David Hyde

As a boy growing up in central Ohio, the 1968 Ohio State football season sat just beyond the ether of my memory. I remember 1969. I remember, for instance, my parents arriving home from Ann Arbor, Michigan, after a dismal loss in the season finale, and my mom moaning as she came through the door, “That was the longest drive home ever after that game.”

A year later, I attended my first game in the horseshoe. I was nine. It was a magical day of noise and scene, though what stuck with me afterward wasn’t any particular play or a runaway win against Texas A&M. It was the sight of Boy Scouts ushering the games. They went to every game, I was told. And they got in free. I became a scout as soon as age permitted. That’s how I watched Archie Griffin as a sophomore in 1973. And again in 1974.

Maybe it was these distant embers that brought the idea of this book. Maybe it was crossing paths with that particularly rabid strain of fans again when Ohio State won the 2003 national championship in Arizona. Maybe, too, it was the odd career I chose of writing about sports, a job where you don’t always love sports in watching them game after game, year after year, Super Bowls to World Series to Olympics. You become numb to them at times. You misplace the magic of them too often.

Somewhere in all that is the reason I set out to write about the time and the team that made me fall in love with sports, once upon a time. The idea of this book kept percolating to the point I called Rex Kern in California one day to see if he’d help with the idea. Kern’s initial reaction was expected hesitation, considering he’d never heard of this writer on the other side of the country asking about events decades ago. He kindly said thanks but no thanks.

Still, we kept talking. A few stories about that season led to a few more. At one point, I remember, he told of young son meeting Woody Hayes for the first time. The son was 5 or 6 and had only heard his father tell stories of this man, stories that were as oversized as the great man himself. Now they arrived from California for an Ohio State game together.

“Look, there’s Woody,’’ Kern told his son.

His son took off running down a hall. He jumped into Woody’s arms, wrapping himself around Woody like he was Santa Claus.

“That’s the emotion he had for Woody just by listening to me tell stories,’’ Kern said in that first phone call.

Kern softened in his stance, and became a vital help in a book he never once asked how about how it would be written. None of the more than hundred coaches, players and various bystanders swept into the current of that season asked what kind of a book it would be, either. That was a good thing, considering I wasn’t sure. But as the research went on, as the personal stories spilled out, as any sporting statute of limitations had passed to tell what it was like inside the team in that season, it was clear this book would have Woody at its center. He was the most impactful person in many of these players’ lives, often for better, sometimes for worse but always in ways no player could have foreseen when they arrived on campus.

That season changed everything for Woody, too, as I learned. He was in trouble in Columbus. His old ways weren’t winning. Signs were sold on the Oval on campus during game days, when a plane also flew overhead at games with the line, “Good-bye, Woody.” Fans serenaded him at games with the song, “Good bye, Woody, we hate to see you go ...”

Enter 1968.

Fifty years later, it remains a healthy pivot in Ohio State’s history. Fifty years later, its success led to the final run of his Woody’s career. Fifty years later, this team’s truths resonate as clearly and its lessons come as readily.

Fifty years later, this season still remains why a boy from Central Ohio fell in love with sports.

Richard Coleman

Richard Coleman, who died recently, was not the most eccentric person I’ve ever met but he was in the photograph, there in the second row bending the ear of George Horton, dressed in his customary raccoon coat and red high-top sneakers (who WAS the most eccentric person I ever met). George was notable hereabouts for appearing in the Macy’s Day Thanksgiving Parade dressed as Jesus and leading a burro carrying Mary Magdalene, who happened to be a hooker George had hired for the occasion. But that’s another story. 

Richard’s vocation, as I understood it, was knowing the labyrinthine pathways of federal dollars which he used to convert old buildings into modern uses. His avocation, though, was as the county historian and he was an indefatigable reader of newspapers and old records, aided by a sharp eye for decoding the elaborate Spencerian penmanship of the nineteenth century.

