Legend has it that Woody Hayes was out on his porch during a Saturday evening in the summer of 1954 while a neighbor was having a gathering. It is lost to history as to whether any of the guests knew that Hayes was within earshot, but the coach overheard someone say, “This is the year we get rid of Woody!”

Buckeye Nation, to put it mildly, has always been an impatient, fanatical lot. After Francis Schmidt had been forced out after a seven-year run at the helm, four different men had guided the football program until Hayes took over in 1951. Now one figures that Paul Brown would have stayed awhile (some feel he would have established a dynasty) had World War II not interfered, but perhaps his eventual leap to the professional ranks would have happened anyway. Regardless, Ohio State had become known nationally as “The Graveyard Of Coaches”, and from the time Francis Schmidt recorded a fourth straight shutout over Michigan (21-0 in 1937), OSU had won only 3, lost 11 and tied 2 against their hated rivals- one of the prominent factors in the revolving door that was Ohio State’s head football coaching position.

Woody Hayes’ first three teams had a less-than-impressive 16-9-2 mark, including two shutout losses to TBGUN. The 20-0 loss to an underdog Michigan team in the rivalry’s 50th game had been especially galling, notably to the neighbor whose stated hope to ride Hayes out of town actually served to fire Woody up. “I even got up an hour earlier each day so I could prepare all the more,” the coach once recalled. There wasn’t any time to waste- by season’s end; Ohio State would face six ranked opponents (only the 1999 and 2003 teams have faced as many Top 20 foes).

Senior Dave Leggett would handle the quarterback chores for OSU, which was somewhat of a surprise since co-captain John Borton, who was returning for his senior year, had been a two-year starter and had set a single-season passing mark of 1,555 yards in 1952 (a mark that would stand until Art Schlichter bettered it in 1979). Leggett was a better option quarterback and had filled in nicely while Borton was injured in 1953, so the job was his for ’54. The scenario would somewhat repeat itself years later when Greg Hare, who was the starting QB in 1972 and had been elected captain for ’73, took a seat while sophomore Cornelius Greene took the reins, mainly, again, because of his running ability.

1954-11-21_Jim_Parker.jpgLeggett had talent and experience alongside him in the backfield with halfbacks Bobby Watkins and Howard “Hopalong” Cassady. At fullback would be sophomore Hubert Bobo of Chauncey, Ohio, who to this day still is in the top 5 of seven different Ohio high school scoring records. End Dean Dugger, whose brother Jack had been an All-American on the undefeated 1944 Buckeye squad, anchored a veteran line whose only sophomore starter was big Jim Parker(right), who would begin to etch his legend into OSU lore.

Ohio State athletic director Dick Larkins also played a role in that pivotal year of 1954; While reportedly urging Hayes to tone down the temper tantrums that always seemed to interfere with his coaching, Larkins arranged for Lyal Clark to return to Columbus as an assistant to Woody. Clark had been a defensive coach under Wes Fesler at OSU, and when Fesler had left after the 1950 season for Minnesota, Clark had gone with him. It was no secret in coaching circles that Clark was what we would now call a defensive “guru”, and Larkins felt that the football team would be a lot better off with Clark handling the defense so Hayes could devote his time not only to the offense but to all the P.R. and political sideshows that went with being the head coach at Ohio State. Hayes agreed to delegate defensive authority to Clark, and Woody would stick to this approach for the rest of his career.

The ’54 Buckeyes got off to a fast start with a 28-0 blanking of Indiana, then fought off 18th-ranked California 21-13.  On the road for the first time the next week, OSU got a tasty revenge win over Illinois to the tune of 40-7.  The year before in Columbus, the Illini had run the Bucks into the ground, literally.  Halfbacks J.C. Caroline and Mickey Bates had rushed for 192 and 147 yards, respectively, and scored all six Illinois touchdowns between them.  This time around Cassady, Bobo and Watkins did the damage as the Buckeyes moved to 3-0 and up to #4 in the AP poll, although it was at the expense of center Ken Vargo, who broke his arm and was lost for the season.

