Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Day after Woody’s Last Day

Some of my readers know that one of the greatest experiences of my early adulthood was getting to be friends with Ohio State’s legendary football coach, Woody Hayes.  As a child, I’d been terribly un-athletic (and my brothers always exhibited great sensitivity and understand about that fact), and the fact that I got to hang out and discuss history with a man as famous as Woody put me on cloud nine.  The last day of Woody’s life, he had breakfast at the faculty club, with two Yale PhDs (including Professor Williamson Murray, a man I’d introduced to Woody years before). On the night of March 11, 1987, Woody went to sleep in his own bed and never woke up. I could think of a whole lot worse ways of dying than going out like Woody did.  In the days after Woody’s passing, there was a joke circulated around Columbus that death didn’t dare come for Woody in the day time.  If it had, there would have been one helluva fight.

It was not until later that I learned that Woody had been scheduled to go over to a local elementary school and give a talk to a group of 5th graders on March 12th. That still strikes me as great tribute to Woody’s character.  He genuinely cared about education and young people (or “youngsters” as he had always called them).  The Columbus Dispatch did a photo of the 5th grade class looking sad because they missed their chance to meet Woody.  When word of this got back to Archie Griffin, Ohio State’s legendary 2-time Heisman trophy winner, he went over to the grade school and gave a talk to the kids.  I’m reminded of something Woody once said: “Archie Griffin is finer human being than he is a football player, and he’s the finest football player I’ve ever seen.”

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