OHIO STATE’S GREATEST DRIVE #11
In 1955, Ohio State had followed up their national championship season of ’54 with another outright Big Ten title, although they were denied a second straight Rose Bowl trip due to the league’s “no repeat” rule. “Hop” Cassady had won the school’s third Heisman Trophy, and things couldn’t have been any better for Woody Hayes and his charges. But the high times were about to end.
While talking to Sports Illustrated writer Robert Shaplen for an article that appeared in the magazine’s October 24th, 1955 issue, Woody had mentioned that he loaned some of the $4,000 he received from his TV show to his players for travel expenses, clothing and other non-luxurious needs. Although Hayes felt he was only trying to help those on his team who weren’t as well off, the tone of Shaplen’s text made it sound more devious-
“Once signed, a recruit can count on some financial help from Hayes if he is “in need”. Woody insists that he never forks up for a luxury- another narrow line- but it’s certainly also true that he makes sure he won’t lose any valuable men by financial default.”
Once the story was public, the Faculty Council began to investigate the loans. This prompted an additional probe by the Big Ten, which turned up more dirt. Apparently Buckeye gridders involved in the athletic job program were being paid up front for those jobs, then either paying back the money later (or working it off), or not repaying anything. The conference looked into the matters for six months, and on April 26, 1956 commissioner “Tug” Wilson announced Ohio State would be placed on probation for one year, which included a ban on playing in the Rose Bowl. The Bucks would have to be content with shooting for an unprecedented third straight outright Big Ten championship.
OSU went 2-1 in the non-conference, dropping a 7-6 heartbreaker to Penn State. Both teams had scored their only touchdowns in the last 4 minutes of the defensive struggle, but a missed extra point cost the Buckeyes the ballgame. Their fortunes had been better in league play, though. Ohio State had entered the season with 13 straight Big Ten wins, only 2 short of Michigan’s record of 15 wins over the 1946-47-48 era. The Bucks knocked off Illinois, Wisconsin, Northwestern and Indiana to set a new school and conference record of 17 consecutive league triumphs, and only Iowa and Michigan stood between them and three straight years of monopolizing the Big Ten rings. But in Iowa City on November 17th, the Hawkeyes scored on a third quarter touchdown pass and held on to upset the Buckeyes 6-0, ending the streak and propelling themselves into the outright title. (OSU’s 17-game stretch of Big 10 victories remains a record to this day, equaled only by the Bucks themselves from 1967-69). The Scarlet and Gray didn’t recover by the next Saturday as Michigan blanked them 19-0. It marked the first time a Woody Hayes-coached team had lost two in a row, and the Bucks hadn’t been shutout back-to-back since 1947.
Ohio State was back in the Big Ten’s good graces for the 1957 season, but were picked to be nothing more than a first-division finisher for the league crown. The competition figured to be stiff as the preseason AP poll had four Big Ten schools in the Top 10- Michigan State (#3), Minnesota (#4), Michigan (#6) and Iowa (#9). The Hawkeyes’ position was somewhat surprising considering they had all but 4 players back who had started the Rose Bowl win over Oregon State the previous January. The Bucks came in at #17, but after the opener against TCU even that looked way off base. OSU had overcome a 90-yard punt return for a score by future Cleveland Brown Jim Shofner (still the longest punt-return TD by a Buckeye opponent in the modern era) to lead 14-12, but the Horned Frogs scored in the third period to take an 18-14 lead and that’s how it ended. It was Woody’s first loss in an opener, the teams’ first opening day defeat since 1950, and now the Bucks’ overall losing streak had reached three, something that hadn’t happened since 1943. The next week in Seattle, the Buckeyes had gone to the half tied at 7 with Washington, but then the entire season seemed to turn as halfback Don Sutherin brought a Huskie punt back 81 yards for the touchdown that ignited a 35-7 win. The momentum carried over into Big Ten play as Illinois (21-7) and Indiana (56-0) were knocked off. On October 26th in Madison, OSU trailed 13-0 but came back to drop the Badgers 16-13. Ara Parseghian’s Northwestern squad was an easy Homecoming victim 47-6 (is it any wonder Ara used to badmouth Ohio State every chance he got when he was at CBS?) and then Purdue was handled 20-7. The Iowa Hawkeyes were next up for Ohio State and a check of the conference standings told you all you needed to know-
Ohio State 5-0 6-0
Iowa 4-0-1 6-0-1
Michigan State 4-1 6-1
Iowa’s tie had come against Michigan on November 2nd (21-21), and the Hawkeyes were seething over a national magazine’s insinuation that they had “quit” at the end of the game when they got the ball back with three minutes to go and hadn’t opened up the offense. Michigan State’s only loss had come against Purdue but heading into play on November 16th, the Spartans were actually ranked #4 in the AP, with Iowa at #5 and the Buckeyes at #6. MSU would be facing Minnesota while the Bucks and Hawks tangled, and for Iowa and Michigan State it would be their Big Ten finales while Ohio State, of course, still had “THE Game” left to play.
