In Ohio State’s annual duel with Michigan, the sprawling countryside along U.S. Route 23 between Columbus and Ann Arbor becomes a demilitarized zone and the Woody Hayes Athletic Center turns into a fortress.
During the week leading up to a game known as The Game in this part of the country, Urban Meyer plays LL Cool J’s “It’s Time For War” — a 2008 banger that sounds like it’s from 1994 and the lovechild of some dramatic movie score and the Wu-Tang Clan — on an endless loop to drive home the point.
“Players will get tired of hearing the song I always play,” Meyer said.
More like exhausted.
“It’s an awesome song, but when you hear it for two years,” senior defensive lineman Michael Bennett said with an almost nervous smile.
“When he says he plays it all the time, it’s on non-stop from the time you walk into the Woody until the time you leave.
“There’s no watching TV that week, it’s ‘Time For War’ and highlight videos. Maybe he does it for a reason because it gets everyone on edge.”
With a chorus that goes “It's time for war / It's time for war / It's time for war / It's time for war (Uh, yeah) / It's time for war / It's time for war / It's time for war / It's time for war (Check it) /It's time for war” how could it not.
Meyer’s affinity for the song is with purpose, though. The objective is to set a mood and strike a tone: this week is unlike any other.
“It's nuts. Insane,” Meyer said. “It's the song and it's just the whole Woody changes for this game. We're honored to play it. We understand our responsibilities of it, too.”
Because at Ohio State, there is a fundamental obligation to beat Michigan. And at Michigan, there is a fundamental obligation to beat Ohio State. Like gravity, this is a law of the universe.
“The whole season is kind of based on this last game really. That’s how you basically talk about the season — if you’ve won or lost to the team up north,” redshirt sophomore safety Tyvis Powell said. “We’re definitely going to give it everything we’ve got, and I know that they’re going to give it everything they’ve got because that’s what they always do.”
The sixth-ranked Buckeyes, which have already clinched a return to the Big Ten Championship Game, are heavy favorites against the miserable Wolverines and a program that’s at somewhat of an unprecedented nadir.
But Michigan — which could be playing in its last game under embattled head coach Brady Hoke — should have plenty of additional motivation to play spoiler Saturday.
And since this contest is marked by a constant struggle to gain an edge, this is critical for understanding why Ohio State is so on edge for a 5-6 team and a game it's expected to win by almost three touchdowns.
“You have to go in there and it’s a war. It’s basically a war,” Powell said.
“They’re going to come with their best effort, we’re going to come with our best effort. Whoever wants it the most will win the game.”
It’s why the yearly clash — one that’s as emblematic of the pageantry and passion of college football as any game out there — is met with an exceptionally-frantic sense of urgency.
Behind the walls of the Woody, it’s madness.
"It's Time For War" booms on a maddening rotation. And some of the lyrics, for as obscene and stale as they are, are fitting for an Ohio State team that’s soared back into the national conversation since a loss to Virginia Tech.
Lines like “I've always shined brighter / When I'm under attack / I might be down for a moment / But I always come back” play on and on and on and on.
Just the way Urban Meyer likes it.