Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Two Old Friends

Almost everyone has dreams of being rich, famous, or powerful, but I can only imagine what it must be like if you’re in that position knowing that a great many of the people you encounter are trying to get something from you. Clear back in 1957, then-Vice President Nixon met a man with whom he became friends who told him, “I’ll never ask you for anything.” That man was Woody Hayes (I heard that story straight from Woody’s lips).

Woody was every bit as good as his word. The two maintained a friendship for the rest of Woody’s life. I once heard Woody say he knew more about foreign policy than Nixon did, but Nixon knew more about football than Woody did. It’s entirely possible that both statements are true. Thirty years later, Nixon spoke at Woody’s funeral. He said, “When I met Woody, I wanted to talk football and he wanted to talk foreign policy. [pause] You know Woody—we talked foreign policy.”

While reading yesterday, I came across a story that made my jaw go slack. A few days before the 1976 Rose Bowl, Nixon sent Woody two dozen roses, along with a note saying OSU needed 24 points to beat UCLA (as well as complete an undefeated season and win the mythical national championship). Nixon’s note proved prescient: UCLA won that game 23-12.

Woody must have been devastated by the loss. He knew in his heart of hearts that would be his last chance for a national championship. He stayed in coaching for another two years, which turned out to be a mistake.

A postscript to that story: What, might you ask, did Woody do with the two dozen roses? He drove over to University Hospital and gave them away to 24 different patients. For the benefit of my readers who don’t give a hoot about football, maybe that will give you a small understanding about why so many people in Columbus loved Woody.

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