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"Then Tress Said to Troy ..."
The Best Ohio State Football Stories Ever Told
By Jeff Snook
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2007 Jeff Snook
All rights reserved.
A Name Known Throughout the College Football World
Tigers, Lions, Bears, and other four-legged creatures dot the college football landscape, but there is only one school and one state that belongs to the Buckeyes.
What's in a Name?
The Ohio State University first fielded a football team in 1890, which was 20 years after the birth of the university, but the term Buckeyes was not officially adopted by the university's athletic council until 1950.
Not that it ever needed to be.
The term was firmly established by 1900, and most records indicate that it had probably been used with some frequency to refer to Ohio State and its athletic teams since before the turn of the century, according to the school's archives.
As most Ohioans know, the buckeye (Aesculus glabra) is a tree native to Ohio and particularly common in the Ohio River Valley. The tree's shiny, dark brown nuts with lighter tan patches resemble the eye of a deer.
What you may not have known is that pioneers carved the soft wood from buckeye trees into troughs, platters, and even cradles. Before the days of plastic, buckeye wood was often used to fashion artificial limbs. The nuts, inedible, are attractive, and folk wisdom had it that carrying one in one's pocket brings good luck and wards off rheumatism.
However, that rarely worked for a Tennessean named John Harold Cooper, especially when the winds of November blew cold. Not that he had rheumatism, just a severe case of Can't-Beat-Michiganism.
On the negative side, the wood does not burn well, the bark has an unpleasant odor, and the bitter nut meat is mildly poisonous. Still, the tree has grit. It grows where others cannot, is difficult to kill, and adapts to its circumstances.
Daniel Drake once gave a detailed speech on behalf of the buckeye tree at a public function in Cincinnati in 1833.
"In all our woods there is not a tree so hard to kill as the buckeye," he said. "The deepest girdling does not deaden it, and even after it is cut down and worked up into the side of a cabin it will send out young branches, denoting to all the world that buckeyes are not easily conquered, and could with difficulty be destroyed."
More than a century and a half later, a football coach named Earle Bruce stood at a podium in downtown Dallas, Texas, and used similar words to educate Southerners.
"For all you Texans who do not know what a Buckeye is, let me tell you," Bruce started, about to coach his team in the 1987 Cotton Bowl. "A Buckeye is the toughest thing you'll ever come across. A Buckeye is indestructible. You cannot crack a Buckeye. You cannot smash a Buckeye. The only way for you ever to get rid of a Buckeye is by burning it."
With that, he walked off the stage and within days, led his team to victory over a team from Texas A&M University.
According to the OSU archives, the first recorded use of the term referring to a resident of the area was in 1788 — 15 years before Ohio became a state. Colonel Ebenezer Sproat led the legal delegation at the first court session of the Northwest Territory, held in an area that is now Marietta.
The Indians in attendance greeted him with shouts of "Hetuck, Hetuck" (Indian word for buckeye), because they were impressed by his 6'4" stature. He proudly carried the buckeye nickname for the rest of his life, and it gradually spread to his companions and to other local white settlers.
By the 1830s, writers were commonly referring to locals as Buckeyes.
It was the presidential election of 1840 when William Henry Harrison made the term well-known. Harrison adopted the buckeye tree and its nuts as his campaign symbols. At the Whig convention, Harrison delegates carried buckeye canes decorated with strings of buckeye beads. As time passed, the buckeye became unmistakably linked with Ohio, and its citizens became known as Buckeyes.
Legendary football coach Woody Hayes once told a recruit, "You can go become a tiger, a bear, a lion, or any other animal that is a mascot at schools across this country, but there is only one place in this world you can become a Buckeye. Are you ready to be a Buckeye?"
Today, the tree's five-fingered leaflet, along with the nut, are sometimes used as symbols for The Ohio State University Alumni Association logo.
The Buckeye leaf decals placed on OSU players' helmets as rewards for successful individual plays and team goals — a tradition Hayes started in 1968 — makes an Ohio State football helmet more recognizable than any in college football.
No Buckeyes player receives a single leaf following a loss.
"Why should he?" Hayes once said. "Winning a football game is the ultimate goal in the ultimate game."
From May 3, 1890, when Ohio State University defeated Ohio Wesleyan 20–14 in the first football game in school history, and for the next 116 years, there have been 787 days in which the Buckeyes were victorious on the football field.
And every one of them has been celebrated throughout the great state of Ohio.CHAPTER 2
The First Superstar
Way back then, he was a tiny man, with a big heart and blazing speed, but what Chic Harley owns now is a legacy unlike any other Buckeye.
The Buckeyes' First Superstar
On November 18, 2006, just a few hours before the latest "Game of the Century," the classic showdown of Ohio State versus Michigan, I ambled over to High Street, just south of Woodruff Avenue.
A huge rock rests just a few feet off of the sidewalk.
