Okay, enough is enough.
It appears the Ohio State football program has been hijacked again.
Hijacked from the former players, the alumni and the great fans of Ohio State.
I got bad news for you: Nike’s power, influence and money have taken it from us.
The athletic department announced on Monday that the Buckeyes will wear “an alternate” uniform for the annual showdown with Michigan on Nov. 25 in Ann Arbor.
You won’t see the traditional silver helmets adorned with green Buckeye leaves. You won’t see the traditional gray pants with scarlet stripes down the side.
Scarlet and gray?
No, as far as I can tell from the preliminary pictures, the Buckeyes will play the game in black and white – with the same grayish helmets they wore against Penn State. You won’t need a high-def, color TV that day; unless you want to see the bright colors of … I hate to say it … Maize and Blue.
Ohio State’s helmets will be adorned with scarlet Buckeye leaves, as if there could be such a thing. The gray cleats will be from LeBron James’ line of athletic apparel.
Last I checked, LeBron never attended Ohio State, let alone graduated from it. But I do think he has given some money to the school, if not some coolness from standing on the sidelines once in a while.
By my count, this is the sixth Ohio State-Michigan game since 2009 in which the Buckeyes will not wear their traditional uniforms.
In the most-traditional game in college football.
The people who make these decisions must be looking for instant gratification, or perhaps more revenue for the athletic department, or both. I am not really sure. What they really need is a history lesson.
Let me give them one.
And it starts with a sliver of Woody Hayes’ story.
I am guessing that the people in sports administration, athletic director Gene Smith, current school president Michael Drake, and even Urban Meyer, who professes to be well-versed in OSU football history, don’t know everything about the man, the myth and the legend.
The truth is: For all his conservativeness in politics and in calling plays as well, Woody was a well-rounded and well-educated man. He was in command of his own ship during World War II. He taught English and Military History. He read poetry.
He not only had his fingers on every aspect of the football program, but he carried the most influence of any person on campus from 1951-78. If a fellow history professor or math professor he knew was up for tenure, or a promotion, Woody was the one who made it happen. If a secretary, graduate assistant or anyone from support personnel needed financial help for a necessary medical procedure, Woody either paid for it himself or pushed the administration to give them a raise.
You know who labeled the great Ohio State Marching Band “the best damn band in the land?”
It wasn’t the band director. It wasn’t the president or the director of music.
It was Woody.
“The Team up North?”
That wasn’t a local weather man pointing to a map in late November.
It was Woody.
And do you know who designed the famed football uniforms and helmets that are so recognized around the world today?
It wasn’t an athletic director, or fashion designer brought in by the athletic department. It wasn’t a shoe company or a famous NBA player who happened to like Ohio State.
It was Woody.
Yep, the coach with 238 career wins also designed the best uniform in college football.
Following the 1967 season, Woody decided it was time for a new helmet for the Buckeyes. So he and athletic trainer Ernie Biggs sat down at the training facility on Olentangy River Road and drew out possible designs. What they came up with was a silver helmet, adorned a scarlet stripe down the middle, surrounded by white and black stripes on the outside.
Then they had a stroke of genius.
They decided to add circular white stickers adorned with green Buckeye leaves to the helmets, game-by-game, as players did something significant such as scoring touchdowns, or making interceptions.
Thus, the helmet would naturally change from the season-opener when it was bare on both sides to the Michigan game, when many of Ohio State players’ helmets would be full of Buckeye leaves, at least on the left side.
As the leaves reduced in size over the years, and coaches Earle Bruce (1979-87) and John Cooper (1988-2000) decided to award them for more and more categories and accomplishments, both sides of most star players’ helmets became covered by the annual showdown the third week of November.
And that athletic facility, which was once named for Biggs, is named for Woody himself today, as is the street that divides Ohio Stadium and St. John Arena. Rightfully so.
Let me add this for perspective: Alabama’s traditional crimson helmets with the players’ numbers on each side are very recognizable to the average college football fan. So are Penn State’s plain white helmets. So are Notre Dame’s golden domes. Oklahoma’s interlocking OU, and USC’s Trojan head.
But there is no helmet in football – and not just in college football – more immediately recognizable around the world than Ohio State’s traditional helmet by the time the Michigan game is played.
But not this Nov. 25.
