Memories of Woody: The Legend
By Tony Gerdeman
Last Thursday would have been Woody Hayes' 100th birthday. It should have come as no surprise then that many on our forum began sharing their stories of meeting Woody, as well as the impact that he had on their lives.
The stories were a glimpse into the everyday ordinary life for Woody, but anything but ordinary for those who were fortunate enough to encounter him. They showed a man who lived up to his billing, as well as one who was as down to earth as any before him.
The stories were so good that we wanted to share them with everybody, but there were so many that we're going to have to spread them out a bit.
Today, we'll start with Woody Hayes the legend. Larger than life, and leaving an indellible mark upon those whom he touched, no matter how briefly.
Our family grew up with season football tickets in the 1960s & 1970s and we all revered Coach Hayes.
I attended tOSU in the early 1980s. Woody was obviously no longer the head football coach but he still maintained an office on campus in the ROTC building and kept a reasonably strong profile around campus.
My brother is several years older than me and was already out of college and into a teaching/coaching career. He was probably about 26 at the time. One year, I decided that for his birthday, I would give him a nice autographed WW Hayes football.
Everything went according to plan. I went to the Lane Avenue Agler Davidson and bought a nice new Rawlings football. Then, I proceeded to Woody’s office to get it signed. The secretary was very nice and asked me to wait for a few minutes while Coach Hayes finished up a phone call.
It was those few minutes of waiting that ultimately contributed to my demise. As I sat there waiting, I thought that the great Coach would be more likely to grant my autograph request if I told him the ball was for my Dad...you know, kind of like from one old geezer to another.
So armed with that idea, I was ushered into Woody’s office. I said “Hi Coach Hayes, pleasure to meet you. Could you sign this ball for my Dad? It’s a birthday gift”. Woody said “Sure, what’s your Dad’s name?”. I told him my brother’s name and Woody wrote “To XXXX”. Then Woody said “How old is your Father?”.
This question threw me for a loop. There are three potential answers to that question: #1) “My Father is 26 years old”....no, that didn’t seem like the right response; #2) “My Father is 58”...ummm, obviously, if I say this, I’m going to be giving my brother a football that says “Happy 58th Birthday”; #3) “I don’t know”.
I choose #3. It was a bad choice. Woody looked up from the ball with a very agitated expression. He took off his glasses and threw them across his desk and onto the floor. “You don’t know how old your OWN FATHER IS? The man who sends you to the greatest university in the WORLD?”...etc, etc, it went on like this for what seemed like several minutes.
Finally, Coach Hayes reached into his desk drawer and fished out another pair of glasses. He finished signing the ball and fired it across the desk to me. “Young man, you go home and find out how old your Father is” were his parting words. I left with my tail between my legs.
My family has now been laughing and telling this story for years — the time I got chewed out by the great Woody Hayes.
One day at band practice it was raining and as Woody walked by someone yelled, "Hey Woody, make it stop raining." He turned and looked at the sky behind the band. I am sure he saw the sun about to poke out behind a cloud, and pointed at it. All the band knew is that he pointed over our heads and the sun came out. The band went crazy.
My family was quite close to one of the assistants in the mid 1970s, so I had the opportunity to spend time around the team and the coaches. Any time I was on the field before the game or in the locker room after, if Coach Hayes saw me, he would recognize me and make reference to our mutual friend.
I would see him more frequently at the Jai Lai, where he would eat almost every night, sitting at the same table. Of course I would find reasons to run to the bathroom, just to go by his table, and every time he'd recognize me and have me sit with him. It didn't matter if he was with another coach, a recruit, or even a player, he'd spend a few minutes with me.
He always asked about my family, and he'd always ask me how I was doing in school. He told me to study hard and to stay out of trouble. Every time. He'd also have me introduce myself to his guest, which was quite intimidating to a young kid. Woody loved the Jai Lai.
On this day in 1982 or 1983, I was in the OSU Marching Band. Loved it! That quarter I was playing in the basketball band (Eldon Miller - what a coach!) and we were informed that we needed a small group of us as a pep band to play for Woody.
So that morning we walked from the bandroom to the ROTC building where his office was. Somebody told Woody to come to his window and we played 'Happy Birthday'.
We ended up going up to his office. There were at least 10 of us. In the room was Archie, and Art Schlichter (who I didn't recognize at first). Jimmy Crum was there also. We were only in his office 10-15 minutes as it was quite crowded with that number of people in there. But while we were there Bo called to talk to Woody. I remember that they talked about a recruit that Bo had gotten (Woody didn't mention his name) and that Bo would lose a game (also didn't say to whom).
Didn't know how special that was back then.
One day in about 1975, I was walking by the library with my future wife and a few of her female friends. Woody was walking by and appeared lost in thought. The girls said in unison, "Hi, Woody!" He immediately perked up and with a twinkle in his eye responded, "Hi, girls."
My brief, inconsequential, Woody Hayes story. I believe it was 1979, may have been 1980. My brother-in-law was working as a janitor in St. John Arena and smuggled me into the basketball game against Indiana.
It was the game where Carter Scott twisted his ankle horribly (thought for sure it was broken, after seeing it hanging at a 90-degree angle from about 20 feet away), and some IU player (Mike Woodson?) went off for about 30 points.
Anyways, about an hour before game time my bro-in-law was giving me the grand tour of all the nooks and crannies and secret passageways that most people know nothing of. We were going up a freight elevator.
The door opened to a concrete floor with stacks of books right and left. I was thinking this must be where the library sorts through contributions or something. Then I noticed football games and players' framed pictures on the walls, and a spartanesque, 1950s style heavy metal desk about ten feet in front of me.
Sitting behind the desk was none other than Wayne Woodrow Hayes, reading a book. He looked up and must have noticed a teenager with his jaw about to hit the floor. He just smiled warmly and gently nodded his head in our direction.
The elevator door shut and we continued on, my brother-in-law giggling and me in total shock.
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