Fellow Buckeye fans, I am proud to say that I knew Woody Hayes fairly well. I first met him when I was five years old, and when I met him at an OSU Faculty Club banquet my father took me to. I got to know him better when I was in graduate school, after his coaching days were over. The last time I saw Woody, he was rehabbing his right arm after suffering a stroke. I said to him, “Coach, I’ve always loved you like a favorite uncle.” He just smiled. Woody’s been gone for more than twenty-five years now, but I still treasure the times I spent with him. From time to time, I thought it might be fun to share some of my stories about him for anyone who might be interested. (In case you are curious, you can find these and several hundred more stories about culture and law and movies and the military at my blog, Mitchell's Ramblings.)
Woody Hayes and Butterflies
As I have mentioned many times, I knew Woody Hayes fairly well, and I learned something from him that I find useful in counseling the clients I assist in obtaining personal protection orders. Many of these clients have suffered terrible abuse, and are therefore fearful about appearing in court. On those occasions, I am quite fond of sharing a bit of wisdom that Woody Hayes often imparted to players before big games, knowing that even the toughest and most talented teenage boy was likely to be experiencing severe stage fright at the prospect of taking the field in front of 85,000 screaming fans, and possibly a nationwide television audience.
He would ask them, “Do you have butterflies in your stomach?” Upon hearing “yes,” he would reply: “Great. Tell them to fly in formation.” I’m happy to say that I have quoted Woody on a couple of dozen occasions now, and it always seems to help. So thanks, Woody.
Visiting Woody’s Grave
On occasion, I pass Riverside Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Last week, I dropped by Section 12 to pay my respects to my old friend Woody Hayes and his wife Ann. That experience brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eye. It has been over thirty years since Woody coached his last game for Ohio State, and over twenty-two since he died. He still has a whole lot of friends in Columbus. Woody and Ann’s grave site invariably looks like an Ohio State gift shop. This week, I counted an American flag, a small Ohio State banner, a tiny scarlet and gray teddy bear and a couple of buckeyes were placed atop his tombstone. On this day, someone had spelled out O-H-I-O in pennies on the tombstone.
I remember the last time I ever saw Woody, and in part of my mind, I felt Woody was immortal. My realistic side told me he was a frail, 73-year-old man who was clearly not long for this world. Before I left, I managed to say, “Coach, I’ve always loved you like a favorite uncle.”
I still remember how Woody smiled that day and I’ve always been glad I managed to say that to him before it was too late.
Rest in peace, Woody.
In the early 1980s, when I would visit Woody Hayes in his office in the ROTC building, he would sometimes read to me from a book he was working that he intended to title History, Football and Woody Hayes. One of the first players he ever coached at New Philadelphia High School, back in the late 1930s, was a big fellow named Monk and the youngster played center on the offensive line. During World War II, Monk became a medic in the Army and served in the China/Burma/India theater with Merrill’s Marauders. One night, he heard someone scream “Medic!” I can only imagine the kind of courage it would take for a man to run right into the line of fire, following the sound of the man’s voice. Those who haven’t been in combat likely don’t understand the courage that takes.
That night, Monk saw moonlight gleam off of the blade of a Japanese bayonet. A Japanese solder had been yelling, “Medic!” in an attempt to trap him. Unfortunately for that particular soldier, Monk had extremely fast reflexes. Although he took a terrible gash from that bayonet, he knocked the Japanese soldier down and grabbed him by the neck and squeezed and squeezed and squeezed. At sunrise, Monk’s buddies found him in the jungle, still squeezing that Japanese soldier’s neck. After that experience, Monk told his buddies that if they were hit, they should yell, “Monk.” If he didn’t hear the genuine call of an American in need, he wasn’t going to come out.
Woody Hayes, Anglophile
My English readers might be interested to know that my old friend, the late Woody Hayes, was an extraordinary Anglophile. Indeed, he once tried to motivate his players with a halftime speech describing Admiral Nelson’s death at Trafalgar. That didn’t go over well. A great many of the players had trouble keeping from laughing. When Woody’s old friend, Paul Horning, (about the only journalist Woody ever had any use for), told Woody that he planned to write a biography about him, Woody barked, “fine, so long as you do it like Cromwell’s.”
When Horning asked what Woody meant by that, Woody replied, “Do it warts and all.” In 1977, the BBC did a twenty-part documentary entitled, “The Americans,” and made Woody one of the subjects. They must have had trepidation, as Woody had a prickly reputation with the press. To the surprise of just about everyone in the American sporting press, Woody assented, along with a comment that he had always respected the British for the courage they’d shown in both World Wars and especially Air Marshall Dowding’s courage during the Battle of Britain.