"It is about the Ohio State-Michigan game," he said. "That's the emotion. If you need more emotion than that playing this football game then you're in the wrong place, and that's what it's about."
But the Buckeyes' first loss to Michigan in eight years was about so much more. Of course there was the uncertain status of Fickell's future position with the program he loves, as reports have been widespread about the pending hire of former Florida head coach Urban Meyer in the coming days.
But there was also the all-too-appropriate conclusion to a season filled with anguish, as the last-minute loss to the Wolverines served as the culmination of off-the-field issues that led to the dismissal of former head coach Jim Tressel, the early departure of former quarterback Terrelle Pryor, and an NCAA investigation that has still yet to find closure.
Fickell did his best to dance around questions before one final attempt at pressing an off-topic subject by a reporter finally pushed the embattled head coach over the edge.
"Like I said it is about the Ohio State-Michigan game. It's been about that since Sunday," said a noticeably emotional Fickell before driving his fist into the table. "And this is going to be about that always. That's the way it is."
Ohio State's season – which concluded with an underwhelming 6-6 record and a three-game losing streak – fell far short of the expectations Fickell held for himself and the program despite taking over amidst turmoil.
Fickell said his plans for after the game aren't different. The head coach plans on hopping on the bus, returning to Columbus to look at film and continue to find ways to help Ohio State improve before participating in its bowl game.
"It's about getting better," he said.
But the 3-hour drive to Columbus on the dark bus will undoubtedly be different for Fickell and his staff. The film room at the Woody Hayes Center awaits, but it is the hesitation in regards to whether Fickell and his staff will be welcomed to it that will cloud the minds of the team.
"It is disappointing," senior defensive back Tyler Moeller said. "I play my butt of for Coach Fickell and I feel like I let him down. That's the biggest thing that hurts, letting him down.
"Nobody sees how hard he works and what he does for this team and what he's had to go through because of our mistakes," Moeller continued. "Not because of his mistakes or anything he did, it is because the players' mistakes. It is disappointing when you let him down. I think of him so highly. He is a great coach, he is a great man, and he is a Buckeye."
Tressel addressed team before game
Tressel had led Ohio State to seven consecutive wins over Michigan before his tenure came to an unexpected end at the end of May. The former coach, however, had the opportunity to leave his mark on the Buckeyes before the team departed from Columbus to Ann Arbor.
Addressing the team for the first time since his removal from his position – a job he enjoyed vast success in during the course of the previous decade – Tressel was able to convey one final message to the team he used to call his own.
"He came in and spoke to us and did a great job and got us fired up," defensive lineman John Simon said. "It meant a lot. He told us to play the game in the moment."
But Tressel appearance meant so much more, particularly for the majority of the team that spent time playing under him. For senior center Mike Brewster, it was a very emotional time.
"It was great. Coach Tress is someone I have so much love for," Brewster said. "He's an unbelievable coach and unbelievable human being. To be able to see him again, hear a few words for him, it definitely got us pumped up.
"It was an honor," he continued. "It was emotional for some guys, myself included. It stinks when you feel like you got robbed a year of your life with him. He didn't skip a beat. It was like you blinked and it was like 'Man, is everything a nightmare?' It seemed like he's still here."