I met him when I was senior editor of Ohio magazine in the late 1980s and began finding essays stuffed under the back door of my apartment. I was surprised to find that many of them were actually good, and—huge bonus for historical rumination—usually entertaining. He wrote, for instance, of the first giraffe to arrive in town, sometime back in 1867, brought by the circus. The road in front of the college in those days ran under the railroad—a progressive move by the city so that people on the 3-C Highway didn’t have to wait for the trains. 

Unfortunately, the giraffe didn’t clear the underpass and became wedged in, backing up traffic in both directions. The people weren’t waiting on a train; they were waiting on a giraffe. Workers tried to dig the giraffe out, then it rained, conditions worsened, and ultimately the wagon was taken apart and the giraffe, along with the rest of the circus, was paraded back out to a crossing intersection and brought into town in this roundabout—but wonderfully ceremonial—manner.

It was the end of the underpass, too, Richard explained, for the city filled in the underpass and the roadway went up over the tracks, which is the way it is today and, as Richard wrote, “you wait for trains to cross because of a giraffe.”

Richard had been everywhere, never met a stranger, and at the drop of a hello would regale anyone with conversation in his near-stentorian voice. The conversation was mostly his, of course, but being an entertaining fellow, you didn’t mind listening. He was quite good with interpreting history, too, although at the magazine, Richard drove our fact-checker into apoplexy. (One of Richard’s theories was that General Denver was gay when in all likelihood the general had a French mistress.)

Somewhere in his effects is a manuscript that is equitably memoir and county history. (It was one of the few things he didn’t try to stuff under my door.) “The Other History,” he called it. It’s a sprightly document, filled with illuminating moments and people long forgotten, written with Richard’s unflagging cheerfulness and good humor. In spite of its moments of facts-under-duress, I’m hoping it doesn’t go with him—and that it will someday see the light of print, Richard’s good voice still intact.

 

Nowhere Else Festival Workshop 2018

For the Nowhere Else workshop people, two excerpts:

The first paragraph, “Mother,” is from a memoir/travel book by a new Cincinnati writer, Alexander Watson, which Orange Frazer will publish this fall—one of the best of the four hundred-plus books we’ve published in the last quarter of a century. It’s called River Queens: An American Journey.
After some fifteen revisions, this is how Alexander decided to begin a section on his mother, a dominant influence in his life although a peculiar one.
The second, “Chapter 1,” is from Conrad Detweiler’s work-in-progress.
So the temptation: to be grand in oversight yet lost in abstraction.
In these early attempts by Alexander and Conrad, both writers learn to slow down and choose carefully from among the quarter of a million words in the language.

The process:

 

Mother/original

Vivian Watson and I could have been very good friends except I was too young and yet untempered by the world, and because she was my mother —a complex woman, known to those around her as one who had more than her share of dragons to fight. She was the survivor of two daughters—her sister Jane died in infancy—consequently her parents, both thirty years old and considered aged at the time, heaped the hopes and aspirations of an entire family onto the lone Vivian, named after her mother. She was to master all that was expected of her, which included being concertmistress of her high school orchestra while also being tone deaf. 
 

Mother/edit

When she thinks I am not looking, I catch Mother’s eye. She is gazing at the woman opposite her, across a table covered in fabric swatches, paint chips, catalog photos, and blueprints of a house. The woman is Mother’s client, a type, here and most often, dressed in a fine luncheon ensemble and real jewels. The jacket of her designer suit hangs daintily on the back of her chair. Her purse perches next to matching shoes. She does not notice Mother’s gaze. 

 

Chapter 1/original

I entered depleted, poisoned and deeply lost within the big woods of New, breadcrumbs of no use, no home to find, no backtracking allowed. Behind? Ahead? Home is where the feet stop dragging. A group of eight we traveled packed, stacked and moving, the three eldest dragging their homeless feet, the three younger too small to care. 

Yet.

Rootlessness for one who cares is venomous, and there amongst the beer joints of new town number nine stood the biters, church and school. Nothing inherently wrong with either, just too many jumps for one young life, bitten in the soul and scraped on the knees at every leap.