For OSU it was simple- beat Iowa and pack your bags for Pasadena. The Hawkeyes were out of the Rose Bowl picture but could lay claim to an outright league title with a win in Columbus. The Spartans hadn’t played either Iowa or Ohio State in ’57, plus they had scheduled one less Big Ten game than Ohio State. MSU’s only Rose Bowl scenario was to beat Minnesota while the Buckeyes lost their last two games.
Needless to say, the buildup in Columbus that week was typical of Michigan week, and the game had the nation’s attention as well. At the beginning of the ’57 season, Vice-President Richard Nixon had expressed his interest to Ohio Senator John Bricker of catching a Big Ten game at Ohio Stadium. When the senator handed Nixon a schedule and offered an invitation to any home contest, Nixon immediately picked the Iowa game.
The excitement surrounding the contest was tempered somewhat around Buckeye Nation by the team’s injury situation. Starting halfback Don Clark, the team’s leading rusher and scorer, had pulled a groin muscle in the first quarter against Purdue and sat out the rest of the game. Clark’s backup, Don Sutherin, who also handled punting and kicking chores, hadn’t been available at all against the Boilers due to a sprained ankle. And halfback Joe Cannavino also went down in the Purdue game with an ankle sprain in the first period. Compounding all this uncertainty in the backfield, Iowa had been the country’s #1 team against the run up until their 44-20 win over Minnesota the previous week. The Gophers had rushed for 223 yards, which dropped the Hawks to second in the nation in run defense, but this served as little consolation to the offensive coaches.
Sutherin was back at practice on Monday, but all week Clark was unable to do anything but jog lightly. Finally on Thursday, Hayes closed practice so he could find out which of his backs could run. Sutherin was ready, Cannavino would dress but not play much, but worst of all Clark was ruled out. Since the Buckeyes would still be able to go to the Rose Bowl by beating Michigan even if they lost to Iowa, it was decided that Clark would sit.
As gametime neared, the city was at a fever pitch. The Big Ten title and Rose Bowl were on the line against a team that had ended Ohio State’s record Big Ten winning streak the year before. The 6-0 loss had left a sour taste in OSU’s mouth, especially over the Hawkeyes’ playing field. Iowa coach Forest Evashevski had let the Kinnick Stadium grass grow noticeably long to try and slow the Buckeye running game. Woody Hayes had threatened to get a lawn mower and cut it himself, prompting Evashevski to call Hayes “a disgrace to football”. Supreme efforts had been made by both coaching staffs to keep the two head men apart. Throw this bad blood into a game with all the marbles at stake and it’s little wonder that the Ohio Stadium press box was bulging with its largest media contingent ever. Over 400 reporters from all over the country had gathered, and although the only television coverage was a closed circuit broadcast back to Des Moines, there were FIVE different Columbus radio stations airing the game.
An “official” record crowd of 82,935 packed the Horseshoe for the 1:30 kickoff. (The “unofficial” attendance record of 90,437 had been set in 1926 for the TBGUN matchup, but the figure was a guess at best- fans had broken down gates to get in.) OSU received the kickoff, and on the game’s first play halfback Joe Trivisonno, who had been moved from fullback on Tuesday in practice, broke loose around left end for 30 yards to the Buckeye 48. If there was any question how physical this game would be, it was answered right away as Iowa’s Mike Hagler lost 3 front teeth making a diving tackle on Trivisonno. And if there was doubt about what this contest meant, that was erased as Hagler returned to the lineup and ended up carrying 7 times for 49 yards.
