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100 Things Buckeyes Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Andrew Buchanan
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2014 Andrew Buchanan
All rights reserved.
Woody Hayes molded one of the greatest programs in college football history in his blunt, tough image. He was a disciplinarian and a demanding coach who would rip into a player he thought wasn't giving his best, but he was also a master motivator who would build that player back up and have him ready to run through a brick wall on Saturday. He was a fierce competitor obsessed with winning, but he told his players that education came first. He had a titanic temper but would spend off hours visiting the local children's hospital cheering up the sick. He could be compassionate one moment and maddeningly obstinate the next, and his famous temper eventually cost him his job and, to some degree, forever tarnished his legacy.
One of his longtime assistant coaches at Ohio State, Esco Sarkkinen, put it best: "You don't describe Woody Hayes in one word, one sentence, or one paragraph. You describe him with chapter after chapter."
For mostly better and sometimes worse, Woody Hayes was and is Ohio State football.
Born on Valentine's Day 1913, in Clifton, Ohio, Wayne Woodrow Hayes played football at Denison University. He went back there to coach after a stint in the U.S. Navy in World War II, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant commander. After instant success as head coach at Denison and then at Miami of Ohio University, Hayes was off to Columbus in 1951.
The Buckeyes were 4–3–2 that first season, and Hayes came under some heavy criticism for his record and his use of the new T formation. Two 6–3 seasons followed, and Hayes was thought to be on shaky ground as the 1954 season opened. He later said he heard the whispers, and they made him work all the harder. The result was a 10–0 record for the Buckeyes and Hayes' first national title. He would win another three years later, and he earned at least a share of a national title five times in his career, including the consensus championship in 1968.
Hayes' overall record at Ohio State was 205–61–10, and he won or shared 13 Big Ten titles and took teams to eight Rose Bowls, winning four. In 28 seasons he only had a losing record twice, compared to four teams that went unbeaten. Hayes was fanatical about the University of Michigan rivalry, particularly during his "10-Year War" with former colleague Bo Schembechler. Hayes hit a relative rough patch in the mid-1960s, and rumors again swirled that his time might be up in Columbus. Hayes blamed it on the school's decision not to allow his unbeaten 1961 team to go to the Rose Bowl and said that ruling damaged his ability to recruit, particularly in Ohio.
So Hayes responded the only way he knew how: he worked harder than ever and hit the out-of-state recruiting trail, bringing in stars from around the country for the first time. What followed was a national title in 1968 with the so-called "Super Sophs," a class considered by some to be the greatest in college football history. Hayes earned a share of the title two years later and had a miraculous run from 1968 to 1977 that saw the Buckeyes win a share of a Big Ten title in nine out of 10 seasons.
"Nobody despises to lose more than I do," Hayes once said. "That's what got me into trouble over the years, but it also made a man with mediocre ability a pretty good coach."
Hayes did find trouble occasionally, and stories of his temper are legendary. Some of them make him sound petty and childish. He would frequently explode in anger and fire assistant coaches, only to rehire them hours later or the next morning when he'd cooled off. Players often felt his wrath verbally as well as with a swift punch to the gut. One time he came to practice with welts on his own face after pummeling himself in a fit of rage. He was known to throw or stomp on anything within reach, and equipment managers reportedly kept empty water jugs on his desk for him to bash.
He became a caricature to many people outside Ohio after some of the more public of these incidents. Once he ran onto the field to protest a call in the 1971 Michigan game and ripped up yard markers, and more than once he shoved reporters and cameramen. The worst of these incidents was the last one, when on national television he punched a Clemson University player who had intercepted a pass near the end of the 1978 Gator Bowl to seal the loss for the Buckeyes. It was the end of a frustrating season for the Buckeyes, and some people close to Hayes say it was his diabetes and his failure to keep up with his medication more than anything that led to the outburst. He was fired the next morning.
It was a sad end to an incredible career, but to those who had played for him and were close to him, the incident did not define the man. The stories they remember about Hayes are ones that never made headlines: the frequent trips to hospitals to visit the sick, his devotion to his players and former coaches even long after they'd left Ohio State, an openness that saw him recruiting and starting African American players years before many other major college programs, his consistent refusal of raises and requests that the money instead be distributed among his assistants, and his emphasis on education and insistence that his players get their degrees.
"He was a very, very caring man," says Archie Griffin, his biggest star. "He was tough, but he was fair. That's all you can really ask; you got a coach that cares about you and that you know was going to be fair. But he was tough, no question."