#13 Iowa visited the ‘Shoe the next Saturday and took a 7-0 lead as Earl Smith returned an interception 67 yards for a score.  The Bucks came back to take a 14-7 lead, but Smith struck again, bringing a punt back 75 yards for the tying score.  Ohio State reclaimed the lead as Leggett connected with end Dick Brubaker on a 13-yard touchdown pass, but the extra point was missed, leaving the margin at 20-14.  Lyal Clark’s defense saved the day, holding the Hawkeyes on downs at the OSU 5 with a minute-and-a-half to go to preserve the victory.   

Ticket_1954_NorthwesternThe springboard win to not only the 1954 season, but in essence Woody Hayes’ career, came the next week, October 23rd, as the #2-ranked Wisconsin Badgers invaded Ohio Stadium for Homecoming. Woody’s first significant win as OSU coach had come two years earlier when the Bucks upset the then #1 Badgers 23-14, and in ’53 Ohio State had stormed back from a 19-7 fourth quarter deficit to edge Wisky 20-19. Needless to say, the Badgers wanted this one bad, and late in the third quarter they had a 7-3 lead and were driving at the Buckeye 20. Quarterback Jim Miller fired a pass over the middle and Hop Cassady picked it off at the 12.

After starting back up the middle, Cassady cut to the Buckeye sideline and steamed all the way to the Wisconsin 25, where he made a great cutback and took it to the house. The 88-yard return stands today as the fourth-longest INT runback in Buckeye annals, and from there the Badgers came undone as OSU rolled to a classic 31-14 win, propelling themselves into a first-place tie with TBGUN in the Big Ten and into the top spot in the AP Poll. As expected, the pressbox had been loaded with writers from all over the country, and Cassady’s legendary interception return cemented his place right then and there as an All-American. And although Wisconsin runningback Alan Ameche would go on to win the ’54 Heisman, Hop had greased the skids for his own Heisman run the next season. 

The Buckeyes had a letdown in their next game at Northwestern, as they needed a fourth-quarter touchdown throw from Leggett to Bobby Watkins to pull out a 14-7 win.  While the close call caused the Bucks to drop down to #2 in the polls, they earned first place in the conference all to themselves as Indiana toppled Michigan 13-9.  By this point, Buckeye Nation was swamping airlines and railroad offices making plans for Pasadena, and the gridders took care of business, disposing of Pitt 26-0 and Purdue 28-6.  The win over the Boilers on November 13th gave OSU a tie for the Big Ten title.  That same afternoon, Michigan rolled Michigan State 33-7, their first win over the Spartans in four years.  UM’s only league loss was the one to Indiana, so the stage was set- Michigan coming to Columbus with the Rose Bowl bid going to the winner.

In addition to a shot at an outright conference crown, Ohio State was in the driver’s seat for the national title. The Purdue win boosted OSU back into the #1 spot in the AP poll, while UCLA held down the top spot in the UP coaches poll with the Bucks second. Oklahoma was third in both polls, and all three top teams had November 20 matchups with their archrivals- OSU/Michigan, UCLA/USC and Oklahoma/Nebraska. Woody Hayes had his scouts out that weekend- Although UCLA couldn’t play in the Rose Bowl because of the “no-repeat” rule, USC would most likely get the bid so Gene Fekete had been sent to scout that contest. Nebraska would be Ohio State’s opening opponent in 1955, so Hayes had sent Bill Hess to eye the Sooner/Husker tussle.

Early in Michigan week, Hayes supposedly received a letter from someone claiming to be a Michigan student, wanting to know if the coach was interested in learning about the Wolverines’ special preparations for the game. While Woody didn’t respond, it made him wonder about his own camp. As a result, all non-players coming to practice that week were issued spare jerseys, and NO ONE was to be admitted without wearing one. This went for longtime sportswriters and even Dr. Walter Duffee, who had been the team physician since the end of World War I!

