COLUMBUS, Ohio - The party line was pathetic. In their efforts to be innocuous, the Ohio State Buckeyes were an insult to intelligence Saturday afternoon.
''We haven't even thought about Michigan,'' said Andy Katzenmoyer, the linebacker, with a straight face.
''We're not going to let anybody blow it out of proportion,'' said flanker Dee Miller. ''We're not thinking about the past.'' Right.
Minutes after their spellbinding 41-6 blowout of Illinois, the Buckeyes began speaking English as a second language. Their native tongue became Euphemism. Their mission was to say nothing that might serve as motivation for what Woody Hayes called ''That Team Up North.''
It was a dazzling effort in diplomacy, and utterly unconvincing. For all their calculated dullness and choreographed shrugs, the Buckeyes neglected to muzzle David Boston. And guess what? Michigan is a pretty big deal after all.
''I look at it as the biggest game ever,'' the sophomore receiver said. ''I think all the national focus should be on that game. They came here (last year) and beat us at our stadium. We're going to do the same thing to them.''
Asked about Charles Woodson, Michigan's Heisman Trophy candidate cornerback, Boston said he was no better than the Buckeyes' Antoine Winfield, and certainly slower.
''I'm going to watch film on him and have him down,'' Boston vowed. ''I think I've faced corners better than him.''
Candor is not a virtue highly prized in college football, but it was nice to know Saturday that there was at least one honest man left. David Boston, of Humble, Texas, is probably too honest for his own good, or at least he was before his post-game remarks reached OSU coach John Cooper's ears.
'We should win'
Boston scored two touchdowns Saturday, and needs three more catches to set Ohio State's single-season receiving record. But he has some explaining to do.
Perhaps he was in the shower when the gag order went out.
''I think we're better than Michigan,'' Boston said. ''If the offense and defense are clicking, we should win by two or three touchdowns.''
By the time you read this, Boston's remarks will probably be posted prominently in the Wolverines' dressing room. They may be used to whip Michigan into a froth-at-the-mouth frenzy. Still, they are largely irrelevant.
Michigan is ranked No. 1 by the Associated Press, and has the Rose Bowl riding on Saturday's score. Ohio State is No. 4 in the nation, and has its own possibilities at Pasadena. Given the stakes, the rankings and the long-running rivalry, whatever is said about this game is superfluous.
In the end, it is not anger that fuels this game, but ambition. Compared to championships, David Boston's comments are a trivial concern.
Cooper's line: 1-7-1
Yet you will have a hard time explaining that to his coaches. Cooper and Co. are still scarred by the ammunition Terry Glenn provided Michigan two years ago, when he guaranteed a Rose Bowl he didn't deliver. In case you've lost count - and hardly anyone has - Cooper is 1-7-1 against Michigan.
''Are you looking forward to this week?'' someone asked the Buckeye coach Saturday.
''What kind of question is that?'' Cooper snapped. ''This is why you come to Ohio State.''
To pretend otherwise is to deny the obvious. John Cooper owes his current contract to his lone victory over Michigan in 1994, and would likely have been sacked had he lost. Anyone remotely acquainted with OSU football understands what Michigan means, even with nothing else riding on the outcome.
''It's a big game,'' said Ohio State safety Damon Moore, ''but we don't want to make it bigger than it already is.''
He needn't worry. Ohio State-Michigan is already about as big as football games get.