Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Woody Hayes’ Sense of Humor

Woody Hayes was notorious for having a hair-trigger temper. Once, Columbus Monthly Magazine posted a short item entitled, “If You Want To Get Punched in the Nose By Woody Hayes, You’re Going To Have to Wait in Line Like Everybody Else.” (Kindly note that they ran this item before he was fired after the 1978 Gator Bowl.) Those of us who knew Woody fairly well recognized that at least 90% of his fits of temper were play-acting. The other 10%, admittedly, caused him some real problems. In the 1968 Ohio State/Michigan game, the Buckeyes gave their archrivals a spectacular whuppin’ with a final score of 50-14. After Ohio State’s last touchdown, the squad responsible for kicking the extra point made a mistake and had to improvise on the point after touchdown play, which failed. After the game, when reporters asked him why he’d gone for two, Woody decided he did not want to embarrass his players after they’d played such a great game, so he growled, “Because I couldn’t go for three!” People who didn’t know Woody thought that he was running up the score, which was not Woody’s style at all.

In the late 1970s, Woody had to have surgery for gall stones. Major abdominal surgery must be a real trauma for a man in his mid-sixties. After the doctors at the Ohio State Medical Center removed the gallstones and sewn Woody back up, they counted the sponges and came up one short. Later that day, the chief of surgery had to visit Woody on his sickbed and endure the embarrassment of telling Woody they were going to have to open up his abdomen a second time. Woody was silent for a moment, then commented wryly, “That’s strange…in 28 years as a football coach, I never made a mistake.”

The reader can answer for themselves how much they would sue the hospital for. Woody wouldn’t give the matter a second thought. He really loved Ohio State. Once, one of his players kidded Woody that he would never retire and that he would, no doubt, die standing on the sideline of an Ohio State/Michigan game with the score in the Buckeyes’ favor. And if Ohio State wasn’t winning, he wouldn’t die. Woody thought that was hilarious and later retold that joke at a sports banquet. People from outside Columbus thought that Coach Hayes was serious and concluded that Woody had completely lost his mind.

I’m very proud to say that I once had the priceless experience of telling a Woody story to Woody himself. The story that I told Woody was that, one night, Woody was walking across campus when a student came rushing out of a dorm. He said, “Coach Hayes, can you help us? There’s a kid on the roof threatening to jump. Woody immediately runs to the roof where, indeed, there was a kid standing on the ledge.

Coach Hayes said, “Look, son. Don’t do anything rash. Think of this wonderful institution you’re attending.”

The kid replied that he was flunking out.

“Well,” Woody said. “Think of the people who care about you. Your parents. Your friends.”

The kid said, “Why do you think I’m here?”

Woody said, “Okay, so things aren’t too good for you here or at home. But I’ll bet you that this year, the Buckeyes will go undefeated, win the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl and are named National Champions. Won’t that be terrific?”

To which the kid replies, “I’m a Michigan fan.”

At that point, Woody Hayes interrupted my telling of the story to shout, “Jump, you little sonofabitch! Jump!”

That's Woody in the center during World War II.

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