My father force-fed familiar doses of manufactured optimism, “the house is so big, children”, “the hills are so beautiful,” ... the emerald horizon of Next leading us away from an expiring situation gone stale. Guiding our sagging ’69 Chrysler Imperial and its vagabond souls, he forded another line of demarcation, the past officially gone, belligerent new realities striding in. 

 

Chapter 1/edit

My father was smiling. Within his lifetime, he would move his family twenty-seven times, and number nine was well underway. Always concerned with God’s will, he had discovered the next great segment. A brand new certificate of ordination had legally bestowed upon him the title of Minister, and across the West Virginia train tracks sat his church, which the document had released into his care. 

A U-Haul trailer, our sagging Chrysler Imperial, and the Good Lord had brought us in for yet another landing. Home was where the feet stopped dragging and on Saturday, September 4, 1971, we were received by the porches of the Fairland Community Church parsonage. Tomorrow, like it or not, I would be a preacher’s kid. 

Mr. All-World, Requiescat in Pace

 
stillwagon014.jpg
 

by John Baskin

In the first edition of Woody’s Boys, Jim Stillwagon’s chapter was called “An All-World Ass-kicker,” which was how he saw himself, and not without justification. He was, as writer Alan Natali, pointed out, “an undersized tough guy,” and between the two of them, they produced the best sports interview I ever read. It was intelligent, insightful, and hilarious, and it contained the best one-sentence quote on getting hit on a football field: “I ran down on the first kickoff, and this guy hit me so hard, I looked up at the sun through my shoes and landed on my head.”

He died in early February, which sent me to a copy of that early edition in which Stillwagon was edited out almost as soon as it hit the stores. In addition to its humor and insight, it was also stevedore profane, and Stillwagon decided the profanity might harm his business dealings with a new client. We settled the issue by substituting Billy Joe Armstrong, who was more circumspect if not as entertaining, and so Jim was relegated to the first edition where he remains as the best, funniest, and most insightful football interview ever.

It’s unfortunate it didn’t stay with the half-dozen subsequent editions, for the original first edition is difficult to find these days, and the interview still seems a splendid evocation of a guy who was, in a phrase by Natali, “a kind of weird epic street-poet—Homer meets Dennis the Menace meets Sonny Crockett.” It’s hard to believe that Stillwagon himself wouldn’t say now, “Yeah, that’s me. Pay no attention to all the swearing.”

He came to Ohio State from nearby Mt. Vernon because Woody liked that he had thin ankles, said “Yessir,” and that he’d read Moby Dick. (He really hadn’t, but he’d seen the movie.) He told Natali, “I always think, someday after I die, they’ll go, ‘Did he die? Yeah, I remember him. He played for fucking Minnesota, didn’t he?” But in Columbus, they know better, for his teams won three straight Big Ten titles, a Rose Bowl, and a national championship, and Jim was the first player to win the Outland Trophy and the Lombardi award in the same year. When Natali interviewed him some twenty years after he graduated from Ohio State, people were still saying to Jim, “You look good enough that you could suit up tomorrow.” And his reply: “Man, there’s not enough fucking tape.”

Some of the best passages in the interview came when he recounts his time with Woody after football. When Stillwagon’s mother died unexpectedly, he discovered Woody in the church, weeping.

“I thought, ‘God, how’d he know?’ Catholic mass on a Monday morning. Unbelievable. My dad looked up at me and said, ‘Jim, your mom got a special place in heaven today.’

“I said, “What’s that, Dad?

“‘Oh,’ he says, ‘when your mom gets to heaven, all the sports fans are going to say, “Damn, Woody Hayes went to your funeral.’

“He wrote my dad letters. He didn’t have to do any of this shit. I don’t know how he knew when my mother’s funeral was, all the way from Columbus. He’d call my dad, and my dad and he would talk. He did things like that for people all the time. There’s ten thousand stories.

“A lot of guys were hosing him, but he never thought that way. At the end of his coaching, he always thought that people were giving a 110 percent. If you were with him, he’d go to the end with you…He didn’t even think there were drugs going on. There were the biggest drugheads in the world during the end. Woody would just say, ‘That doesn’t happen, not here.’

