More than once he has been accused of being an anachronism—a latter-day Neanderthal charging into battle swinging the jawbone of an ass against opponents equipped with Sidewinder missiles. In recent years, when his fortunes as a football coach ebbed, some consigned him to a dinosaurs' boneyard, a man outdistanced in his own time. But Wayne Woodrow Hayes of Ohio State University refused to be declared extinct. He thrust out his brawny paunch, squared his incredible shoulders and spoke words written by his own personal seer and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson: "No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature."
Last Saturday the contemporary justification—to say nothing of the late-model reincarnation—of Woody Hayes was on display for all to see. Before a record crowd of 84,859 at Ohio State's dreary old hulk of a stadium in Columbus, his Buckeyes cut up and then beat down Michigan State, a team that only a week earlier had defeated high-ranked Notre Dame. The 25-20 victory proved that OSU's stunning mid-October upset of Purdue was no fluke and heralded the return of Hayes and his teams to fame and fortune. It was the Buckeyes' sixth straight win this season and it solidified their hold on the No. 2 spot in the national rankings (No. 1½ might be more like it, considering the constant tribulations of top-ranked USC). Moreover, the Buckeyes are favored to win the Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl trip and perhaps a chance to beat USC themselves—though all that will not be decided for certain until a climactic clash on Nov. 23 with that other upstart in the Big Ten, Michigan.
The success of Woody Hayes' 1968 Buckeyes has generated excitement even within the booster club complacency of Columbus where, despite legends to the contrary, wild-eyed football fever long ago took a backseat to more cosmopolitan undertakings. Beyond the current victory string itself, the very style of Ohio State football this year is a stimulating sight—especially for eyes made sore in years past by the dust clouds raised as Hayes-built juggernauts slogged to dozens of victories with numbing repetitions of the fullback plunge.
Suddenly in 1968 Hayes has found speed to burn and the forward pass besides. His team has 16 sophomores who play consistently, and there is flair, flamboyance and a happy-go-lucky outlook that might have been put down as treason on Ohio State teams of yore. But Hayes is a wise and flexible man; he knows how to flex with a good thing when he sees it, and this fall on his Columbus practice fields he has seen it every day.
November 11, 1968
Saturday, Michigan State saw it, too. OSU's first-string sophomore quarterback, Rex Kern, opened the game—from his own 17, no less—with three quick passes. Then, after setting up an 18-yard run of his own with some polished fakery, he threw another pass for 39 yards and finally sent Fullback Jim Otis in for the first Buckeye score with only 1:43 gone in the quarter.
There was still scarcely a speck of OSU dust in the air late in the first quarter when sophomore Safetyman Mike Sensibaugh recovered a Spartan fumble. Kern immediately threw twice for long yardage and then lofted a 14-yard pass to sophomore End Bruce Jankowski in the end zone (see cover). With a mere minute gone in the second quarter the score was 13-0, Kern had completed 10 of 13 passes for 148 yards, and—in another break with Hayes tradition—had called nearly all of the plays himself. But the touchdown pass was Kern's last play of the day; he was taken out with a severely sprained ankle and spent the afternoon slouched sadly on the bench with a bag of ice taped to his foot.
This might have mattered a lot, but not to the modern model of the Buckeyes. Besides speed, youth and style, Hayes has accumulated around him a shocking number of attentive wunder-kinder. When Kern went out, in came another child quarterback, sophomore Ron Maciejowski. He displayed neither the grace nor aplomb of Kern, but he was more than adequate as he took OSU for an easy touchdown and a 19-7 lead as the half ended. From then on it was a matter of Michigan State almost catching up—only not quite. When the score eventually narrowed to 25-20 at the end of three quarters the OSU defense stepped into the act and all over the chest of Spartan Quarterback Bill Triplett. Again and again Triplett was pressed into fumbles and bad handoffs, primarily by OSU's Mike Radtke and Dave Whitfield, who made a specialty of falling on the ball once it was loose. Three times in the fourth quarter the Spartans lost the ball on fumbles, and OSU, though it never scored again, secured its victory ably enough. The clock ran out with the Buckeyes punching at the center of the Michigan State line on play after play—bringing to mind old times under Hayes.
