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When the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name
Woody Hayes will be 50 years old next Valentine's Day, if he makes it, and sometimes you wonder. Football is a happy game, even in the Big Ten. Chrysanthemum sales boom, old grads have a good excuse to get squiffed, hardly anyone goes to class, and if the halfback gets a black eye his girl will kiss it. Only Woody Hayes must suffer. To him, football is less a game than a 20th century torture device, and on his own private rack, on a hundred Saturday afternoons in the vast stadiums of the Midwest, he has been subjected to agonies that would make your hair look like Harpo Marx's.
While the avalanche of sound from 80,000 hysterics rolls down upon him, he stands alone, a short, powerful man with a barrel chest and a barrel stomach. It is cold, but he wears no coat. His hands are balled fists below his shirtsleeves, and perspiration streams from beneath the old gray baseball cap with the scarlet letter O, as in O-HI-O, that he has worn so long it now seems a part of his head. He prowls the sidelines like a bear in a pit, shouting in fury at the officials, snarling in frustration at his team, at his coaches, at himself. Deprive Woody Hayes of victory and he would die, just as surely as a man in space suddenly deprived of his oxygen supply; and so, until victory is assured, Woody dies. With each Ohio State mistake, with each fumble and penalty and interception, he dies. It would be a pitiful sight were it not for one thing: at the rate at which Ohio State makes mistakes, no one should have to worry about burying Hayes for at least another 132 years.
There was a time when the thought that Woody Hayes might go on forever would have set off only limited celebration in the Big Ten. In his 11 seasons at Ohio State, the Buckeyes have behaved more like Mongols (a buckeye is a small tree or shrub of the horse chestnut family and a lousy name for a football team in the first place), spreading devastation throughout what the Big Ten, with dissent only from the Southwest, the Southeast and sometimes the Big Eight and Pacific Coast, like to call the toughest football conference in the land. Hayes has won four of the last eight Big Ten championships, including last year's. He set a record of 17 consecutive conference victories, and the Southeast may note that the Buckeyes were not playing Chattanooga and Richmond and Memphis State. In one remarkable stretch, Ohio State won 24 of 26 Big Ten games. The only losing season under Hayes came in 1959, when he tried to get fancy, a lapse that he now attributes to temporary insanity. Outside of that, Hayes has lost just nine games in the last eight years and, in one poll or another, Ohio State has three times been named the national champion. Now the Bucks are primed to win again. Success breeds its own antagonisms, and Woody Hayes would be the most surprised person in the world if the Big Ten should ever elect him Queen of the May.
But success alone can never explain the passion that Hayes has been known to arouse. You either love him or you hate him, and if you happen to be one of the few with no opinion you may just as well form one, since he probably has an opinion about you. He has an opinion about everything else. If you choose to disapprove of Woody Hayes, there is a wide selection of reasons.
He drives his players with a ferocity that would make a Marine Corps drill instructor look like Mary playing with her Iamb. The football that he coaches—the crunching up-the-middle trap and off-tackle smash—is about as inspiring as a radish. It has furnished the sport with a now-tired phrase—three yards and a cloud of dust—and so far as you can discover in Columbus, Knute Rockne, Gus Dorais and the forward pass have not yet been invented. His own faculty complains that Woody's football success is distorting the academic image of a great university, and Hayes, a professor himself, sometimes attends faculty meetings to roar denunciations of his detractors.
Reporters assigned to cover the Ohio State dressing room decide to bury their grandmothers on days when it appears that the Buckeyes might not win. If Hayes is a bad loser—he has refused to shake hands with an opposing coach who beat him—he is also a bad winner, sometimes heaping scorn and humiliation upon a defeated opponent's head. He has a temper like a toothless cat. Most damning of all, he always says what he thinks. In fact, Woody Hayes passes up more opportunities to keep his mouth shut in one year than most people do in a lifetime.
In the middle of a game he once ran 60 yards, probably a record for fat coaches, in order to accuse Big Ten officials of allowing the defense to play dirty football. "You're overofficiating the offense and letting the defense get away with murder," he snarled. "The Bible says turn the other cheek, but I'll be damned if I'll tell my kids to do that when they'll just get it fractured!"
He once banned from his practice sessions, locker room and office for two years all reporters from a magazine—this magazine, curiously enough—because of a story that led to Ohio State's being placed on probation in 1956 by the Big Ten. Admitting that the story was accurate, he remained firm: "I just don't want you SOBs around." Although not involved in the great musical chairs game of 1957, when many college coaches jumped contracts, Hayes had something to say on that subject: "Instead of blaming the coaches, they should blame the presidents of the universities who hire coaches away. They are equally at fault and the only ones in a position to control the situation."