Co-captain Galen Cisco, who would go on to a 40-year career in Major League Baseball, immediately pounded for 10 and just like that OSU was at the Iowa 42. The Bucks churned to the 24, then Trivisonno hammered over left tackle for 13 to the Hawks’ 11. Dick LeBeau picked up 3, but then after keeping the ball exclusively on the ground the entire drive, quarterback Frank Kremblas went airborne. Co-captain Leo Brown caught a pass out of the endzone, and a third down throw for Jim Houston was knocked down. Don Sutherin came on to boot a field goal from the 15 and less than 5 minutes in Ohio State led 3-0, but Buckeye partisans were questioning the wisdom of the two passes when the ground game had made hay early.
Iowa’s first possession began at their 34, and they mixed the running of quarterback Randy Duncan and halfbacks Bill Happel and William Gravel to advance to OSU’s 8. On second-and-goal, Duncan fired to end Bob Prescott for the touchdown to cap off the 10-play march and give Iowa a 6-3 lead, which is where it stayed as Prescott’s point-after attempt sailed wide.
The Hawkeyes forced a punt, which Mike Hagler-minus the three teeth- returned to the Ohio State 35. Hagler picked up two on a reverse, then Duncan hooked up with his favorite receiver, Jim Gibbons, for 18 to the Buckeye 15. Gibbons, whose 17-yard touchdown catch had accounted for the only points in Iowa’s 6-0 upset over OSU in ’56, had tied an Iowa record with 9 receptions the previous week against Minnesota. The 164 yards Gibbons put up with the nine grabs set a school record which stood until 1980. With the Hawkeyes knocking on the door, the Scarlet and Gray defense rose to the challenge, forcing a Kevin Furlong fumble which Jim Houston recovered at OSU’s 21.
Woody Hayes had taken note of the passing game failures on the opening drive, so now with the momentum of Houston’s fumble recovery, General Hayes kept things landlocked. Bob White, who had started the season at center but was playing more and more fullback, carried on 4 of 6 running plays as the Buckeyes moved to Iowa’s 48 early in the second period. With the Hawkeye defense keying on White, Frank Kremblas faked to him and kept for 14 and a first down at the Iowa 38. Three more rushes moved the chains to the 26, then Kremblas rolled out for 11 more to the Old Gold and Black 15. Bob White hit for 4 and again for 3, then Kremblas faked once more to White and drove for 4, giving the Bucks a first-and-goal at the 4. Dick LeBeau picked up 3, then it was Kremblas on a sneak for the score, his sixth touchdown of the season. Sutherin booted the PAT and the 79-yard drive of 16 straight running plays put the Bucks out front 10-6.
Iowa came right back, sparked by “Marvelous” Mike Hagler, who returned the ensuing kickoff 37 yards to his own 46, then circled left end on the next snap for 22 to the Ohio 32. On first down William Gravel coughed up the ball and Jim Houston recovered at the Buckeye 40, but Ohio State was penalized for being offsides and the Hawkeyes were off the hook. Two plays later Canton, Ohio native John Nocera went over right tackle for 12 and a first down at the Bucks’ 13. Hagler drove over the left side for 7 and Gravel gained 1, bringing up a third-and-2 situation from OSU’s 5. Gravel got the call, but once more he fumbled. The football rolled all the way back to the 23, where Leo Brown picked it up and raced the remaining 77 yards into the endzone. However, in 1957, a fumble couldn’t be advanced so the ball came back to the Buckeye 23. A clipping penalty thwarted Ohio State’s efforts so Kremblas came in to punt. Gravel gathered it in at his 30 but was drilled by three scarlet shirts and fumbled yet again, with OSU recovering at Iowa’s 21. Within a five-minute span Gravel had put the pigskin on the ground three times, which was probably no surprise to Iowa fans who had seen their team fumble 19 times coming into the game, with 12 being recovered by the opposition.
