COLUMBUS - With all of the complimentary bouquets that have been tossed back and forth across the fence this week, peace and tranquility should prevail here this afternoon.
In the days leading up to the Ohio State-Michigan game, there has been so much love in the air, so much conciliatory discourse taking place, that we can only assume that Gandhi, Jesus and Kofi Annan were not available, so the Buckeyes and the Wolverines stepped in and took their place.
This bitter rivalry used to be characterized by bouts of verbal venom that preceded the actual hand-to-hand combat on the gridiron. But an era of goodwill and statesmanship has developed, and what praise we don't hear from the two well-starched coaches, we get from the chosen few - those players who are permitted to speak with the media on this topic.
No more taunting, no trash talking, and nothing that could even be construed as a derogatory remark. We can only assume the bulletin boards in both camps are blank.
"You know, that's Ohio State, they always have great football players," Michigan center Mark Bihl said about the No. 1 team in the nation.
Bihl confessed that he had been a closet Ohio State fan throughout the season, pulling for the Buckeyes, his most-hated rival.
"We always want to see them undefeated, and I'm sure they always wanted to see us undefeated," he said. "This is the greatest rivalry in college football."
If that did not light a fire under the Buckeyes, maybe defensive back Willis Barringer could ignite one.
"They play defense the way it's supposed to be played - hard, fast and fun," Barringer said.
Michigan linebacker David Harris will be responsible for limiting the jaunts of Ohio State quarterback Troy Smith, who he apparently likened to a combination of Napoleon, Dan Marino and Michael Vick.
"First of all, he's a great leader for their offense. He has a great arm. He has good mobility in the pocket," Harris said. "He's their guy."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr offered a laundry list of kudos to his Ohio State counterpart Jim Tressel.
"I think you look at the way his teams performed, and they play very hard and well together," Carr said. "They're well-disciplined, and they do a great job with their schemes, attacking from the standpoint of playing to their strengths and attacking weaknesses."
Tressel, who has beaten Carr in four of their five meetings, let loose this volley of plaudits to the Wolverines.
"Michigan is an outstanding football team," Tressel said. "What I like about them is that they have tremendous depth, and you can see that they're very mature. They play with great effort, they play with great toughness, and they do all the fundamental things so well. They block well. They tackle well."
Ohio State defensive tackle David Patterson stood in awe of the way Michigan quarterback Chad Henne has performed.
"He looks like a veteran out there," Patterson said. "He sits back in the pocket and gets the balls to his playmakers. He is doing a great job."
Doug Datish, an Ohio State captain and the Buckeyes' starting center, said Michigan starts and ends with greatness.
"They have great players and a tremendous team," Datish said. "Their defense is big and strong. There is no denying that they are tough and physical, because they have a fundamentally sound unit. I think they are probably the best defense we have played against all season. That is why people play at Michigan - they produce great players."
Ohio State defensive end Jay Richardson fired this shot into the Michigan camp: "There is a lot of respect between the teams," he said. "We know how good of a team they are. From a personnel standpoint, they have a great team. There are no secrets in this game."
Now all of that is out of the way, this afternoon they can finally go hit each other.
YEAR LONG: When asked this week just when he starts preparing for Ohio State, Carr admitted that he never starts, because it never ends, with the Buckeyes or any other opponent.
"The truth is you're working against all your opponents in January," Carr said. "You're competing against them. When you get into spring practice, you're working against them. In the summer, as coaches, you're studying them. I think it's an ongoing process. That's probably been true since time began."
HOSTILE ENVIRONMENT: Michigan's players have frequently mentioned the bedlam they expect to encounter this afternoon when their team bus rolls up to Ohio Stadium. Senior LaMarr Woodley has been here before, and he thinks he knows what the atmosphere will be like.
"We're not going to have many fans there. We're going to have a very small section, so it's just us against the whole stadium pretty much," Woodley said.
"We know it's going to be rowdy from the bus ride - it's always loud. You've got people yelling. You're getting on the bus, they are yelling. When you get off the bus, they are yelling. When you're on the field, they are yelling. When you leave the stadium, they are yelling."
LEGENDS OF THE FALL: Players on both sides have anchored their legacies in this game. Ohio State offensive lineman T.J. Downing said he expects Smith to add to his prolific legend in his final game against Michigan.
"The battle coming up won't be forgotten," Downing said. "Legends are made in this game. Every guy knows they have a chance to go down in the record books and make history. In the end, if something breaks down, you expect to see something special out of Troy. It is his senior year, so I would expect to see something amazing out of him."
LONG TIME: How important is this to Ohio State, in a Big Ten context? The Buckeyes are trying to win their first outright Big Ten title in 22 years. "This game is so important because we are 11-0 and Michigan is 11-0," Downing said. "Everything is on the line. The last time we won an outright championship was when I was born ."
Contact Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6510.39.96196 -83.00298