Back before the fall of godless Communism, there probably were fewer public portraits of Lenin in Leningrad than of Woody Hayes in Columbus, Ohio. Lenin’s mug is gone; Hayes is still around. In fact, he’s everywhere, staring at you from behind his antique glasses, never smiling, and still wearing the white shirt, narrow tie and black cap with the block “O.”
In some weird-sick way, Woody haunts the city and looms over massive Ohio Stadium. It’s as if fans are awaiting a messianic return.
His presence isn’t just figurative. During Ohio State games, he shows up frequently on a massive scoreboard that towers at least 100 yards above the playing field and costs more than the GNP of several Caribbean nations. When the Buckeyes successfully execute what loyalists call “Ohio State football”a bruising run or a jarring tacklea giant visual of a bobblehead Woody doll appears on the scoreboard, nodding vigorously in approval. When an enemy pass falls incomplete, an animated graphic of an angelic Woody rises over the stadium’s north towers; then the coach zaps the opposing receiver with a lightning bolt from on high.
I’m not sure if the halo is appropriate, but the Woodster, wherever he is, was surely nodding on Saturday afternoon. I was among the 104,553 fans at the newly expanded and refurbished old stadium who witnessed a return to antediluvian, mouth-smashing, here-it-comes-again-boys football resurrected from the Hayes administration. In smothering a highly regarded Washington State team, 25-7, the Buckeyes did things almost as Woody would’veexcept line up in a “Robust T” formation.
Saturday delivered a reassertion of traditional power across the NCAA gridiron map, as if the college football world had somehow warped back to 1969. Near Nittany Mountain, Joe Paterno and Penn State, both of whom had practically been given up for dead, utterly crushed Nebraska. Southern Cal is no longer Tailback U., but the Trojans made their loudest statement in years with a resounding 40-3 victory at Colorado. And after what appeared to be the start of a slow decline, new coach Tyrone Willingham helped stir the echoes at Notre Dame with an exhilarating win over Michigan.
Nowhere, though, was the past more present than in Columbus. The Buckeyes’ young coach, Jim Tressel, who spent his entire football life in Ohio, shares Hayes’ preference for white shirts and black-and-blue line plunges. His team passed only 10 times all afternoon (excessive by Woody’s standards) and quite literally ran pass-centric Washington State into the ground. It was a contrast in styles, and the old stylepound the ball, grind down the defense, hog the clockprevailed over West Coast flash.
And a note to college football fans: Remember the name Maurice Clarett. He’s the Ohio State tailback who may contend for the Heisman as a freshman. At 230 pounds, he’s a blast, literally, from the past. He reminds some of former Buckeyes Keith Byars and Eddie George. To me, he looked like a young Earl Campbell, who could run over you or around youhis choice.
Clarett ran the ball 30 times for 230 yards. In between, he took a one-play break to throw up on the sidelines. Hayes would have nodded happily at the stats. But it’s the smell of vomit he would have loved.
They don’t make basketball coaches like Abe Lemons anymore, which says a lot about college hoops today but not much about Lemons. So here’s a good word for the old coach, who died the other day at 79.
The only people who disputed the proposition that Lemons was half nuts were those who were sure he was 100 percent nuts. But everyone could agree that Abe knew how to coach basketball (599 wins were proof) and that he didn’t take himself more seriously than coaches should.
Once, after a rival’s loss allowed his Texas team to get back in the race for a conference title, Lemons’ weekly show opened with a shot of the coach in an open coffin. His hands, folded across his chest, held a single daisy. Funereal music played softly. Suddenly, Lemons sat upright, faced the camera and declared, “We ain’t dead yet.”
Another time, Lemons’ Oklahoma City team trailed Duke by 20 at halftime of an NIT game at New York’s Madison Square Garden. Instead of heading to the locker room to regroup, Lemons divided his squad into shirts and skins and scrimmaged them.
One of the witnesses who questioned Lemons’ strategy that night was Howard Cosell, who bombarded him with pointed questions. Finally, Abe reached his limit and interrupted, “Listen, mister, you may be big stuff in New York, but you ain’t nothin’ in Walters, Oklahoma.”
That quip would be a good way to remember Lemons and an even better way for everyone to remember to keep a sense of perspective. In an era when coaches treat their jobs as if they carried the importance of the D-Day invasion and pundits assume the world hangs on their every brilliant word, it’s useful to recall there are still lots of places where Coach K and Dickie V and SEC basketball ain’t diddly squat.
How it looks from the La-Z-Boy
Titans 23, Browns 21
“You’ve got Jerry’s ger-rms!” In a variation of a schoolyard game in which the germs/cooties/whatever of the classroom’s bottom-feeder were transmitted to some unwary recipient, who in turn had to find another victim, the Titans on Sunday acquired the taint of losing from the Cowboys, who themselves had been ignominiously slimed by the rookie Houston Texans. You can pick any of the various explanations being bandied about: Steve McNair was knocked loopy; the interception returned for a Dallas TD was fluky; or even that the boys were a lee-tle too pleased with themselves after whacking Philly. In any event, much of the humiliation that the Cowboys acquired from Houston has now transferred to Nashville. Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones again feels ready to celebrate the genius of Jerry Jones, and the Titans feel like killing somebody.
Whether they can give Jerry’s germs to the visiting Cleveland Browns is a highly debatable question. Had the Brownies’ prolific aerial attack not included a flying helmet from Dwayne Rudd on opening day, they’d be swaggering into Your Name Here Coliseum with a 2-0 mark and a world of momentum. Meanwhile, after managing barely half as many points against Dallas as Houston scored, the Titans may feel some of that old nagging doubt about their run game and offensive productivity.
With a bad bounce here and a screwup there, Tennessee could lose by 17. But our crystal ball foretells that the same combination of home field and embarrassment over last week’s loss that steeled Dallas will be enough to propel the Titans to 2-1.
Tennessee 30, Florida 17
Had it been Steve Spurrier’s team struggling mightily against a cupcake last Saturday, we’d suspect the Vols’ old nemesis was merely setting them up. But Coach Superior is goneand so (thus far) is the Gators’ offensive firepower. Neyland Stadium is not a likely spot for rekindling it.
Ole Miss 31, Vanderbilt 14
Bobby Johnson saw enough encouraging signs against Auburn to feel hope for his teamor at least to believe things won’t be as bad as the massacre at Georgia Tech indicated. He may see more positives this Saturday against a mediocre Ole Miss bunch. But only a miracle will prevent him from seeing another L.
Kentucky 41, MTSU 21
Alabama 24, Southern Miss 13
Auburn 23, Mississippi State 13
South Carolina 30, Temple 10
Notre Dame 17, Michigan State 14
TSU 27, Grambling 21
Colts 27, Texans 13
Falcons 24, Bengals 14
Saints 19, Bears 17