“He wouldn’t even comprehend anybody not doing what he was supposed to do. It was really out of control. You could just see it. It was public. Guys were drugheads. He just couldn’t fathom it.”

So if you really want a good picture of Stillwagon—and Woody Hayes, as well—look for Woody’s Boys, the first edition. It’s a great interview, and forgive the profanity.

A Christmas Memory

By John Baskin

My grammar school was condemned. Does that explain why I was a backward child, unable to spell out my desires at Christmastime? I hated the linoleum on the floor of my unheated upstairs bedroom because on winter mornings when my feet touched it I thought my heart would stop and so I wished for carpeting. “What’s carpeting for a child to ask at Christmas?” said my father. I learned carpeting was adult, and so desire persisted, having nothing to do with carpeting anyway.

I thought I wanted Mary Frances Verdin, too, but that could have been because Toby Hunter had her. Toby Hunter’s house had central heating and Toby Hunter had Mary Frances Verdin. That was the way I saw it.

I wanted, of course, what I could get, but that was secondary. Anything I could name I supposed I might be able to get. Even though I wanted Mary Frances Verdin, I was careful not to pray for her.

If anyone in the family had read, they would have given me books. Only my grandmother read, however, and very carefully as though reading were a barefoot act in a rocky field. For Christmas, someone gave her a hardbound copy of Catcher in the Rye. She found that Holden Caulfield took liberties with the language, turned to the back to see if he talked any better and when he didn’t, she burned the book.

We cut the tree on the first Saturday after school was out. I was fourteen, the oldest, and so in charge. My two brothers went with me into the cedars on the hillside pasture. I was looking for a symmetry which, of course, I could never quite find. Because it was Christmastime, my brothers deferred to my impossible standards. After an hour or more, still unsatisfied, I made my choice.

The tree went in the front room, which was never used except for special occasions, and the Christmas lights lit the gloomy front of the farmhouse. Uncle W. W. fell into it once, after he had made too many trips to the laundry hamper. He kept a bottle of whisky under the dirty clothes at Christmastime. Both the tree and Uncle W. W. recovered, although it was touch-and-go with my grandmother.

Grandfather never drank but once, a fact which spoiled my grandmother. On a trip to New York, my grandparents went to a night club because they had never been to one. My grandfather ordered a mint julep. It was served in a tall frosted glass with a large clump of mint and an exorbitant bill. “The goddamned shrubbery is sure high out here,” said my grandfather.

Half the family was present, my mother’s side, twenty-five in the farmhouse on Christmas Day, mamma’s bed sagging under coats, family gifts piled in tiers around the tree, the laundry hamper armed. We spread out to keep the house from listing.

When we went in for dinner, a cat was sitting on the linen cloth lapping gravy from a china bowl. Father picked up a hammer on the pantry shelf, tossed it at the cat, struck him on the head and he leaped to fall dead on the floor, the hammer sailing into a chair, not a dish broken, grandfather saying, “Praise God for eyesight to protect a man’s hearth and gravy!” And we ate.

There are moments when we are young, and all of time seems neatly balanced. Past, present, future, all aligned, as though the machinery of the universe had inexplicably hesitated, allowing me sight that was curved, like time itself was said to be. It was after dinner and I was lying behind my grandfather’s chair, to one side of the fireplace. The voices in the room blended into one pleasant droning sound.

I imagined my grandfather’s life, occurring to me then as a series of images accompanied by sensations that unreeled in my mind like a film speeded up. I saw myself in the pause, the waiting time of my life, and then I saw myself as my own grandfather, more a sensation of how I wished to be than a picture.

Desire, uncalibrated, unknown, moved me, and I knew I wanted everything, or nothing, though I could not name anything. O, I thought, almost in pain, for it was what I could name, for my parents, grandparents, uncountable sweetly sweating cousins, fat uncles, all the Christmas lights, warmth, and pleasures of this room forever!  

Amen.