A Matchup above All the Others; Two Legends Waged Intense Ten Year War

Article excerpt

Byline: Barker Davis, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Woody and Bo.

Bo and Woody.

In one glorious decade, two men turned a game into the game, elevating a once-provincial clash into college football's definitive rivalry.

From 1969 to 1978, Ohio State and Michigan engaged in what is now known as the Ten Year War.

It was autumn for the old master, spring for the protege: Woody Hayes' last 10 Ohio State teams met Bo Schembechler's first 10 Michigan teams in a series of games perhaps unmatched before or since in intensity and import.

"The media called it the Big 2, Little 8 because of the way the two schools completely dominated the conference for that decade," Ohio State legend Archie Griffin said last year. "Growing up in Ohio, I

knew it was the biggest game of the year every year, maybe for all of college football. But my freshman year at Ohio State, I learned that it was more than that. Coach Hayes brought a former player in during Michigan week to talk to us. He had tears in his eyes as he spoke of his recollections of playing Michigan. He concluded by saying that this wasn't just a game, it was a war. I was hooked."

So was the rest of the nation. Ten years of Woody vs. Bo featured teams with a combined record of 176-13-4. A Rose Bowl berth awaited the winner nine times, while Michigan already had clinched the honor in 1971. Four times the game featured a pair of undefeated teams. Nine times it had national-title implications. Both teams entered the game ranked in the Associated Press poll all but once (Ohio State in 1971). Seven times both teams entered ranked in the top 10.

"Me on one sideline, the 'Old Man' on the other. Those were the greatest 10 years of my life," Schembechler said in a 1997 interview with The Washington Times.

But Woody vs. Bo began long before the Ten Year War. It began two decades earlier at Miami of Ohio, a school now known as the Cradle of Coaches for its illustrious resume of former mentors.

A marginal talent with an insatiable passion for the game, Schembechler earned a scholarship to play guard for Sid Gillman at Miami. But after Schembechler's sophomore season, both Gillman and his top assistant, George Blackburn, had bolted to nearby Cincinnati. Gillman's replacement for the 1949 season was a fiery fist-pounder from Denison named Wayne Woodrow Hayes.

The antithesis of the innovative Gillman, the blustery Hayes routinely berated his players and believed in throwing everything in sight except the football. His antics and philosophy turned off most of the Miami players. But the junior guard was drawn to the strict discipline and rush-worshipping mentality of his new coach as only a career plugger and offensive lineman could be. Before long, Schembechler was spending more time with Hayes than any of his other players or coaches.

"Woody could be a hard man, but we hit it off at Miami," Schembechler said then. "I spent more hours banging a racquetball around with him and talking football with him than anybody."

Hayes' rigid tenet that only the combination of exhaustive preparation and absolute commitment leads to successful execution spoke to the soldier inside Schembechler. And when Hayes was given the Ohio State job in 1951 over Paul Brown, Schembechler followed his mentor to Columbus as a graduate assistant. After a tour of duty in the Army and a two-year stint as the defensive coordinator under Ara Parseghian at Northwestern, Schembechler rejoined Hayes at Ohio State in 1958. In his second tour in Columbus, Schembechler became Hayes' closest confidant and personal choice as his successor. When Miami asked Schembechler to return as its coach in 1963, Hayes tried to dissuade his trusted assistant from leaving, telling him the Ohio State position would be his when he retired in three or four years.

Schembechler reluctantly took the Miami job and waited on the call to Columbus from his mentor. …