It looked as if the Buckeyes would waste the golden opportunity as a delay of game penalty and a 5-yard loss by Frank Kremblas while recovering his own fumble brought up a 3rd-and-18 from the Hawkeye 29. Woody Hayes hadn’t called a pass play since the two goal-to-go incompletions on OSU’s opening drive, but now he ordered one up and Kremblas fired to Dick LeBeau for a huge 22-yard pickup to the Iowa 7. The next three plays only produced 3 yards, so Kremblas lined up for a field goal. The snap from center was short so holder Dick LeBeau tried to run but was stopped for no gain. Iowa ran out the clock and the Buckeye lead remained 10-6 at halftime.
The Hawkeyes took the second half kickoff and worked out to their 48 with a ground attack, but as soon as Randy Duncan went to the air disaster struck as his pass deflected off Bob Prescott’s fingers and was intercepted by Galen Cisco. The Bucks couldn’t get going and Kremblas punted out of bounds at Iowa’s 30. Duncan then engineered an 11-play march, hooking up with receiver Jim Gibbons 3 times for 29 yards. Don Horn added a 15-yard run and William Gravel barreled off left tackle on an 11-yard scamper that put the ball at the Buckeye 1. Duncan did the honors with a sneak and after Prescott’s PAT the Hawkeyes led 13-10 with 5:39 left in the third quarter.
The Bucks launched their next drive from their own 25, but two incompletions brought up a quick 3rd-and-10 play. Kremblas kept the drive alive, hitting Joe Cannavino for 16 and a first down. Bob White plowed up the middle for 30 big yards to put the ball at Iowa’s 29. Five running plays put the ball at the 13, where it was 2nd-and-7. Back in the first quarter, Jim Houston had recovered a Kevin Furlong fumble when the Hawkeyes were at the OSU 15. Now from almost the same spot, Kremblas threw towards Houston in the endzone but Furlong picked it off and brought it out to the 22. It was the first interception Ohio State had thrown all season and the timing couldn’t have been worse. Iowa ran one play to milk the rest of the third-quarter clock, and with 15 minutes to go Forest Evashevski’s troops held on to their 13-10 advantage.
There was no “Hang On Sloopy” in 1957 to rally the team and crowd before the fourth quarter, but something clicked immediately for the Scarlet and Gray as Dick LeBeau intercepted a Randy Duncan pass at the OSU 41. Two Bob White plunges moved the ball into Iowa territory but the drive fizzled and Kremblas’ punt was downed at the Hawkeye 6 with 12:09 to play. Iowa’s ground game punched the ball out to the 20, but Duncan was buried by Bob White for a monster 13-yard loss which effectively halted the march. Iowa punted for the first time all day, and in fact it was the first Hawkeye punt since the Michigan game two weeks previously. John Nocera’s kick was fielded by Joe Cannavino, and he was brought down at the Ohio State 32. There was 7:51 left in the game and 68 yards stood between the Buckeyes and a trip to Pasadena.
Bob White plowed over right tackle for 4, then dragged several Iowa tacklers with him on a 9-yard romp, giving OSU a first down at their own 45. Sticking with the old adage “You dance with who ya brung” (apologies to my English teachers), Kremblas sent White over left guard and the Covington, Kentucky native broke out for 29 yards and a first down at the Hawkeye 26. Ohio Stadium was going absolutely bananas as Dick LeBeau gave White a breather and hit the same hole at left guard for 3 yards.
Bob White picked up 5 more and for the first time on the drive the Buckeyes faced a third down. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what to do- White drove for 10, giving the Bucks a 1st-and-goal at the 8. Once more White got the call and blasted for 5. Legend has it that in the huddle Frank Kremblas asked White, “Got anything left, Bob?” to which the big redhead simply nodded. Kremblas handed to White who hammered in for the go-ahead score- the fourth time the lead had changed hands in the ballgame. Don Sutherin converted and the Buckeyes lead 17-13 with 3:53 left as the record crowd shook the ‘Shoe to its foundation.
It was now up to the defense as Iowa took over at their 25. Several thousand hearts moved into their owners’ throats as Randy Duncan hit Don Norton for 16 and Jim Gibbons for 12 to put Iowa at the OSU 47. On the next play, Duncan went on top again but Bill Jobko, who would be named Ohio State’s team MVP at season’s end, intercepted the pass while falling backward at the Buckeye 33. After his heroics at fullback, Bob White actually moved back to center and led Kremblas on three straight quarterback sneaks. With the clock down to 36 seconds, Kremblas punted to Iowa’s 31. Three Duncan aerials fell incomplete and the Buckeyes were Big Ten champions and had punched their ticket to the Rose Bowl. The fans stormed the field, tearing down both goalposts and carrying Bob White off the field. White finished the day with 157 yards on 22 carries, two more than Iowa’s entire rushing total for the game.
