers that same game and it makes them happy. Happy with the win. Happy that it’s somebody else’s pain. Happy to have another year away from the hurt.
Winning the game keeps that pain away. And even better, it gives it to someone else. But emotions being what they are, a victory can bring more relief than joy. It’s a panic attack abated, but not without a bout of sweat on the forehead and a flutter in the chest that has you asking if it’s all worth it.
Then you take a moment and the smile comes back to your face because you know that every bit of all of it is worth it.
This is the only way to live.
If you don’t have to catch your breath a bit when you think of this rivalry, then why even bother breathing in the first place.
This game isn’t sustenance, but try living without it.
Instead, we invite it in and count the weeks until the one day a year the waiting relents and we all find out if the immense recompense commences. Because it’s not even the waiting that is the hardest part — it’s the anticipation. Twelve months of wailing, wondering, and wishing. Plenty of answers, but only two possibilities.
You either win or you lose, and both options race through your mind and your body like lightning wrapped in sandpaper.
So much worry. So much concern. But we need it. We have to have it. Without it, the inner peace wouldn’t feel earned.
It’s a long year to get back to where we always start, but we’re here now and we must pay homage. If you take this rivalry for granted and forget what can happen, you deserve the result. If you don’t respect this game, it will not respect you back.
It wants to hurt you. It is the perfect monster.
You give until the anguish blinds you, and you do so willingly because the more pain you go through, the better it feels when it stops.
Win or lose, being a part of this rivalry is a contract written in blood, and the ink never truly runs dry.
Michigan and Ohio State finally play on Saturday.
You better be ready.