It is adorned with a rectangular plaque, inscribed with these words:
SITE OF OHIO FIELD (1903–21) WHERE CHARLES W. "CHIC" HARLEY, ALL-AMERICAN HALFBACK IN 1916–17–19 PERFORMED THOSE FEATS WHICH MADE HIM AN OHIO STATE FOOTBALL LEGEND AND SPARKED THE PUBLIC ENTHUSIASM WHICH LED TO THE CONSTRUCTION OF OHIO STADIUM.
As hundreds of people walked up and down High Street, anticipating the upcoming game, few noticed Harley's Rock or took the time to read the inscription.
A parking garage now stands where Chic once thrilled the masses. As I stood there, watching those fans pass by, I felt a tremendous amount of guilt. In my four years of college, I had never noticed Harley's Rock. Not once. I had never once thought of Chic and the tradition he helped create.
Like many other students, perhaps I felt shame for paying more attention to what was located on the other side of High Street in those days.
"You know, I didn't even know it existed, either, until my dad told me about it a few years ago," Rob Harley, Chic's great, great nephew who played for the Buckeyes from 2003 to 2005, said recently. "We visited it together when Dad came up for a golf outing one day. I stood there, just trying to picture what the campus looked like at that spot back then when Chic played.
"It was a surreal thing for us, because that area is just teeming with activity now."
You wonder why Chic Harley was such an important figure in Ohio State football history?
Let me take you back in time ...
The seven charter members of the Western Conference in 1896 were Illinois, Michigan, Chicago, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Northwestern, and Purdue. Four years later, Indiana and Iowa joined. (Michigan State joined in 1953, and Penn State became the 11th member in 1993.)
Ohio State was invited to join the conference in 1913, and, for the record, the Buckeyes lost their first conference game 7–6 to Indiana on November 1 that year.
Until that time, Ohio State's schedule consisted mostly of smaller Ohio colleges (with the exception of Michigan), such as Wooster, Otterbein, Denison, Kenyon, Oberlin, and Ohio Wesleyan. And when the Buckeyes beat them, as they did with consistency after 1898, they were declared the Ohio College Champions.
Once Ohio State joined the Western Conference, its football schedule gradually changed to include teams from neighboring states. And with that, so spread the school's recognition as a burgeoning football power.
By the time the 1916 season rolled around, 26 years after its birth, Ohio State had produced some excellent seasons (9–0–1 in 1899, 8–1–1 in 1900, and 8–1 in 1906). OSU's home field, first labeled University Field and later Ohio Field, was attracting more and more fans with each season. During most games, 5,000, 6,000, or even 7,000 fans would show up to watch Ohio State play the likes of Oberlin, Case, or Ohio Wesleyan.
Then a tiny sophomore who was born in Chicago and had moved to Columbus, where he played high school football, single-handedly transformed a curious but interesting athletic event into the most popular pastime in town.
To put it bluntly, Chic Harley made Ohio State football games into one tough ticket.
Standing about 5'9" and weighing only 155 pounds, he was virtually untouchable in the open field. He was faster than any other player who played the game at the time and possessed the moves and cutting ability of many of today's best running backs.
Harley was not one-dimensional, either. There is little doubt that he was the greatest runner of his time, but he also could pass and kick with the best, and he was a great defensive back. He lettered in football, track, baseball, and basketball at Ohio State.
"If you never saw him run with a football, we can't describe it to you," Bob Hooey of the Ohio State Journal once wrote. "It wasn't like Thorpe or Grange or Harmon or anyone else. It was kind of a cross between music and cannon fire, and it brought your heart up under your ears. In the hardest- fought gridiron battles, Harley usually would get away and score the winning touchdown."
After trouncing Oberlin 128–0, which remains the largest margin of victory in OSU history, the Buckeyes stunned Illinois 7–6 in a road game in which Harley scrambled for the tying touchdown and then kicked the extra point for the victory.
By the time Wisconsin arrived at Ohio Field the next week for homecoming, news of Harley's exploits had spread around campus. He was fast becoming Ohio's first real football hero, and cozy Ohio Field was overwhelmed with fans wanting to see what all the talk was about. The $2 tickets were being scalped for 10 times that amount (sound familiar?).
More than 12,000 fans, by far the largest crowd thus far, watched the game in which Harley starred again as the Buckeyes beat the Badgers 14–13. He continued to run and kick and lead Ohio State to a perfect 7–0 season and its first Western Conference championship.
Chic followed it up with another spectacular season in 1917 as Ohio State rolled to an 8–0–1 record and another conference championship. The only blemish was a scoreless tie at Auburn. Many of OSU's best players, including Harley, missed an abbreviated 1918 season (only six games were played) because they were serving in the armed services during World War I.
By 1919, almost all of Ohio State's best players, especially Harley, had returned to campus. It was a perfect season. Almost. The Buckeyes beat Michigan for the first time, by a 13–3 score, thanks to Harley's touchdown and four interceptions.
The win over Michigan at Ann Arbor, in front of 28,000 fans, was the first after 13 losses and two ties to the school that would become OSU's most bitter rival.
The victory was monumental for Ohio State.
