Mothers are like football coaches. Both spend a lot of time saying the obvious. Coaches spend whole careers telling athletes to "keep your eyes on the ball" and "be alert" and to quit nursing minor injuries by lounging in the whirlpool because "you can't help the club in the tub." Mothers spend whole careers telling their children, "Do your homework, make sure you behave and get home early." Mothers and coaches also fib, of course. Coaches say, "If you work hard, you'll be a winner"; mothers say, "This Merthiolate won't sting."
Our pick as Sports Mother of the Week is Clarice Gerald, mother of Ohio State Quarterback Rod Gerald. True, she has always told Rod to mind his studies, his manners and his hours. And he has, pretty much, if your definition of compliance is broad enough. But along with the obvious instructions, she has over the years urged on him more significant advice: "If you make three people happy, one of them is bound to be you."
Last Saturday, Gerald made three, yea, more likely three million, people happy—and he was one of them. For the 19-year-old from Dallas was instrumental in giving Ohio State a hectic 12-7 win over a good, young Penn State team.
It was not all that obvious during the generally misty and foggy day in University Park that visiting Ohio State would be able to win; it was not especially obvious how well Gerald was playing; it wasn't obvious what the classic struggle meant to two coaching titans of collegiate football, Penn State's calm, candid and outgoing Joe Paterno and OSU's irascible, erratic and devious Woody Hayes.
September 26, 1976
Later it all became clearer, and the implications for the season are, well, obvious. It's certainly no fib that Ohio State showed it is a certified powerhouse that should flick off Missouri Saturday while thinking ahead to the Revenge Bowl it will host Oct. 2 when UCLA comes to Columbus. UCLA was the team that made Woody so mad he wouldn't even talk about it after the Bruins harassed and ultimately humiliated Ohio State in the Rose Bowl. Assuming Woody gets even with UCLA, the Buckeyes should rip through six Big Ten opponents, each of whom can be identified by tears they already are blinking back. Then, come Nov. 20, the Bucks will host Michigan in what may be the shootout for the national championship, if it doesn't rain on Michigan's parade. All of which is heady stuff for Ohio State, which feared it might be slightly off stride this year because it lost eight starters on offense, including Heisman winner Archie Griffin.
Forget it. The new guy on the block, Rod Gerald, and his offensive buddies went to the high pressure well at Penn State, drank deeply and didn't splutter or burp. The Bucks are beautiful. While Gerald didn't set off sparks, he did play his first complete college football game without fumbling or being intercepted (he completed one of three passes), scored one touchdown, participated in the other, recovered somebody else's fumble, read the defenses adequately and earned what passes for high praise from Hayes: "I think he did a pretty good job." Says Gerald, "It's a big inspiration to go into that huddle and see everybody grit-tin' their teeth."
Gerald, heir to the job held by Cornelius Greene, is figured to be on his way to superstardom. Offensive Backfield Coach George Chaump says frail-looking Gerald is quicker and faster than frail-looking Greene was as a sophomore. Says Gerald, "I want to try to stay humble. That's the only way you can receive God's blessings." The son of a Baptist preacher. Rod says his favorite Bible verse is the 23rd Psalm, although when he was sacked for a couple of big first-half losses, he could have wondered about the line that says, "He maketh me to lie down in green pastures..." A change of shoes at halftime helped keep the sophomore upright the rest of the contest.
Rod isn't short for Rodney. His name is Roderic. But nobody has ever called him that. Folks back home who watched him strut his stuff Saturday on the tube know him as "Crow," because, as his mother explains, "Crows get into everything." And despite his emerging national fame, Crow misses the nest. A few days before the Penn State game, he wrote a four-page letter detailing how much he misses his three sisters, three brothers and his parents. His mother misses him; as a memento, she keeps a 10-pound ice pack in the freezer that Rod used in high school to soothe various bumps.
Gerald likely could use the old ice bag this week. The Penn State game was highly reminiscent of last year's struggle, won 17-9 by OSU. The Nittany Lions could have won that one—and this one, too. Indeed, they should have. So how is it that Ohio State got the job done? "You have to understand," says OSU defensive coordinator George Hill, "that all our preparation is to get ready." Which explains everything.
Before the contest, which drew Penn State's largest crowd ever (62,503) to a stadium that is to be enlarged by 16,000 seats at a cost of $4 million by 1978, Paterno was chatting with a few friends. "Our No. 1 concern," he said, getting ready to list two, "is whether we'll be strong enough and quick enough." And a third candidate for No. 1 concern was the kicking game. In the 15-12 opening-game win over Stanford, Matt Bahr missed two field goals and a PAT, but he made one three-pointer, and Paterno said, "How can you be critical of a guy who wins the game?"
Last Saturday's first half belonged to Penn State although close observers noted that Ohio State led 6-0 at the break. The score was misleading. As advertised, the Lions' quarterback, John Andress, came out throwing, throwing, throwing. All week OSU had been hiding smirks because against Stanford, Andress had connected on only four of 18. And even Penn State insiders admitted privately to doubts that Andress could get the ball to any of a bevy of fleet receivers. Further, everyone knew that running at the Bucks' defense would cause the Penn State offense to self-destruct.
Midway through the first quarter the Lions, thanks to two completed passes, were at the Buckeyes' 26 with a fourth and inches. The try for inches failed, frittering away Great Scoring Chance No. 1.
