Like millions of Americans, I am captivated by the autumnal pull of college football. The crisp cool air, the turning leaves, the thump of pad upon pad, the siren call of homecoming at the alma mater all weave their magic. I spend many Saturday hours inside watching the local heroes on the Big-10 network.
For a while this fall, I considered changing my ways. Big-10 coaches, aside from Iowa’s Saint Kirk Ferentz, were sidling into the morass of impropriety more often associated with lesser conferences. Domestic abuse, players dying during drills, and sundry dirt about recruitment, gut courses and misuse of funds soured me on college football. A reference call at work restored my faith.
The researcher wanted to confirm that Woody Hayes, coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes from 1951 to 1978, visited the Hoover Museum with his team the day before they played Iowa. I was not familiar with this story. My initial research turned up no evidence to support it. Other members of the staff here, with longer institutional memories, were convinced that Hayes brought his team to the museum. One recalled that Hayes, frustrated by the docent’s approach, took over the tour and educated his team on Hoover, American history and their relevance to the next day’s game.
Last week, our staff found a photograph of Woody Hayes and former library director Tom Thalken standing in the Hoover museum. Given the exhibit, Hayes’ checkered suit and Iowa’s football schedule, we were able to surmise that the Hayes’ visit took place in October 1976. Even with this narrowing of the temporal frame, I was unable to find corroborating evidence in local sources. Still, this photograph, linked to what else is known of Woody Hayes—an avid amateur historian, a professor of physical education at OSU known for teaching grammar and vocabulary to his players, and subject of more varied and colorful anecdotes that any football coach—make this mythic story plausible.
I can say with a great deal of confidence that no current Big-10 coach has deigned to bring his team out to the Hoover Museum. Should Jim Harbaugh, Urban Meyer or Scott Frost break this drought of more than forty years, I’ll certainly write a blog about it.