Time and Change is a weekly series highlighting the history of some of Ohio State's storied traditions.
Designed in 1950 by comic artist Milton Caniff, the Buckeye Leaf stickers were placed on Ohio State football helmets starting in 1968 as a reward system for big plays on the field. Legend has it, the idea for the helmet stickers was developed by athletic trainer Ernie Biggs, and Woody Hayes put it into effect.
Hayes was selective in handing out Buckeye Leaves, and when he did, it made for an exciting event at the first team meeting of the week.
Though widely debated, Ohio State established itself as the first football team to utilize the helmet sticker. Other schools such as Florida State and Clemson have adopted the idea, but nothing quite compares to the look of the often-mischaracterized leaves on silver helmets.
Not much is publicly known about Earle Bruce or John Cooper’s specific Buckeye Leaf criteria, but changes were made to the helmet stickers under Jim Tressel. They were considerably smaller and the criteria favored a team approach over individual plays. You can find the full list of Tressel's criteria here.
Handing out the Buckeye leaves was not as exhilarating as previously done by Woody Hayes. Tressel would give a list of sticker recipients to staff to place on their helmets. The players were able to keep track of how many Buckeye leaves they earned based on a chart in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center, potentially creating some friendly competition amongst the team.
Urban Meyer offered some insight into his system for awarding Buckeye Leaves when a 7-year-old fan asked him what the decals on the helmets were.
They are stickers and each one means the player did something really good to help the Buckeyes win! Thanks for being a fan, Hannah!! Go Bucks! https://t.co/m9k853afqU— Urban Meyer (@CoachUrbanMeyer) January 3, 2019
Approximately 45 leaves can fit on each side of the helmet. Players receive one Buckeye leaf for each win, two for a conference win and three for a win against Michigan, plus additional leaves for individual accomplishments. No helmet stickers are given out after a loss.
The tradition continues on with Ryan Day as head coach, and this season, players are already filling their helmets with the iconic Buckeye leaves.
These helmet decals have become a central component of the Ohio State football uniform, and one of the traditions that should stick around for decades to come.