Columbus was about to burst in anticipation of this 51st edition of “THE GAME”. When asked if there were any ticket “problems”, Bill Snypp of the athletic ticket office responded, “There is no ticket problem because there are no tickets. The ticket office has started working on basketball.” Scalpers who did have ducats were reportedly asking the astronomical amount of THIRTY dollars apiece. The third-largest press contingent in Ohio Stadium history was expected, and to assist the media 25 Western Union lines were being installed in the pressbox. Five different Columbus radio stations would air the game, and for only the third time in their history, the Buckeyes would be nationally televised in glorious black-and-white on ABC, with Jack Drees handling the play-by-play, former UM icon and Heisman winner Tom Harmon providing commentary, and legendary broadcaster Bill Stern taking care of pre- and postgame duties. The TV crew actually appeared Friday at the Agonis Club football luncheon at the Grandview Inn in suburban Columbus, although they were upstaged by the presence of Buckeye immortal “Chic” Harley. The revelry continued later that afternoon as the traditional Senior Tackle took place at 5PM, followed by a pep rally that 5,000 fans attended.

While fans were excited by the return of lineman Jim Parker to full-time duty (he had been unable to start the past five games with a nagging ankle injury), Hop Cassady came away from Tuesday’s practice with a dislocated finger, although he never left the hour-long scrimmage Hayes put his troops through that day. On Thursday fullback Hubert Bobo aggravated a foot injury he had suffered at Purdue, and to top it all off quarterback Davey Leggett spent 8 hours Friday in University Hospital with a rash that developed from a penicillin injection. All three would play, but as one might imagine, Woody Hayes, who was never an island of calm before any game, was getting more wound up by the minute on gameday morning. A steady rain wasn’t helping the situation, and two hours before kickoff, Hayes burst in to athletic director Dick Larkins’ office and demanded that both bands be kept off the field during pre-game and halftime.

Larkins remembered, “I listened to Woody carry on for a while, then I told him I wouldn’t think of ordering off the bands. But it seemed to me he was working himself into a state of mind where he might not be able to direct the team to best advantage during the game. So I told him that, if he wished, we would put it up to the president (Ohio State prez Dr. Howard Bevis) who was at a pre-game luncheon in the Stadium dining room. Woody said he was all for that. We got Dr. Bevis’ ear. Both he and (UM president) Dr. Hatcher (who was an Ohio State grad!) said it would be unthinkable.”

82,438 packed the Horseshoe for the 1:30 kickoff, and with an estimated 80 million viewers tuned in on ABC, Michigan got the ball first from their own 32. On the opening play, the Wolves lined up in what they called their “Series 500”, an unbalanced line that had only one lineman, a tackle, to the left of the center. Halfback Dan Cline took the direct snap, started right, and broke four tackles on his way to a picture 27-yard jaunt to the OSU 41. Cline and fullback Fred Baer pounded out another first down to the Buckeye 27, and then facing a 4th-and-1 from the 18, UM coach Bennie Oosterbaan passed up the field goal and went for it. Baer hammered for 2 and a first down at the 16. Moments later TBGUN again had a 4th-and-1 call from the Ohio State 7, and this time they reached into the trick bag. The snap went to Baer, and as he charged up the middle, he slipped the ball to quarterback Lou Baldacci. End Ron Kramer circled around from the left side and Baldacci faked a handoff to him, and then tossed a jump pass to Cline, who had spun around after heading right during all the ball handling. Cline turned the left corner and outraced Hop Cassady to the corner for a touchdown. The march had covered 68 yards in 12 plays and taken 6:28, giving Michigan a 7-0 lead. The Buckeye defense looked thoroughly confused trying to figure out the surprising “Series 500”.

The offense didn’t fare much better as Baldacci intercepted Davey Leggett’s first pass of the day. The Wolverines knocked out one first down, then Baldacci gained another on an 11-yard keeper to the Ohio State 37, but he fumbled at the end of the run and Bill Michael recovered for the Buckeyes at the 36. Neither team could do anything and the first quarter ended with the Maize and Blue up top 7-0. It was turning out to be a more physical game than anticipated, as Dean Dugger and tackle Dick Hilinski were sidelined temporarily by injuries, while right halfback Bobby Watkins, OSU’s leading rusher and scorer, sustained a severe charley horse in the opening period and was done for the day.

