From Michael Rosenberg's 2008 War as They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest:
It was time for Woody Hayes to adjust. Halftime, late October 1967: Hayes' Ohio State Buckeyes trailed Illinois. Hayes stood at the locker-room chalkboard, like any other football coach, to perform the most basic football-coach task: diagramming a play. And Hayes tried, he really did, but then he caught a glimpse of his fullback, Jim Otis, who had fumbled twice in the first half, and suddenly Hayes wanted to smack Otis.
Did it matter that Otis was one of Hayes' favorite players? Or that Otis' father roomed with Hayes for two years at Denison University? Or that Hayes had known Otis for years — and that Otis had spent his whole life preparing to play fullback for Woody at Ohio State?
Hell yes. Of course it mattered. With such close ties to Woody Hayes, Otis knew darn well not to fumble.
Hayes turned and rammed through the first two rows of players, then attacked Otis with such force that Otis' Coke popped up in the air. And as he pounded away, Hayes screamed that Otis would never play for Ohio State again.
The Buckeyes had seen the flash of Hayes' temper many times. Normally, there was a way to prepare for it: make him stand on your right side. Hayes was left-handed. When he stood on your right side, Hayes had to take a step back to throw that left hook, and you had a chance to get out of the way.
But Otis, wedged into the third row, had nowhere to go, and at that moment, so much seemed to be ending. The season was lost — Ohio State's record was about to fall to 2-3. There were rumblings that if Hayes lost the big season finale at Michigan, he would be fired. Otis, a sophomore, thought his career was finished (and in fact, he would be benched for the rest of that Illinois game and the two after that).
Had a picture been taken at that moment — an image frozen and passed around the nation, designed to provoke an instant reaction — most people would have reached quick, obvious conclusions: Hayes and Otis would never speak again; the coach would lose the respect of his players; and the Woody Hayes era at Ohio State would probably end. Every conclusion would have made sense — and every one would have been wrong.
Jim Otis never considered leaving Hayes' program; his love for the coach only grew stronger over time. As for the other players, Hayes sometimes angered them, but he never lost them. His influence on them was overwhelming.
The sheer size of a football team limits individual interactions between the head coach and each player, but Hayes was so powerful in those moments that many Buckeyes would say he was like a second father to them. Hayes insisted that they graduate, and when they did, he coaxed many of them to go to law school. Some players considered him so morally incorruptible that long after they left Ohio State, they feared disappointing him.
Hayes told his players that their closest friends in the world would always be their Ohio State teammates. That was true, but when those friends got together, they inevitably started talking about Hayes so much that they started to sound like him. Hayes had such a profound effect on his players that years after he died, they would often speak of him in the present tense: "Woody has two rules: No drugs and no haters," they would say. Or: "He is the best teacher. When he goes to the board in a classroom, he is magnificent."
And on the topic of endings: The Buckeyes would win their final four games of 1967, saving Hayes' job. From there, they would put together one of the most dominant stretches in football history. And their excellence would trigger the greatest decade in the most storied rivalry in college football.
Nothing ended in that cramped locker room at Ohio Stadium. This was actually one of the great beginnings in the history of sports.
But the Buckeyes could not possibly know that at the time. They just knew the Old Man was ticked off again. And that somebody ought to detach him from Jim Otis.
One of Woody's assistant coaches, Hugh Hindman, pulled him off.
Tags: Woody Hayes, War as They Knew It