Early in the second quarter OSU's Herman Jones put a firm tackle on Penn State's Gary Petercuskie. Unfortunately, Petercuskie was trying to catch a Tom Skladany punt at the time, and Jones' effort caused a 15-yard penalty, giving the Lions the ball on the Ohio State 35. Andress, blessed with little natural ability and a passing arm even less distinguished, zinged one 18 yards to Mickey Shuler. Four plays later Penn State had a second and goal on the six when an Andress pass was intercepted by Ray Griffin, Archie's brother, in the end zone. What had Paterno just said to Andress? The obvious, of course: "John, be careful." So long, Great Scoring Chance No. 2.
Whereupon, Ohio State went directly to the other end of the field, thanks mostly to a 48-yard run by a blur later identified as Jeff Logan, who had scored three times the previous Saturday against Michigan State. Fullback Pete Johnson, idle up to now, carried four times in a row for 14 yards—the same Pete Johnson who showed up late at picture day a few weeks ago after Woody had everyone positioned. An irate Hayes rewarded 1975's leading scorer in the nation by kicking his backside as all the others tried to maintain their photo faces.
After Johnson's fourth carry, Gerald ran in on an option from eight yards out, his third TD in two games.
Andress then completed four of five passes, and once again it was first and goal on the five. Two plays later Steve Geise fumbled a pitchout, and OSU's ever-alert Bob Brudzinski ("I've never had a Polish kid," says Woody, "who didn't try like the devil") fell on it. So long, Great Scoring Chance No. 3. Joe Paterno was then heard to mutter his favorite phrase, "Aw, nuts." He really says that.
All that happened in the third quarter was typical Ohio State—three yards and a cloud of divots. For better than eight minutes straight and for nearly 13 of the 15 minutes in the quarter, the Bucks had the ball. But failed to score. Penn State got the ball for a few moments, didn't harm it, and OSU got it right back early in the fourth quarter. Gerald moved the team to the Penn State eight, and on a fourth and one everyone settled back to watch Mr. Automatic, Skladany, wrap up the game with a field goal. Nope. Woody, that old fox, sent Bob Hyatt running in with the play. Hyatt is a reserve wing-back who is so highly regarded that his picture doesn't appear in the OSU press guide. Seconds later he took a pitchout from Gerald and went eight yards for the score. Gerald's two-point conversion run failed. Hyatt's entrance into the game was so surprising that when OSU Offensive Guard Jim Savoca later heard something about giving a game ball to Hyatt, he exclaimed, "Hyatt? What did he do?" What was it that made Woody act like a riverboat gambler? "We thought we could score," he said, explaining everything.
With about 10 minutes to play and the score 12-0, the Penn Staters weren't dead but their skin was taking on a pallor. The ball was on the OSU 43 when Paterno put in second-team Quarterback Chuck Fusina. He took the snap, dropped back and lofted a picture pass into the hands of Tom Donovan in the end zone. Who dropped it. "Aw, nuts," screamed Paterno. Receiver Coach Booker Brooks was especially aggrieved since he has instituted the concept of having all his receivers carry a football with them all through every practice, in the hope that if the object shows up in a game they will recognize it. Anyway, so long, Great Scoring Chance No. 4.
Fusina tried once more, futilely, before Andress came back in. He immediately salvaged a fourth-and-10, and with some classy running and cat catching by Rich Milot the ball got to the one, where freshman gem Matt Suhey carried it across. But time was on the wane and Andress was intercepted by Kelton Dansler on the OSU 45 on Penn State's next try. It was a sad ending for an otherwise superb day for Andress—16 of 29 passes completed for 178 yards. Paterno had predicted that a passing attack of 150 yards and one big play would win the day; there was no big play.
But if all the evidence supports the theory that Penn State had its chances, the facts are Ohio State had the poise and the ability to save its hide. And much of that credit goes to Woody, whose public-relations stance may be somewhat askew but whose won-lost record makes everything O.K. Hayes' logic isn't always straight up, either. The other day, for example, he was defending his closed practices before the Michigan State game by saying, "Any team that doesn't close practice before its first game is plumb crazy." Nobody at Ohio State could recall the last time Hayes made his practices secret before the first game.
Defensive Line Coach Alex Gibbs told a Columbus booster club, after delivering an impassioned oration on Woody's genius, that his boss "stands up for what he believes." Pause. "Of course, he stands a few times when he should sit." But Hayes is brilliant in his fashion. A reporter can set out to discuss football with him and all of a sudden find himself in a discussion about Gestalt theory, recognizing aircraft in World War II and smoke screens.
About 7 a.m. on the day of the Penn State game, Hayes was preparing to take a walk and was musing that "you can really only get a team emotionally high for two or three games a year." And he was talking of Gerald. "We think we have made him relatively mistake proof," he said. "Ohio State quarterbacks don't make mistakes, you know." Which turned out to be generally true. Gerald's only real goof came at the end of the game when officials said he used a shorthand version when he wanted to discuss barnyard manure. The penalty for the brevity was 15 yards.
Woody's morning talk veered to movies. The team had seen The Longest Yard the night before the game; Woody gave it low marks because flicks with the Woody Seal of Approval must not arouse, startle, disturb or have violence or comedy. "Horrid," he said. "I sat there and saw those pretty little coeds listening to stuff like that. We older people have torn these kids apart."
As a recruiter, Hayes is a master, of course, like Paterno and Bear Bryant; as a coach, he pays no attention to the defense, deals only with the offense and, at that, offensive coordinator Ralph Staub sends in most of the plays. But is Woody in charge as he strides through his 26th season at Ohio State? Oh, my, yes. The Buckeyes don't rebuild, they reload. Which sets them apart from most other mortals.
And after he refused to talk to the assembled press following two games in a row, why the conversation this week, Woody? "Because you're such fine fellows." Obviously.