ANN ARBOR, Mich. - By now, their disappointment is beyond description. It's so big, it deserves a game of its own. Ohio State vs. Disappointment. If the Buckeyes win, they get to play Michigan.
Even before Michigan cornerback Andre Weathers had reached the end zone to put his team up by 20, Ohio State quarterback Stanley Jackson was on his knees. He looked like he'd been dropped by a big, right hand. Weathers crossed the goal line, his 43-yard interception return complete, and Stan Jackson was on all fours, looking down at the raggedy Michigan Stadium turf.
This is how it is in this game. This is the way of things. It doesn't matter who is supposed to be better or who is pressed by greater expectations. Michigan wins and wins again. Eight times in 10 years, every time a different scenario, a new picture to mount in the Buckeyes frustration album. This year's snapshot belonged to Stan Jackson, on his knees in the Michigan grass.
He allowed later, after the Wolverines 20-14 win, that he couldn't get much lower.
''I feel terrible. I just don't like this state. The hell with it,'' Jackson said, thereby summing up the feelings of the entire state of Ohio.
The game has become one big banana peel for the Buckeyes. It matters little that they rallied from 0-20 in the second half, as visitors in a crazed asylum filled with a record crowd, against the best defense in college football. If Andy Katzenmoyer had held onto an ill-advised screen pass thrown by Michigan QB Brian Griese in the fourth quarter, maybe the Buckeyes turn this entire mess around. The pass hit Katzenmoyer in the shoulder pads, then bounced high and away. Of course it did.
David Boston, OSU's mouthy wideout, decided his team would win by two or three touchdowns, if it played well. Boston dropped the first two balls thrown to him, then made an ass of himself taunting Woodson after a TD catch that cut Michigan's lead to 20-7.
After the game Marcus Ray, the Michigan safety from Columbus, strolled into the interview room wearing a scarlet jacket with the inscription ''Ohio State Rose Bowl 1997'' tauntingly given to him by former Buckeye Anthony Gwinn.
Woodson appeared next, bearing a long-stemmed red rose, and a lecture for Boston: ''I was like a father out there, chastising my son. I told him he was soft. Basically, he laid down.''
This is how it is in this game. Father and son. This is how it has become.
The Buckeyes suggested they would have won if they hadn't gotten sloppy a few times. Right before Jackson threw the inexplicably bad pass to Weathers, he'd thrown another, to Woodson.
Second-and-goal Buckeyes, from the Michigan 7: Jackson took a three-step drop and looked across the middle of the end zone, to wideout Dee Miller. Woodson had Miller blanketed. Jackson threw it anyway. It looked like Jackson was trying to jam a bowling ball down the kitchen sink.
''Stanley Jackson threw me a great pass,'' said Woodson, Michigan's Heisman Trophy candidate.
That interception, and the one that followed, were the first Jackson had thrown this year. The first in 174 pass attempts. Of course.
Also, there was Woodson's 78-yard punt return TD that put Michigan ahead, 13-0, in the second quarter. Woodson, heir to Desmond Howard, down the left sideline, running away with yet another Ohio State season. Going, going, gone.
It is the way of things.
Not even Joe Germaine could make it different. With 1:35 left, OSU's No. 1A quarterback had the ball at his 16. Visions of last year's Rose Bowl danced. Back then, Germaine drove the Bucks 65 yards in 12 plays, throwing a 19-yard TD pass to Boston with 19 seconds left to win the game.
Now, against Michigan, Germaine took a sack, threw incomplete, threw for 7 yards and, on fourth down, missed for the last time.
Afterward, the Michigan players took a lap around the field, celebrating an unbeaten regular season and a Rose Bowl trip. The OSU players were herded to meet the media, into a tiny room just outside their dressing room, their wounds open for public inspection. Lots of things were said, none truer than this:
''This is the biggest game of our lives,'' junior linebacker Jerry Rudzinski offered, ''and we didn't get the job done.''
MORE OHIO STATE-MICHIGAN COVERAGE from Associated Press
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