In the second quarter, Michigan launched a drive at their own 12. On 2nd-and-11, Ed Hickey took a pitchout for 14 to the UM 25. Baldacci and Kramer combined for a 12-yard aerial to the Maize and Blue 43, then moments later the two hooked up for 17, helping the Wolves overcome a clipping penalty and giving them a first down at the Ohio State 45. Michigan worked it to the 27 where Baer powered for 18 and a 1st-and-goal at the Buckeye 9. Baer was held for no gain, and after an offside call pushed the Wolverines back to the 14, Baldacci twice tried to hit Kramer in the endzone. Jimmy Roseboro almost picked off the second down toss, and then batted away the third down throw. Kramer tried a 31-yard field goal but missed and the Buckeyes were off the hook.

Davey Leggett could get nothing generated offensively, and with just over 3 minutes to play in the half, UM had great field position at Ohio State’s 42. After an incompletion, Jim Maddock came on to play quarterback. He faked to Cline and rolled right, and with pressure coming from Dean Dugger and tackle Don Swartz, Maddock flipped a wobbly pass towards Baldacci in the left flat. Third stringer Jack Gibbs, who wasn’t even listed in Ohio State’s football brochure and who had just entered the game after Bobo limped into the dressing room, leaped to intercept the pass at the OSU 43. Gibbs took off down the west sideline and was finally run out of bounds at the Michigan 10. It was Gibbs’ one moment in the sun, and a storybook one at that. Gibbs hadn’t even played high school football at Columbus West High, but Woody took a chance on him and Gibbs was slated to see action at fullback in 1953 until he broke his ankle and was lost for the year. He worked up to second team for this classic Michigan battle, and Bobo’s injury gave him his chance and he turned the game around. Gibbs would go on to head up the Fort Hayes Career Center for the Columbus Public Schools, and today as you drive by the Center just outside downtown, you’ll do so on Jack Gibbs Boulevard.

With the Buckeye sideline and the stands in an uproar, OSU was called for delay of game, pushing them back to the UM 15. On first down, Leggett faked to Gibbs, took a few steps right, and floated a pass to a wide open Fred Kriss for a touchdown. Thurlow “Tad” Weed, who unfortunately passed away just last week, booted the point after and the game was tied at 7. The Wolverines led in first downs 11-3 and total yards 190-42, yet the score was knotted at intermission.

On Michigan’s first possession of the second half, they moved from their own 14 to the Ohio State 23, but Fred Baer fumbled and Hubert Bobo, fighting through his foot injury, recovered at the OSU 21. The Bucks couldn’t go anywhere and Bobo came on to punt. The kick went basically straight up in the air as Ron Kramer partially deflected it, and when it came down Tommy Maentz caught it and was dropped at the Ohio State 14. Moments later the Wolves faced a 4th-and-2 at the 6, and Oosterbaan again disdained a field goal. He came out smelling like a rose as fullback Dave Hill punched forward for 2 and a first-and-goal at the Buckeye 4.

Hill hit for one yard, then on second down Dan Cline took a direct snap from his left halfback spot and got grabbed for no gain by Bobo and Jim Parker. Hill got the third down call and drove to within inches of the goal line before being stopped by Parker, with help from Jerry Harkrader and Hop Cassady. It was 4th-and-goal from inches away.

Michigan coach Bennie Oosterbaan was hot with the dice, so to speak, and gambled one more time. Hill dove right up the middle and was met in midair by Parker and Bobo. The Buckeyes had stood their ground and the throng in Ohio Stadium roared its approval. Next to “The Last Stand” against Miami in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State has never had such a monumental goal line effort in its history. Legendary Michigan radio broadcaster Bob Ufer, never known for objectivity, even referred to it 18 years later as the Buckeyes were stonewalling the Wolverines during the epic 1972 contest.

“It’s (Harry) Banks deep and (Ed) Shuttlesworth close from the one-yard line and Dennis Franklin under center… He hands off to Banks and it’s a touchdown, Michigan! Aren’t they gonna raise their hands? He was into the endzone! It’s just like 1954! I can see Dave Hill of Ypsilanti taking the handoff from Lou Baldacci at the same end of the field and he went into that endzone and they’re claiming he didn’t then and he didn’t now 18 years later. Gosh darnit, whaddya gotta do down here to score a touchdown?”