The Buckeye locker room was in bedlam. There was a brief moment of calm as OSU legend “Chic” Harley addressed the squad, but shortly after that Hayes was thrown fully clothed into the showers. His troops were outright Big Ten champions for the third time in four years, and it was the first (and to date only) time that Ohio State had lost their opening game and won out. And for the first time since the Big Ten and Pac-10 had entered into the new Rose Bowl agreement in 1946, OSU had the trip to Pasadena wrapped up prior to the Michigan game, an achievement equaled only by the 1996 team.
On the national front, the Buckeyes received major help that afternoon. #1 Texas A&M was upset by Rice, while #2 Oklahoma, owners of a modern record 47-game unbeaten streak, was edged 7-0 by Notre Dame. OSU went into Ann Arbor ranked #3, and overcame a 14-10 halftime deficit to drub the Wolverines 31-14. Bob White picked up where he left off against Iowa with 163 yards on 30 carries. In seven games leading up to the Hawkeye contest, White had carried 37 times for 232 yards. In the final two tilts White had rumbled for 320 yards on 52 carries.
The Bucks moved to #2 in the AP after the TBGUN win, but were first in the UP (United Press) and INS (International News Service) polls. (The two would later merge to become UPI). Auburn held the #1 spot in the AP poll and validated it with a 40-0 shellacking of Alabama on November 30th. OSU finished #2 in the AP but UP and INS stuck to their guns, naming the Buckeyes national champions for 1957. The national titles were awarded before the bowl games in those days, and it was probably a good thing for Ohio State since they needed a Don Sutherin field goal early in the fourth quarter to subdue Oregon 10-7 in Pasadena. After getting routed by California 28-0 in the 1921 Rose Bowl, Ohio State had now won three Rose Bowl trips in a row.
Bob White’s one-man show on the final drive against Iowa has gone down in Buckeye lore as one of the greatest individual accomplishments in school history. His performances against the Hawkeyes and Michigan would be the springboard to an All-American season in 1958 (He would be the first of four All-American fullbacks to play under Woody, paving the way for Bob Ferguson, Jim Otis and John Brockington). The Hawkeyes would be victimized by White again in ’58 as he powered for 209 yards in a 38-28 win over an Iowa team that had already won the Big Ten crown. The 209-yard performance was, at the time, the second highest rushing total in Ohio State history, trailing only Ollie Cline’s 239-yard effort against Pittsburgh in 1945.
Vice-President Richard Nixon had watched Ohio State’s 1957 win over Iowa from Senator John Bricker’s box in section 17A. That evening he and Woody Hayes had dinner together at Bricker’s home, sparking a lifelong friendship between the two. When Nixon was president-elect in 1969, he would come to the Rose Bowl to see Ohio State win the national title over Southern Cal, and in 1987 he delivered the eulogy at Woody’s funeral. And while all the details weren’t quite correct, he began by describing their first meeting-
“I vividly recall the time I first met Woody Hayes 30 years ago. It was right after the Ohio State-Iowa football game in 1957. It was a great game. Iowa led 13-10 in the middle of the fourth quarter…A big sophomore fullback, Bob White, carried the ball 11 straight times… It was three yards in a cloud of Hawkeyes. He finally scored. Ohio State won 17-13…Afterwards, at a victory reception, John Bricker introduced me to Woody. I wanted to talk about football. Woody wanted to talk about foreign policy. You know Woody- we talked about foreign policy.”
In Robert Vare’s 1974 book “Buckeye”, Hayes corroborated this account, though adding his own touch- “I met (Nixon) back in ’57, I think it was, after we had upset Iowa. He was Vice-President then and we were over at Senator Bricker’s house having dinner. I remember he asked me an awful lot of questions about the game and football in general, and I asked him a lot of questions about foreign policy. I’ll tell you this much: Back then he knew a helluva lot more about football than he did about foreign policy!”