If Columbus exhibits today a less explosive atmosphere than in years past, however, it certainly admits to a no less fanatic preoccupation with the game itself. Football, in ceasing to be a wild party, has become a way of life. In a dozen postwar seasons the average attendance for home games has been well over 70,000; in the last four it has been above 80,000, and this in a stadium which admits to only 79,618 seats. This year the Ohio State season advance sale was 67,000 for each game, a figure never before even considered by any other school. And last Saturday 83,113 people presented rather dramatic proof that there was no recession in football interest in Columbus by pouring into Ohio Stadium to watch the Buckeyes open the 1958 season against SMU. Except for the 1926 Michigan game, when the crowd broke down all the gates and overran the field and nobody could get around to counting them anyway, it was the biggest crowd in Ohio Stadium history.
If a Columbus fan can't squeeze into the game, he can hear it on any of five local stations—the sixth is a traitor which carries Notre Dame—and, should he miss both game and broadcast, he can always go to the Quarterback Club on Wednesday and listen to Hayes tell a now-docile group of ex-experts how it was done. That is, he can if he is a member; the Quarterback Club numbers 700 now and has a waiting list even longer because the big ballroom of the Southern Hotel, where it meets, just won't hold any more.
In Columbus they still agree with what an Ohio State president said, only half in jest, some years ago: "We want to have a university of which the football team can be proud."
The game the big crowd saw on Saturday was a corker. Ohio State won 23-20 by the margin of three successful conversions, one by kick and two by pass, and in so doing the Buckeyes convinced almost everyone in sight that they were just as good as had been foretold. The line is the biggest this side of the Chicago Bears, with an average weight of 225 pounds; there are three very fine running backs in Don Clark, Bob White and Dick LeBeau, and a smart, experienced quarterback in Frank Kremblas. Together they make of Hayes's unexciting style of attack, which he calls "plain vanilla," an exciting demonstration in power and precision. If Kremblas' shoulder, which was dislocated late in the fourth quarter, heals within two weeks as expected, Ohio State is going to roll over a lot of teams before the year is out.
As part of Hayes's attention to detail, Ohio State just doesn't beat itself. A fumble in practice is a calamity; in a game it is a major disgrace. As a result, Ohio State does not fumble. A Buckeye punt is blocked about once in seven years, and Ohio State passes are just not intercepted. This is partly because they do not throw very often, of course ("I hope I never have a great passer," Woody has said. "A team with a great passer may score some spectacular victories but it never wins the championship, and we're after championships here. When you get fancy, you get beat") but, just the same, when his teams do throw, it is usually a completion. Neither are the Bucks killed by penalties, despite their tough brand of play. One reason is they keep a Big Ten official on hand at practice and by game time it has been impressed upon them at some length that they should not incur his displeasure.
But the best thing Hayes had going for him Saturday was another stout pass defense—and without it Ohio State would have been dead. Only once has one of his teams lost to a great passer (Stanford's John Brodie by 6-0 in 1955), and in seven years they have faced some of the best: Fred Benners of SMU in '51 (he had defeated another Ohio State team the year before 32-27), Tommy O'Connell of Illinois in '52, Paul Larson of California in '53, Lenny Dawson of Purdue in '54, Brodie in '56 and Jack Crabtree of Oregon in the 1958 Rose Bowl game. Last weekend, however, they ran into a boy who was probably the best.
Southern Methodist's Don Meredith is a big (6 feet 3, 190 pounds), deceptively quick 20-year-old junior from the little town of Mount Vernon, Texas, and last year, playing in only six games as a regular, he set a national collegiate accuracy record by completing almost 70% of the passes he threw. Almost never do his passes fall out of range. Even more startling is the manner in which he unloads, fast, when pursued or in trouble. Pressure does not seem to bother him a bit, and on Saturday he completed 19 out of 28 attempts for 213 yards, much of the time with Ohio State linemen waving their large hands in his face or draped around various parts of his anatomy. Once he led SMU 75 yards to a touchdown with six straight completions from a spread formation. What he will do some Saturday afternoon against a lesser team is enough to make anyone want to see more.
But Ohio State, with its relentless pressure from the line and alert ball-hawking in the secondary, stopped him just enough. Twice in the first half they intercepted his passes, once when LeBeau cut in front of a receiver and picked the ball off in the end zone, again when End Jim Houston batted a pass into the air just as it left Meredith's hands and Center Dan Fronk gathered it in. And particularly on two of SMU's conversion attempts did the Ohio State pass defense earn its keep, blanketing receivers so well that first Sub Quarterback Billy Dunn and then Meredith had nowhere to throw. In the end, that turned out to be the ball game.
While Ohio State was beating SMU, various other Big Ten members were busy at work pounding home the old lesson that right here is the part of the country where they do this sort of thing best.