What a time to be a sports writer

Remembering OSU football coach Woody Hayes

By Marc Katz

You’re probably wondering why most of the sporting world is going crazy over the NCAA basketball tournament, and I’m thinking of Woody Hayes.

For some of you youngsters in the crowd, Hayes coached Ohio State football for 28 years, ending in 1978.

I don’t have to remind you of this, but the irony is too palpable. Hayes was fired after slugging Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman in the helmet following an interception in the Gator Bowl. A couple months ago, Ohio State met Clemson in a playoff semifinal, and it was OSU taking the punch.

I’m reminded of Hayes because he died March 12, 1987, the day before Ohio State played and beat Kentucky in a 1987 NCAA tournament first-round game.

I had written Hayes’ obit months before. He had long been sick, and in those days, you prepared when famous people were ill.

I had also seen Hayes a day and a half before he died, on March 10, when he accompanied archrival and pal Bo Schembechler, who was speaking at a Dayton Agonis Club night meeting.

I was covering the event for the then combined Dayton Daily News-The Journal Herald. I quoted Schembechler, but not Hayes, who, I said in the article, introduced Schembechler. I was likely the last journalist to speak with him.

That was a long time ago, so I’m not sure exactly what happened, but as I recall, Hayes was so ill he couldn’t coherently answer any questions I asked. The next day, a Wednesday, I flew to Atlanta to cover Ohio State’s basketball team in the NCAA.

On Thursday, in between attending media conferences of all the teams at the Omni, my boss, Ralph Morrow, called me with the news.

Hayes died at home at about 6 a.m. The morning DDN-TJH, of course, had nothing. The Hayes obit was spread across the top of the front page of the evening edition.

The rest of my weekend was a blur, although I think the Omni media room was well-stocked with potato chips and pretzels, so I survived.

Thursday was also the day our largest Cox paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, ran a copyrighted story of OSU star receiver Cris Carter being indicted for taking money from and agent.

Carter, who lived in Middletown, had a year of eligibility remaining.

I was asked to write a story about Hayes’ last game, at the 1978 Gator Bowl. I wrote a story on Carter.

Ohio State beat Kentucky. I wrote about that.

There was a new basketball media conference about every half hour. I attended every one of those.

On Sunday, the Buckeyes played Georgetown, losing in a bit of a disputed finish by three points. It ended their season.

Gary Williams, finishing his first year as OSU’s coach, could be a volatile guy, but I’d like to think we always got along, except for those two to three times he yelled at me.

This time, obviously distraught at the loss, he answered the questions in the staged post-game conference, and then walked off the stage.

A few of us followed, wanting to ask a couple more questions.

The newspaper of record for OSU was (and is) the Columbus Dispatch. The Cleveland Plain Dealer also covered every game. Then there were all the television and radio stations.

I covered most of OSU’s games, but not all of them, and thought of myself as being a down-the-line guy for Williams to worry about.

I asked my questions and was about to go work on the story when Williams stopped me.

He wanted me to know how appreciative he was of the coverage the DDN-TJH gave his team.

Needless to say, I wasn’t always used to such kind words from those I covered. When I arrived back home, I looked over the coverage we gave all the stories, especially Hayes.

On Friday, March 13, the combined newspaper ran the column the late Hall of Fame that sports editor Si Burick had written from Hayes’ box at Ohio Stadium the previous November. It was the last event Burick covered before he died a couple weeks later.

Si was invited with others to be with Hayes, and wrote a column about it on his old portable typewriter, shunning the computers almost everyone else used.

Burick, even sicker at the time than Hayes, went looking for a telephone after the game (OSU lost). He was going to dictate his column to a person on the desk. I grabbed his story to copy into my computer and told Burick to hurry home. I must have smiled when I came to the line Burick quoted Hayes as saying: “I’d like to see our guys leap over their line and beat the hell out of ‘em.”

Hayes was an honorary pallbearer at Burick’s funeral.

Now Hayes was gone, too. And Cris Carter was about to become ineligible and another iconic coach (Williams) served me a magnificent compliment. And all these NCAA games were going on.

The views and opinions expressed in On Your Marc are the views and/or opinions of the author and do not reflect the views and/or opinions of the Dayton City Paper or Dayton City Media and are published strictly for entertainment purposes.

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Columbus-born Marc Katz had a 44-year newspaper career, 41 of those years covering sports, 40 of them at the Dayton Daily News. He now blogs at KatzCopsNSports.com. Reach Dayton City Paper sports writer Marc Katz at MarcKatz@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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