Double-Secret Rose Bowl Probation

By 11W Staff on November 26, 2008 at 2:00p
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Ohio State just finished pasting Michigan, and even though some folks can’t seem to grasp the logic, the Buckeyes can enjoy a shared Big Ten title, if not a trip to the Rose Bowl. Since Penn State has won that honor fair-and-square, let’s take a look back at another Ohio State team that didn’t get to go to the Rose Bowl: Woody Hayes’ 1961 Buckeyes.

Despite the weather, Hayes found himself on the hot seat

In 1959, Woody Hayes was coming off a horrible 3-5-1 season and a 23-14 loss to Michigan. Feeling a bit of heat from the locals, he felt inspired to make a promise at a boosters’ luncheon:

“I guarantee [a championship] in two years. If I don’t bring you a championship then, this is no place for Woody Hayes.”

What did Hayes have up his sleeve? He had a loaded freshman team that exploded in 1961, going 8-0-1. The Buckeyes stumbled out of the gate, tying TCU 7-71 in the season opener in Columbus, but then went on a tear, outscoring their remaining opponents 164-56 before visiting Ann Arbor for the traditional season-ending clash with Michigan. Ohio State needed a win over the Wolverines and a Minnesota upset of Wisconsin in order to secure an undisputed Big Ten title and a trip to the Rose Bowl.

The 1961 Buckeyes may well have been the third-best team Hayes had in his 27 years at Ohio State. The offense was led by a brilliant backfield comprised of quarterback Joe Sparma, fullback Bob Ferguson (who would finish second in the Heisman race to Syracuse’s Ernie Davis) and sophomore halfbacks Paul Warfield and Matt Snell (Warfield and Snell went on to the NFL and played for Super Bowl-winning teams). The offensive line featured two first-round picks in the 1962 NFL draft, and the defense was solid, if unspectacular (this guy was a linebacker). Some guy named Bo was also around as an assistant coach.

The team rolled into Ann Arbor and racked up 512 yards of offense, blowing open a tight game in the fourth quarter by scoring four times. The 1961 tilt was also one of the first times Woody showed his nasty streak: leading 42-20 with just 34 seconds left in the game, Woody elected not to sit on the ball. Sparma’s ensuing bomb to Warfield went for 70 yards (you can see that glorious bomb at the 0:36 mark here). Ohio State scored a touchdown as time expired, but that still wasn’t enough: Woody went for two, and made the final score 50-20. Flush with victory, more good news met the Buckeyes as they entered the locker room after the game: the Gophers had upset Bucky, and Ohio State seemed poised to play for a national championship in Pasadena against UCLA – a team Ohio State had beaten 13-3 earlier in the season.

But Ohio State never boarded the plane for California. The contract between the Big Ten Conference and the Rose Bowl had expired in 1960, but that didn’t matter – Minnesota had played in Pasadena the year before, even without a contract – so the Rose Bowl offered the game to the Buckeyes. Woody’s Buckeyes weren’t at the mercy of a Rose Bowl contract; they would be undermined by their own faculty.

Before decals, there was the bumper stripe

Never in love with Hayes, nor with the power and prestige Ohio State football enjoyed in Columbus, the Ohio State University faculty voted 28-25 to decline the Rose Bowl’s offer, thus denying the Buckeyes any chance to play for, and win, a national championship: the trip went to Big Ten also-ran Minnesota instead. The faculty professed several reasons for their decision: some faculty felt that since classes would begin the day after the game, making the trip was a slap in the face of the university’s educational mission; others felt that the expense of transporting the team, boosters, officials, cheerleaders and band took valuable funds away from more important programs. Underneath the stated reasons for the vote lay the simmering dissatisfaction on the part of some faculty members with Hayes, and the football leviathan he had built at Ohio State.

When news of the vote hit, campus exploded. Thousands of students engaged in two days of rioting and protests, including an impromptu four-mile march to the Ohio Statehouse. Legislators railed, the Dispatch published the names and addresses of faculty members who voted to decline the Rose Bowl invitation2, and the Ohio State campus descended into lawlessness. City, state and local police had to be called in to quell the disturbances.

It was in this environment that Woody Hayes had one of his finest moments. As incensed as he was, he asked for quiet on campus, and publicly stated his obeisance to the faculty decision. In a move that must have crushed the competitive coach, Hayes defended the faculty’s decision:

“I don’t agree with those 28 ‘no’ votes, but I respect the integrity of the men who cast them, if not their intelligence. I would not want football to draw a line of cleavage in our university. Football is not worth that.”

The Football Writers Association of America went ahead and named Ohio State the 1961 national champion, but Hayes paid a steep price for doing the right thing. Opposing coaches used the faculty’s vote against him in the recruiting process, and Ohio State descended into several years of relative mediocrity; recruits stayed away from Columbus for fear of missing out on publicity. It wasn’t until 1968 that Hayes’ program fully recovered from the ramifications of the infamous 1961 faculty decision, but when it did, there was hell to pay.

So let Penn State enjoy their trip to Pasadena. When their fans gloat about it, you can rest in the sanctimonious glow of one whose team once turned the trip down.

1 Ohio State fans should hate the Horned Frogs. Not only did the inexplicable 7-7 tie with TCU stand as the only mar on the 1961 Buckeyes’ record, but it was TCU who beat Ohio State in Columbus in 1957. Their 18-14 victory was the only loss suffered by Woody Hayes’ consensus 1957 national championship team.
2 Blogs are so juvenile!

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