SI Vault
Robert Shaplen
October 24, 1955
Unlike the Ivy schools (SI, Oct. 17), the Buckeyes function as a public utility for the entertainment of 8 million fans. All they ask of coach and players is a victory every Saturday
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October 24, 1955

The Ohio State Story: Win Or Else

Unlike the Ivy schools (SI, Oct. 17), the Buckeyes function as a public utility for the entertainment of 8 million fans. All they ask of coach and players is a victory every Saturday

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Every Saturday afternoon during the football season, while a scarlet-jerseyed quarterback of Ohio State University barks signals on the field, 425,000 additional quarterbacks in Columbus and another 8 million throughout the state are sure to think, at some point during the game, that each of them could do a better job. By Monday morning, the traditional time for quarterback sniping, these millions of signal callers will have replayed the game several times over in their own minds, and will then start replaying it in groups. Along about Wednesday or Thursday the coming Saturday's game will come up for discussion, and all of Ohio will decide in advance just how that one ought to be played.

To a certain degree this sort of thing goes on all over the country, but in Ohio football is super-serious business. Few are the games at Ohio Stadium, rain or shine, that are not attended by capacity crowds of 82,000 screaming, back-pounding, bottle-sipping, pigskin-pixilated customers. The rest of the quarterbacks in the state—those who couldn't get tickets—do their second guessing on radio or TV (a half dozen radio stations make sure the game is brought into every home). And if OSU loses, the separate and collective wrath of these millions of proprietary partisans will be leveled against the man behind the quarterback—The Coach.

Big Brother to everybody when he's on top, but candidate of candidates for the salt mines when he's not, a head football coach at OSU has been described as having, next to the Presidency, the toughest job in the United States. Not only does he have to direct the fortunes of his squad, but he is at the constant beck and call of all the quarterback organizations in Ohio, to whom he must make full accountings. The coach's postgame confessions of sins are regularly delivered in a manner reminiscent of a defendant at a Soviet trial. "I was wrong there," he will say, hanging his head abjectly. "I shouldn'ta done that." The fact that he may have been right, or that the point in question is at least debatable, makes no difference. The boys in the back room want blood.

The man on trial this week (for losing 20-14 to Duke) is an oddly wound-up individual named Wayne Woodrow (Woody) Hayes, who is both a charming and frightening product of what, in these years of postwar prosperity, is more of a bountiful big business and a mass hysteria than it ever was before. In many respects Hayes is the perfect man for the job. Beyond replaying the game cozily with the manifold quarterbacks in mufti, he is bumptiously tough and is far from a hypocrite. Hayes is completely, in fact devastatingly, aware that in the struggle for survival he must produce a winning team or lose his $15,000-a-year position and, even more important, his prestige as a big-time coach, which happens to be Woody's total raison d'�tre.

"I love football," Hayes says, with his slight lisp and almost with tears in his eyes. "I think it's the most wonderful game in the world, and I despise to lose. I've hated to lose ever since I was a kid and threw away the mallets when I lost at croquet."

This perhaps unadmirable trait has the unalterable approval of every man Buckeye, but Hayes gets no points for mere enthusiasm. Each week of the season brings on a public reincarnation of himself, in the image of hero or villain. If, as usual, there are nine games to the schedule, he lives nine unpredictable, breath-taking, spine-tingling lives. Depending on how much of a winning edge he has at the end of November, the reincarnations can be terminated in one tremendous, popularly applied, postseason kick-after-lack-of-touchdowns—OUT!

So far, Hayes has hung on, but it's been close. He is now in his fifth season and until last year he was more often a bumbling devil incarnate than a gridiron Galahad. But in 1954 he dismayed his most ardent detractors by producing an unbeaten team of national champions. For the moment at least, all the angry and frustrated Walter Mittys in Ohio had to stay on the bench.

By the end of this season, Hayes may be in for fresh trouble. But if he doesn't talk too much, a habit he's had considerable difficulty controlling in the past (last winter at a Cleveland alumni meeting he couldn't resist asking, "How many of you were here last year?" and demanding a show of hands), the consensus is that he earned himself enough insurance in '54 to survive a likely so-so '55 record.


In four and a half years at OSU, Hayes has won 28, lost 11 and tied two. If he should fail two years in a row to win more games than he loses, he will automatically be a flop as a coach and a foolish fellow to boot. That's how it is in these fickle flatlands, and that's how it will be, with Hayes simply a Frankenstein of the system, until football ceases to be a vast profit-making amusement enterprise with amateur dressing.

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