Welcome to No Choice Road.
There are no crossroads. There is no room to turn around. And there are no shoulders on which to pull off and wait things out. There is only one way in and one way out. The road doesn’t fork, and its only destination is history.
Michigan and Ohio State will take the field tomorrow and more history will be added to an already dense tome of yellowed pages and red letters.
This road is more of an honor than a burden, and given how burdensome it is, that should speak to the honor of being allowed to travel it.
This road hasn’t changed in over a century. The path is well worn, but the infrastructure has been kept up by the long-lasting lore of legends and losses. Phantoms and fables join the march as whispering travelers. Sometimes they warn, sometimes they promise, but they always deliver.
Statues, some fallen and some still standing tall, point the way. Not that directions are needed on such a passage. They are reminders and remnants of past travelers. Some are beacons of hope and promise, others are cautionary tales.
Nobody wants to be the reason why their side falls, and if that desire is great enough, it can lift a team to victory. It is not always enough, but it is always present.
The detritus of pained memories lines each side of the road, providing both the motivation to continue and the stark reality of what might happen if you do.
One slip can live forever. One missed tackle can replay in our minds as long as the light still flickers.
The greatest memories or the most painful. They actually occur at the same time, but you won’t know which they are until it’s all over. The road is constant anguish. Constant pain. Constant life. The path is lit by the conquerors and paved with the vanquished.
It is a lonely stretch of highway that takes a year to travel, but it’s not until the final afternoon that you find out if you will finish the journey.
The road won’t be easy. If it was, more people would take it. It is not a short cut and not without its tolls. In fact, it is the longest road of its kind, and the most difficult to traverse.
It never really stops. The end is also the beginning. It is not a circle, but it can leave you spinning.
There is nothing forgiving about it. There are no apologies. There is only truth. And for those who live with lies, there is nothing as painful as truth. There is nothing as vicious as veracity. Arguments fall hollow. Excuses ring flat. The only resonance is reality, and it echoes the entire length of the road.
You may believe one thing while you are on the road, but beliefs can turn to doubts with one stumble.
It’s a long way to go without knowing if you’re actually going to get there, so you better make those previous 12 months worth the pain.
The teams that fall short get scattered to the wind, falling to the sides of the road as a reminder of wasted opportunities.
For the teams that emerge, every last bit of effort will have been just enough and all of it would have been worth it. The memories they make will stand tall as future promises of everything that is possible.
For those teams, it was never about not having a choice. Their choices were made the previous year when they stepped onto the road and never once looked back. They never questioned the path. Never even looked to the side of the road.
The only thing that mattered was ahead of them.
And tomorrow, the team that never questioned this road will be the one that has all the answers.
They will be the ones to write more history and build new statues. That history will become someone else’s painful truth.
On Saturday, another layer of No Choice Road will be laid for future travelers.
To warn and to invite.
And always to deliver.