Tom Skladany, a Buckeyes punter and kicker in the mid-1970s, describes the "emotional roller coaster" of playing for Hayes. "You were afraid of him as a freshman. You hated him as a sophomore. You liked him as a junior, and you loved him as a senior."
Hayes had a great love of American and military history and would often weave anecdotes into pep talks. He was good friends with former president Richard Nixon, who said he would often want to talk football while Hayes wanted to discuss foreign policy. It's hard to imagine something similar being said about a coach today. When Hayes died in 1987, Nixon delivered the eulogy at his funeral.
Bo Schembechler frequently clashed with Hayes when Schembechler was an assistant at Ohio State and then later as the head man at Michigan, but he recalled how Hayes sent him a nice letter after he'd had a heart attack in the 1970s and then came to visit him at his home. Schembechler said that despite his flaws, Hayes was a fascinating person whom people loved being around. "If you want to find fault with him, I can too — bad temper and he doesn't listen and all that," Schembechler said years later. "But that guy was a helluva man. You want him on your side."CHAPTER 2
More than 90 years after it was christened with an Ohio State win, Ohio Stadium remains the nexus of game day in Columbus, drawing more than 100,000 fanatics who cram into the old Horseshoe along the banks of the Olentangy River to cheer on the Buckeyes. But the stadium is, and always has been, more than just an arena to the university and its proud football program. From its inception, when many questioned the need for and appropriateness of such a large facility dedicated to football, Ohio Stadium remains the beating heart of Buckeye Nation. And to many near and far, it has become the definitive symbol of Buckeyes football and Ohio State University itself.
Ohio Stadium is called "the House that Harley Built" in honor of Ohio State's first superstar, Charles "Chic" Harley, who, with his teammates, brought unprecedented success and overflow crowds to old Ohio Field. With fans hanging from trees and standing atop nearby buildings to get a glimpse of Harley and his championship teams starting in 1916, it was evident a new stadium was needed. University administrators began to see that Ohio State football required a modern, much larger home.
The idea for a new football facility had been floated even before Harley's arrival on campus. Ohio State had joined the Western Conference in 1913 (the precursor to the Big Ten), and the program was obviously on the rise. And the location of Ohio Field along High Street left little room to expand. That property was considered too valuable for athletic uses.
Important proponents of the plan to build a new stadium included school president William Oxley Thompson, Professor Thomas French, known as the "Father of Ohio Stadium," and athletics director Lynn St. John.
Howard Dwight Smith, an Ohio State alumnus and faculty member in the school of architecture, came up with the unique horseshoe shape and upper deck — no other stadium at the time had one — to pack in as many fans as possible and keep them close to the action. Smith's design won him a gold medal from the American Institute of Architects for "excellence in public work," and the stadium was later listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
French was said to be quite upset when he found out the university would not contribute any funds to the project. But he and others turned the disappointment into a positive by declaring that the stadium belonged to all of Ohio and was a potential economic boon for the city and state. Thompson, too, had grand plans for the university, and he wanted a stadium that matched his vision.
A campaign was launched in the fall of 1920 to raise $1 million that drew on the vast (even then) alumni network and Columbus business leaders such as Simon Lazarus and Samuel Summer. The success of the Buckeyes from 1916 to 1920 helped keep investors interested, and there were even creative initiatives that promised donors of certain monetary amounts access to game tickets (sound familiar?).
A little more than a year later the funding goal had been reached, although the athletic board also would have to borrow several hundred thousand dollars to cover all costs, which reached approximately $1.5 million. The design was finally approved by the board of trustees in May 1921, and ground was broken on August 3 of that year.
There were vocal critics in the Ohio State community, however, who argued that such a large structure would overshadow, literally and figuratively, the school's academic mission. And besides, such a huge venue would never be consistently filled, they said.
The latter concerns seemed justified when only approximately 25,000 fans saw the opening game on October 7, 1922 (only 14 months after ground was broken), against Ohio Wesleyan University, a 5–0 Ohio State win. An even smaller crowd of about 17,000 was on hand the following week for a win over Oberlin College. However, the dedication game a week later against the University of Michigan, a 19–0 Wolverines win, drew a crowd of 72,500, with thousands more turned away. More than eight decades later, millions of fans have seen games at the Horseshoe, and sellouts have become the norm.
