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Four times it was father against son in football, and four times the son won. But the elder Cousineau says, "I know he didn't want to beat me, and that's why I think he always played mediocre against us." Says Tom, "He was my best friend, my pal—and my father." Asked if success might spoil Tom, Hayes says, "Nah, his dad will beat him up if he gets out of line."
Pursued during high school by just about every college that ever pumped up a football, Cousineau narrowed his choices to a predictable three—OSU, Michigan and Penn State. "It was so hard to tell those great coaches no," he says. "But I finally decided there wasn't any reason to go a long way to play when the best football in the country was in my own backyard. I didn't come here because of Woody, though. I came here because Ohio State was bigger than Woody."
It was fortunate for Cousineau that he had such great ability because when he arrived on campus, his hair, which then hung six inches below his helmet, gave Hayes a case of the mutters. As a freshman, Cousineau was one of only two among more than 30 in his class who passed the sprint tests. Duncan Griffin, one of two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin's brothers, was the other. Cousineau even started three games, a rarity for a Buckeye freshman. His main shortcoming that year was that he would often brood over his mistakes and carry them into the next play.
Why did the short-tempered Hayes put up with him? "Because I played good football," Cousineau says. Still, Hayes pressed him on the hair issue, and Cousineau argued, "It's neat and clean, and I prefer to wear it long. But it will be cut. Sometime."
As he now explains, "It didn't mean anything when it was long, and it didn't mean anything when I got it cut. I'm not a rebel." But when Cousineau finally did get his hair cut, Hayes told him, "You get better looking all the time." Cousineau's countenance also worried Hayes, who often told his team, "I never saw a player who could smile while attacking." Says Cousineau, "That was until he saw me."
Indeed, football is a joy to Tom Cousineau. Totally. Absolutely. The only thing that angers him is that games have to end; they all pass much too quickly. He even likes to practice. And when he talks about football, Cousineau sounds almost evangelistic.
"What I like about football is that every week you go out and prove yourself all over again," he says. "Every play provides not only an opportunity to get knocked down but also the chance to get back up. Isn't it something that I've been playing this game I love for 14 years for nothing and now I'm going to get paid? Look, there are a lot of things more important than football. Heck, nearly everything is more important than football. It's a kid's game. But the thing that is humorous is that I get to keep playing and my friends have to quit."
Cousineau was rather late coming to this philosophy, and as often happens, it sprang from adversity. He had never been hurt, if you don't count his little finger being shattered in eight places against Minnesota in his sophomore year, which he doesn't. Then on the second series of downs against Oklahoma in 1977, his left arm was injured as Cousineau was making a tackle. He was out for the rest of the game, and the next one, too. He was despondent.
"I walked around with a chip on my shoulder," he says. "Or, actually, with a chip off my shoulder. [It turned out later that the shoulder was only severely bruised.] I thought I was going to lose my mind. Then I realized that this wasn't right. What if I were truly disabled? Man, I had to get myself prepared to leave this game at any moment. I decided right then that I could never again take football so seriously. I had let it consume me and that was a mistake. I have a head on my shoulders. I can do lots of things besides play football."
Luckily, he didn't have to. In a couple of weeks he was back raising defensive havoc, despite the hurt. "How much you feel pain depends on your commitment," he says. "I'd rather play, then deal with the pain later."