But this is obviously a shiny new era in Ohio—a time of resurrection. Oh, Hayes is not exactly playing the phoenix, rising with a smile from his own ashes of disaster. Things have never been that bad for him. Seventeen full seasons have passed since he was first hired at Ohio State, then infamous as America's leading cemetery for football coaches: OSU had had four in the 10 years preceding Woody's arrival. Despite the funereal prospects, he prospered, compiling a fine 107-41-7 record that included four Big Ten championships and two Rose Bowl wins. He has had some dismal years. There was a 3-5-1 in 1959 and 4-5 in 1966 when a small plane was seen flying over the OSU stadium carrying a sign that read: GOODBYE WOODY. He has easily survived such disloyalties, but he has not been really in the limelight since 1961 when his team went undefeated on the football field, only to fall crushed and beaten beneath a faculty committee that voted to ban Ohio State participation in that season's Rose Bowl.
Then renowned for his rages, culminating in such acts of personal damage as shoving his head through a wooden locker door or pounding his skull with his fists hard enough to make knots rise, Hayes took years to cool his fury over that episode. Indeed, even today he blames the relatively lean records of his teams in the mid-'60s in part on that faculty vote. "All our rival recruiters had to say to a boy was, 'Son, if you go to Ohio State, you probably won't ever see the Rose Bowl,' and the boy would go off to another school."
Around Columbus there are people who claim Hayes has mellowed, that he has so softened his approach to life he is wearing a Thermal undershirt beneath the short-sleeved T shirt that he favors for practice, even on sub-freezing days. ("Being cold, like being determined to win, is just a state of mind," he has always told his teams.) Of course, Woody Hayes is no mean psychologist, and he has even been accused of pre-planning some of his wilder tantrums for maximum impact on his team. For example, he wears a baseball cap to practice every day and, periodically through a season, he will seemingly go berserk with anger over some error. He will bellow, snatch the cap off his head, twist it in his huge meaty hands and then fling it on the ground—tattered, shredded, destroyed. But occasionally, those wise to his ways contend, he has used a razor blade to slice some threads in the cap before practice so that it tears apart more dramatically, and easily. There was a time, too, when Woody punctuated his practice-field rages by ripping a watch from his wrist and jumping on it while springs flew all over the ground. On such days, it is said, he tended to wear cheap, dime-store watches. But the man was impressive, regardless.
Those who think that this phase of Woody Hayes has passed, that he is turning sophomore quarterbacks loose while pastorally sniffing life's flowers, just don't know their man. They might understandably be deceived by his always turning to the bracing words of Emerson, reaching for his dog-eared paperback of the Essays so that he can read aloud from dozens of passages he has underlined. " 'Blame is safer than praise,' " he recently quoth. "And that's what I tell the boys all the time—that this niceness from people complimenting you can be what kills you. It can be deceiving. Yes, sir, Emerson was hitting the ball square when he said, 'As soon as honeyed words of praise are spoken for me I feel as one who lies unprotected before his enemies.' "
And so it was not too surprising when Hayes recently became infuriated and wasted no honeyed words over what he considered lax officiating. All season, he said, people have been beating up his quarterback. He told the press that too much piling on was permitted in Big Ten games, and he promised to complain officially to the league office. He never did file any complaint in writing, and Big Ten Commissioner Bill Reed, irked at Woody's public tirade, snapped to reporters last week: "We haven't heard much from Woody lately because his teams haven't been so good. Now he's unbeaten and talking again. He reminds me of what Winston Churchill said about General Montgomery—indomitable in defeat, insufferable in victory."
"Listen," said Hayes himself last week. "I'm not mellow. I'm the same guy I've always been and I'll tell you this, the minute I think I'm getting mellow, then I'm retiring. Who ever heard of a mellow winner!?"
That's Woody. Indomitable, insufferable, unmellow, thoroughly delightful—and back on top again.