The place still hadn’t settled down as Leggett sneaked for 2 and then 7 as the third quarter concluded. Switching to the north end, Leggett plowed ahead for 2 more, giving the Buckeyes a first down at the 11. Leggett then faked to Bobo and handed to Cassady right behind him. Hop charged through the middle, broke outside and stormed down the Buckeye sideline for 52 yards before being forced out at the Michigan 37. One thing that has always intrigued me is the range of yards that various books and videos claim that Cassady’s run was. In researching this drive, I’ve read one book that said 47, one that said 51 and three that claim 61. Having watched a video of it, I’m confident in 52 yards.

The march continued as Leggett carried for 5, then Bobo moved the chains with an 8-yard advance to the UM 24. It was Bobo again over right tackle for 6, Leggett keeping for 3 and then 4 for another first down at the Maize and Blue 11. Leggett smashed over left guard for 2, and when Bobo was stacked up for no gain, it was 3rd-and-8 at the Wolverine 9. Leggett faked to Cassady, then drifted left and, picking up a protective block from tackle Don Swartz, lofted the ball to Dick Brubaker who was just inside the goal line. Brubaker fell into the endzone for the go-ahead score, capping off a 99-yard, 2-foot, 6-inch drive for a 14-7 lead.

When the Buckeyes got the ball back, Leggett hit a big 25-yard pass to Dean Dugger for a first down at the UM 42. On the next play, though, Jimmy Roseboro fumbled the ball away, giving the Wolverines a shot to tie it up. Roseboro’s gaffe foreshadowed the 1956 game, when a ruptured rib that he suffered hitting the sled during Senior Tackle would contribute to a three-fumble afternoon against TBGUN.

It only took two plays for the OSU defense to make amends. Dan Cline threw long into double coverage and Cassady picked it off at the Buckeye 26, adding 13 yards on the return to the 39. Leggett engineered a drive to the Michigan 44, where it was 3rd-and-6. Fullback Bobo knifed through the middle for 28 yards and a huge first down at the UM 16. The Bucks worked it to the 5, then after a motion penalty, Leggett threw as he was hemmed in and connected with Harkrader, who was knocked out of bounds at the one.

From the T-formation, Leggett handed to Cassady on a straight dive play over left tackle Don Swartz and left guard Jim Parker. Hop literally hopped into the endzone for the icing on the cake, putting OSU up top 21-7 with 44 seconds to play. Richard Young made it academic by intercepting Jim Maddock on the final play to polish things off.

Woody Hayes was carried off the field by his troops, and the crowd swarmed onto the field and took down both sets of goalposts. Ohio State had rung up only the fourth unbeaten, untied regular season in school history, and with it came an outright Big Ten championship and a trip to Pasadena on New Year’s Day to face USC, a fact that was punctuated in the pressbox as Ohio State ticket director George Staten sprayed rose-scented perfume into the air-conditioning system. In those days, the national titles were awarded before the bowl games, and while the UP coaches poll stuck with undefeated UCLA, the AP awarded their championship to the Scarlet and Gray, the second national crown in school history.

Staten continued his perfume-spraying in the happy Buckeye locker room, where Woody Hayes was tossed, fully clothed, into the shower, forcing him to hurriedly change into dry clothes before meeting the press. Outside on the hallowed turf of Ohio Stadium, which had just witnessed one of its finest hours, the Ohio State Marching Band blasted away with “California, Here We Come”. Six weeks later, the Bucks conquered The Golden State with a 20-7 win over Southern Cal in the mud, wrapping up a perfect 10-0 season.

Woody Hayes was the toast of Columbus, with Hop Cassady not far behind on the affection meter.  Hoppy would be a consensus All-American, possessing one major attribute that earns you such acclaim- making the big plays in the big games.  Those who knew Coach Hayes best always said he maintained a special place in his heart for Cassady and his 1954 squad.  They may have very well saved his job, and what a way to do it- an unblemished record, the Big Ten crown all to yourself, the national title and a Rose Bowl triumph.  One would have to believe that even the skeptical neighbor on Cardiff Road in Upper Arlington was pleased.

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