The official capacity of Ohio Stadium when it opened was 66,000, so it has undergone various expansions and renovations over the years, the most significant from 1999 to 2001. That $194 million project included a new concrete shell that emulated but also encased Smith's original design and expanded capacity to more than 102,000.
It is maybe impossible to quantify what Ohio Stadium has meant to Ohio State football and its fans, but some images help: the incredible sea of scarlet that almost seems ready to swallow up the field at every game, the wide-eyed look of young children at their first game, band members with tears streaming down their faces on their final march into the stadium, and the current and former players who describe the incomparable feeling of emerging from the tunnel and running out onto the field before a game.
"Literally, my feet didn't touch the ground that first time in my freshman season," former Buckeyes wide receiver Cris Carter says. "When I got into pro football, that feeling made me love Ohio State even more. You wind up chasing that feeling again for the rest of your life."
Horseshoe Doesn't Bring Good Luck
Ohio State was justly proud and excited at the opening of Ohio Stadium in 1922, but the stadium did nothing for the fortunes of the football team. The Buckeyes were 3–4 that season, their first losing season in more than two decades, and they followed that up by going 3–4–1 and 2–3–3. Those years mark the only time in the history of Ohio State football that the Buckeyes have posted three consecutive losing seasons. In fact, since 1922–24, they haven't even had two losing seasons in a row, and it's only happened one other time, 1897–98.CHAPTER 3
The Michigan Rivalry
Archie Griffin is the only player in history to win college football's top prize, the Heisman Trophy, twice. It's not how he wants to be remembered.
"I never lost to Michigan," Griffin says, "and I take more pride in that than I do winning two Heisman Trophies."
Ohio State–Michigan. Just the mere mention evokes strong emotions from those who played in the games and from rabid fans in both states. It's a rivalry that has featured some of the greatest players and teams in the history of college football. The matchups pit two proud universities against one another in an annual, end-of-season contest, usually with a conference and sometimes a national title hanging in the balance. Heck, there's such a passion for supremacy that Ohio State and Michigan fans could have a spirited argument over who has the better band and stadium.
College football has gotten incredibly complex, with expanded schedules and conference championship games and so many bowl games, that some old-school rivalries like Oklahoma-Nebraska and Pitt–Penn State have been sacrificed. Not Ohio State–Michigan. Simply put, it's the rivalry of rivalries.
"Let me tell you, there is nothing — and I mean nothing! — as intense as Ohio State–Michigan," says former Ohio State coach Earle Bruce.
The feeling is mutual.
"Back in those days 10–1 is not good enough," longtime Michigan coach Bo Schembechler once said about a particularly intense stretch of games in the first half of the 1970s. "If that one is Ohio State, that's not good enough. We can't accept that."
ESPN.com rated Ohio State–Michigan the top rivalry in all of sports, with Muhammad Ali–Joe Frazier second, but it wasn't always so. The two teams first played in 1897, and in the first 15 games, Michigan won 13, with two ties. Ohio State finally broke through in 1919, when Chic Harley led the Buckeyes to a 13–3 win in Ann Arbor, Michigan, setting off a huge celebration in Columbus.
Animosity between the states actually predates that big win in 1919. Ohio and Michigan almost went to war during the 1830s in a border dispute over some land near where Toledo is located. The matter was resolved without any bloodshed when the federal government intervened, but some historians peg the later gridiron hostility as an extension of this early confrontation.
It is doubtful that many Ohio State and Michigan players know the facts of the so-called Toledo War, but it doesn't matter.
"No game meant more to me," former Ohio State linebacker Chris Spielman says. "I pride myself on being ready to play every game, but when it comes to playing Michigan, I was ready on Monday. When you grow up in Ohio, it is kind of in your blood."
No one did more to raise the level of rancor between the schools than Woody Hayes. He was obsessed with Michigan. Legendary is the story of the time Hayes ran out of gas on a recruiting trip to Michigan but pushed his car across the border rather than spend a dime in the state. At least that's how one version has it. In reality, Hayes just said that's what he'd do.
Either way, his hatred of Michigan was about as subtle as his "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense. He called Michigan "that state up north" rather than utter the word. In one of his most famous quotes, Hayes explained why he went for two points after a late score in the 1968 rout of Michigan, won by the Bucks 50–14: "Because I couldn't go for three!" he said.
Excerpted from 100 Things Buckeyes Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Andrew Buchanan. Copyright © 2014 Andrew Buchanan. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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