Or last year, for that matter, for that thrilling double-overtime epic game in Columbus. For when Curtis Samuel darted into the end zone at the closed end of the Horseshoe to complete what could be the greatest finish to any game in the historic rivalry, he was wearing a dark-bronzed helmet that looked like something the city’s riot police wore in 1968. Pictures and video of that moment will last an eternity. I probably have seen that touchdown replayed 25 times over the past year. And each time, Samuel crosses the goal line wearing that hideous helmet.
Someday, perhaps 50 or 75 years from now, some Ohio State fan will see it and wonder, “What kind of helmet were they wearing back in 2016? What were the school colors back then?”
Let me get to the bottom line: No school – not Notre Dame, not Alabama, not USC and not even Michigan – owns a deeper and more meaningful football tradition than Ohio State. They may equal it, but they don’t surpass it.
This program is steeped in tradition, dating back more than a century. From Gold Pants to Script Ohio to Ohio Stadium’s unique Horseshoe stadium to Buckeye Grove to “Hang on Sloopy” and especially to those familiar, recognizable, beautiful scarlet-and-gray uniforms Woody himself designed.
“Having the school colors – scarlet and gray – in them was a must,” Woody said in 1968.
It is those traditions which make Ohio State football unique and special. They make it what it is.
This isn’t Oregon, which needs to have a million uniform combinations because they have little else in the way of championship history. Or Oklahoma State, which now seems to don a new uniform every week of the season.
These gimmicks, which supposedly appeal to recruits, are not only not needed, they are senseless and misguided.
For every time they wear them, especially against their arch rival, I believe they chisel a small chip out of the program’s tradition.
“If these alternate uniforms are so great and they help in recruiting, why doesn’t Alabama do it?” asked Jamie Sumner, a starting guard at Ohio State in 1994-95. “The answer is because they don’t need to. And neither does Ohio State. Those traditional helmets we wore are special. Nobody else has anything close to them.
“I admit that I have actually liked some of the alternate jerseys, but just keep the traditional helmet for all games.”
At this point, that would satisfy me.
I have talked to dozens of alumni football players, who gain more perspective for each year they are gone from campus. To a man, they agree. As the years pass, their love for the program and the traditions of it intensify.
Doesn’t Meyer recruit well enough already that he doesn’t need a new helmet and uniform to do it better?
And do you really want a kid to sign with Ohio State because he loves the alternate uniforms?
I certainly wouldn’t.
If I was a coach or administrator, I would want that kid who fell in the love with the campus on his recruiting visits, The Oval, Mirror Lake, and his particular program or major the school offers. I want that kid who had done his homework and realized the rich tradition of the football program and what winning a set of Gold Pants, a Big Ten championship, and if possible, a national championship, will mean to him as life goes on after football.
I want him to actually believe a degree from Ohio State will change his life.
If he grew up in Ohio, he may already know these things because of his father, uncle, older brother or even grandfather. And he doesn’t need a botany professor to tell him that leaves from a Buckeye tree aren’t red.
And let me go back to the beginning.
It’s all about ownership.
A football program such as Ohio State’s doesn’t belong to its recruits. Believe it or not, it doesn’t even belong to the current players. They are only the current care-takers of it. When they graduate, then they will declare ownership for the rest of their lives.
And it certainly doesn’t belong to its coaches or athletic director or members of the administration, unless they are Ohio State graduates. But many of them went to school elsewhere. This is their current job and they may or may not move on to other jobs before they retire.
It belongs to the former players, who are forever bonded to it. It also belongs to the alumni and the great fans of Ohio State.
Alumni who never played a down and are totally invested in it, as are the millions of Ohioans through the generations who have never set foot on campus or could even afford to attend a home game.
Younger fans may think I am making too much about a uniform.
Well let me add this, the opening line of the “Buckeye Battle Cry” goes like this:
“Drive, drive on down the field, men of the Scarlet and Gray …”
Should they now change the first line of the fight song, too? What about the uniforms of the best damn band in the land? The school colors? (You know, they originally where orange and black.)
And while we’re at it, let’s build a few buildings smack dab in the middle of the Oval, fill in Mirror Lake with concrete, change the chimes from Orton Hall to a piano riff, lobby the Big Ten to face Michigan in the season-opener each year, and connect South Stands to the main portion of Ohio Stadium so football games are no longer played in a true Horseshoe.
Maybe one of those things will appeal to recruits.
Jeff Snook, who has written 12 books on college football, is a 1982 graduate of The Ohio State University School of Journalism.