Following the game, the legendary Michigan coach Fielding Yost congratulated the Buckeyes in their locker room, pointing to Harley and stating, "And you, Mister Harley, I believe, are one of the finest little machines I have ever seen."
That season, Ohio Field was swollen with fans, and university leaders started to talk about the need for a newer, larger place for their beloved Buckeyes to play. The next step was to find the proper location. Athletics director L.W. St. Johns, Thomas French, head of the Department of Engineering; and William Oxley Thompson, OSU's president at the time, organized the fund-raising drive to build a new stadium.
The 1920 season was a landmark for two reasons: Ohio State earned a first-ever berth in the Rose Bowl, resulting in a 28–0 loss to California, and the university spent the year raising money for a new stadium. In one year, it had raised $1.3 million in private donations from all over Ohio.
They faced two immediate decisions: where and how big.
They picked a 15-acre spot just east of the Olentangy River and south of Woodruff Avenue. Groundbreaking took place August 3, 1921.
Fortunately, St. John, French, and Thompson, with a large thanks to Harley, had fallen in love with Ohio State football and realized its potential benefits for the university in terms of national recognition. They also believed an extracurricular athletic event such as football had the potential to draw alumni back to campus and students closer together.
Today, their love of athletics and of Ohio State is symbolized by the French Field House, which adjoins St. John Arena, and the William Oxley Thompson Library, located on the west end of the Oval.
Ohio Stadium opened in time for the 1922 season and was dedicated October 21 in front of 71,138 fans during a 19–0 loss to Michigan.
Today it is one of the country's most recognized athletic venues of any kind, hosting more than 105,000 fans on any given Saturday. It was recently renovated for $194 million, or 150 times its original cost.
Today Chic Harley's name and number 47 are framed on the north façade of Ohio Stadium, along with the school's Heisman Trophy winners. Harley was the school's first three-time All-American, and he surely would have been OSU's first Heisman Trophy winner, if not for the fact that the award was a good 16 years from being created.
One thing is certain: Harley was Ohio State's first football legend.
Ohio Stadium probably would have been built sooner or later anyway, but his talent ignited the sport's popularity as the Buckeyes' subsequent success pushed the groundbreaking for the massive structure.
During a home game in 1949, the Ohio State marching band opened the Os in their famous Script Ohio one day to honor Harley with a Script Chic.
"That's the urban legend — that Chic was destined to come to Ohio State, because all you had to do was close the ends of the two Cs in his name to write Ohio," Rob Harley said. "He actually was ready to go to Michigan, but he stayed in Columbus, went to Ohio State, and the rest is history."
During the 1954 game at Illinois, Harley was ill but attended the game and watched from the press box. Woody Hayes was a history buff of not only politics and world wars, but of Ohio State athletics. He knew well about Chic's contribution to the game, to Ohio State, and to the stadium he came to call home.
"Woody was always very emotional in giving a pregame speech," said Dr. Erwin Thal, a team manager from 1954 to 1957. "He knew Chic Harley was at the game that day, and he told the team, 'We are going to win this one for Chic. Go out there and play for Chic!'
"At the end of the game [a 40–7 victory], Jim Parker went over to the referee and grabbed the game ball out of his hands and took it to Chic Harley in the locker room."
Harley, Ohio State's first inductee into the College Football Hall of Fame (1951), died April 21, 1974, following a long illness. The pallbearers at his funeral were Buckeyes starters Archie Griffin, Kurt Schumacher, Arnie Jones, Neal Colzie, Steve Myers, and Pete Cusick.
"It was really an honor to be a pallbearer for the greatest player in Ohio State history," Griffin said. "Chic put Ohio State football on the map."
Chic is buried at Union Cemetery just east of Olentangy River Road and north of Ackerman Road. When he died, he didn't have much money, but he had been so popular, his former teammates chipped in to pay for a six-foot headstone at his gravesite.
James Thurber's poem about Chic is inscribed on the face of the headstone:
The years of football playing reach back a long, long way,
And the heroes are a hundred who have worn the red and gray;
You can name the brilliant players from the year the game began,
You can say that someone's plunging was the best you ever saw —
You can claim the boys now playing stage a game without a flaw —
But admit there was no splendor in all the bright array
Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away.
Honoring the Legend
When Ohio State honored Harley's career a few years ago by adding Chic's name to the stadium's Ring of Honor, it was announced that his number 47 would be retired also, once linebacker A.J. Hawk was finished wearing it in 2005.
Rob Harley was proud to see his great, great uncle's name on that concrete façade.
"To see the Harley name up on the stadium, that will remind me every time I come back," Rob said. "That's a great honor for Chic to have.
"Every Christmas, my grandpa would bring up the stories of what Chic had done. He's a big part of our family and a great tradition to carry on. One of the big things for me is to go over to the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café and see that he was a four-sport letterman in basketball, track, baseball, and football. That's unbelievable to me. For one man to have the ability to do that, that is amazing. It's unfortunate we don't have film of that. He must have been amazing.
Excerpted from "Then Tress Said to Troy ..." by Jeff Snook. Copyright © 2007 Jeff Snook. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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