ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- On Nov. 12, 2000, then-Michigan football coach Lloyd Carr walked into the team meeting room like any other day.
The Wolverines had beaten Penn State 33-11 in Michigan Stadium, the afternoon before, but that game was over and No. 19 Michigan knew who it had to face next -- No. 12 Ohio State in Columbus with the Big Ten title on the line.
But what Carr did next, recalled former defensive back Brandon Williams, was unlike anything he had seen from the stoic coach. Without a word Carr took a photograph from his hands and taped it to the front wall. It was a 4-year-old dressed in scarlet and gray. With both hands fully extended, the child flipped off a Michigan fan in the same photograph.
"Gentlemen, this is what you're up against," Carr said. "This is what you have to look forward to."
"Ohio Week" had begun.
Six days later, the Wolverines would return to Ann Arbor victorious. It's also the last time Michigan exited the Horseshoe victorious. Not since that game -- when Brady Hoke was just an up-and-coming defensive line coach -- has the Michigan fight song rung true at the end of a game.
But in four days, they'll have that chance.
Carr preached preparation. He preached taking it one game at a time. He preached beating Ohio State.
Carr blared "We Will Rock You" from speakers on every side of the practice field. He didn't let anything go unnoticed that week.
"Big football games are won in the classroom, film study, practice, playing attention to the wrinkles," starting defensive back Todd Howard said. "It's won by the scout team that gives the starters good looks. It's so many things that are important to that week. If even one of those steps is missed, it could be tragic for the game."
Wrinkles were added to the offense out of necessity. and starting quarterback Drew Henson was more than happy to do anything to foil the Buckeyes.
"They know your tendencies and they know you so well with 10 games of game tape," Henson said. "You have to change things up a little bit because if you did what you always did, they were going to be ready for it."
With the playbook in his hands, Henson crossed the state line on the team bus into Ohio. There wasn't a big deal made of it, but everything felt different. And the next day, on the bus ride to the stadium, it was more of the same.
Ohio State fans pelted the bus with anything and everything.
From their seats, players could see a slight grin on Carr's face.
"There's no such thing as sportsmanship for the fans, no filter," Williams said. "Makes it fun."
Henson threw a pick-six early and Ohio State added a field goal to take a 9-0 lead. Cheers of "O-H-I-O" rained down on Michigan.
"You've got someone who understands their offense and knows how to defend against their offense," Wolverines safety Julius Curry said. "That's really the hardest thing any defense and team can deal with."
And then, it just sort of happened.
The defense forced three turnovers. Curry picked off a pass in the third quarter and returned it for a touchdown, Michigan's first defensive score of the season. The Wolverines switched from Cover Four to a Cover Two, confusing the Buckeyes.
And quickly the 31-12 Michigan lead took all the air out of the stadium. Henson was on fire. The Wolverines couldn't miss. And everything just went quiet.
Ohio State fans exited the stadium to the point that when the Wolverines closed out the game, 38-26, there seemed to be more maize than scarlet in the stands.
And then the silence broke. It was no longer a Wednesday practice or just the team, it was the entire world -- or so it seemed to the players -- celebrating a Michigan victory.
"For three or four seconds, it didn't seem real," Curry said. "You think you've lost your mind. It just doesn't seem real."
The players piled on one another near the 50-yard line as they worked their way to the locker room. They cried, hugged, laughed. Some didn't know how to react. Some said it lasted 20 minutes, others said it was just two or three.
When Curry made his way out of the masses he found himself next to Hoke, who bearhugged him.
"He's one of those kiss-you-on-the-forehead kind of guys," Curry said.
Hoke couldn't talk after yelling so much from the sidelines, but even without words, Curry can still describe the feeling. He and Hoke understood what this victory meant, though neither would've expected it would be at least 12 more years before that kind of celebration could happen again.
The team piled on the bus when word reached the players that masses in the streets had delayed their dinner for the bus ride home.
So Carr quieted the bus and asked a simple question.
"Do you guys want to wait for food, or do you want to get the hell out of here?" Carr called out to the bus.
He was met with cheers.
"That's what I thought," he said and sat down. "Let's go."
The magnitude of "The Game" didn't need to be played up then. Nor does it now.
It's makes or breaks careers. It's a game coaches lose their jobs over. It's a game old men look back and point to it as one of the proudest moments of their lives.
Right now, it's an opportunity for a bunch of young men to go out and play one of the biggest rivalry games in the country. For Michigan, it's bowl placement. For Ohio State, it's the end of the road.
And for that, nothing needs to be added. Not former players giving pep talks. Not an ounce of extra enthusiasm. Not even a photo of an aggressive toddler.
"If you need anything to get amped up more for this football game," Hoke said, "then you don't know college football."