Editor's Note:
Each week during the football season, BuckeyeXtra.com will bring subscribers the original coverage of an event in the life of legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, taken from the archives of The Columbus Dispatch newspaper. These stories, photos and clippings predate the Internet era and are being presented in digital form for the first time.

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CONTEXT:  No. 1 Ohio State capped a perfect 1968 season with a 27-16 victory over No. 2 USC in the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, sealing another national championship. Heisman Trophy winner O. J. Simpson ran for 171 yards and had an 80-yard touchdown run, but the Buckeyes came back from a 10-0 deficit, aided by five turnovers by USC.

(Originally published on January 2, 1969)

O.J. visits Buckeyes, says 'You're the best'


PASADENA, Calif. "Now let them vote," yelled Rex Kern as Ohio State's no-longer disputed national champions burst into their lockerroom Wednesday afternoon.

"Yeah," shouted a dozen Buckeye teammates, although you couldn't be sure it was an answer to Rex's challenge or just an exclamation of deliriously happy and proud young men.

Woody Hayes sat down on a bench, holding the game football under his arm. Buckeyes players quickly gathered around, each shaking his hand and someone started to chant, "One, one, one," with forefinger brandished above his head and soon the whole squad was jammed around Hayes screaming, "One, one, one," and holding up the one finger.

Then the chant switched to a deafening "Rose Bowl, Rose Bowl." As this died down, one of the Bucks near the dressing room door yelled, "Hey, guys, quiet: O.J., O.J."

"It's O.J.," attested several others, pleading, "Quiet, guys."

Suddenly, the boisterous room grew silent and all eyes turned to the doorway where stood a sweating, husky young man in a rumpled red and gold uniform with No. 32 on the front. O.J. extended his hand and said loud enough for all to hear: "You're the best ball team in the country and don't let anybody tell you you aren't. Congratulations."

The Buckeyes grabbed his hand and Woody came over to shake hands, murmuring, "Thanks, thanks." Southern Cal's Heisman Trophy winner waved his hand over his head, two fingers upraised — indicating he'd accepted the No. 2 ranking behind the Bucks — as he left for his own dressing room.

"He's a real sportsman," Hayes assured.

Happy bedlam reclaimed the hot, crowded quarters under the Rose Bowl. Hayes called for quiet and held a private talk with his unbeaten stars, turning them loose for Wednesday evening and all day Thursday — "except for a meeting at 9 o'clock in the morning before I leave for Vietnam."

"Who gets the game ball?" he asked and, as he often does, supplied the answer: "How about John Muhlbach? The little guy probably had his ankle fractured today. (A groan went up from John's teammates.) Doggone, he deserves it anyway."

Several nominations from the floor included Ray Gillian, who replaced injured Larry Zelina an caught two big passes; co-captain Dave Foley; "all the seniors"; Mark Stier, who played superbly with a painful shoulder injury and others. Woody nominated Billy Long, who'd 'been "Steve Sogge" all week against our defense.'

"I guess we'll wind up giving about five," the coach concluded — Muhlbach, Foley, Stier, Gillian and Long. He suggested making the award to Muhlbach "right now," but the injured senior center was in the shower and the ceremony was postponed.

Assistant coach Hugh Hindman came rushing in with news that another "important visitor" was coming. Woody immediately guessed President-elect Nixon, who'd attended the game, but as Hugh was nixing that assumption Bill Schroeder of the Helms Foundation arrived.

Carrying a silver trophy, Bill explained that it goes each year to the outstanding player in the Rose Bowl, as judged by the writers. "This year," he announced, "it goes to Rex Kern."

Cheers bounced around the locker room again and teammates pummeled Rex. "Don't hit him on his shoulder," Woody pleaded, protecting Kern's left. "It went out again today."

"Every part of this belongs to you guys," proclaimed Rex, waving the trophy around the room, "the greatest team in the nation."

More cheers, the taunts for guard Tom Bachkus who'd climbed on top of a locker to get a flash picture.

"Prayer," shouted several Bucks, repeating Hayes' call for quiet. Silence settled once more on the room, but outside the OSU marching band was booming with all its brass and Hayes had to speak over it. Heads bowed and he gave a longer-than-usual prayer.

When the 'Amen' echoed by some, the Buckeyes began ripping off their uniforms, shouting and responding like you would expect one of the youngest teams ever to win a national championship and finish 10-0.

Woody moved toward the interview room, because a platoon of writers had become noisily impatient. The police guard opened the door and the scribes swarmed around Hayes. Through the open door came chants of "We want Woody."

"Is that the band?" he asked. Someone said it was. As he started for the door the writers protested. "I gotta say hello to the band," Woody maintained.

It wasn't the band after all. They'd gone, but Woody waved to the fans who responded with a lusty "Woody's No. 1." He was again engulfed by the press and jumped up on a training table so he could be heard by more of them.

"The biggest factor," he said, "was our defense in the second half. O.J. broke loose for that big one in the first half, but we did a good job of stopping him in the second half. We did a good job of rushing (quarterback Steve) Sogge. We forced them into two fumbles and two interceptions. That's four turnovers and the biggest thing was that we had no fumbles and no interceptions."

What did you think when Southern Cal went ahead 10-0? someone called.

"I thought we'd win," Woody assured. "Hell, yes. Oh, sure."

"Why? Because I felt we could move the ball on them. They took away our wide game but to do it they put eight men up front and we hurt them with our passing and we could run inside. I felt if we just played our football, we could still win."

What was the biggest single play, a writer asked and when Hayes hesitated, another suggested Sogge's fumble that led to Ohio State's second touchdown and a 20-10 lead.

"I hate to put the rap on the kid," Woody said, "but I guess you could say that was a big play." Tackle Bill Urbanik jarred Sogge and Vic Stottlemyer grabbed the ball. Both, incidentally, were filling in at the time for Buckeye starters.

What about Jim Roman's field goal that tied the score at 10-10 in the fading seconds of the first half?

"That was big as the devil," Woody agreed. "Say, we were a great field goal team today, weren't we?" (The Bucks made two of three, one to tie, one to go ahead 13-10.)

Out in the locker room, Kern was probably coming closer to explaining it: "There were many key plays," said Rex. Hayes later agreed Rex's run on a pass play to the USC 4 to set up the second TD was another big play. So were Gillian's catches, one for a score, another to set up a score.

What about O.J.'s 80-yard run?

"It takes a great back to cut back," Woody commented, "but that son-of-a-gun sure did it. That's the biggest play we've had broken on us in 10 games."

Woody said he ran on the field after Southern Cal's last-minute touchdown to get an explanation of the call.

"I knew I was taking a 15-yard penalty," he pointed out, "but I wanted to find out, and I still don't know. The official said he'd tell me later and if he does I'll tell you. But it's the first time I ever saw a touchdown called with the ball on the ground."

After one of his three previous Rose Bowl victories (1954), Hayes incurred the wrath of west coasters by saying he felt four or five Big 10 teams were stronger than Southern Cal. That question popped up Wednesday.

"I'll be doggoned if you're going to catch me again," Woody dodged. "I'd put Purdue and Michigan and this team on just about par. All three are great football teams. Maybe I'd better put it that way and nobody'll be mad."

Is this your best team?

"It won its 9th game more decisively," Hayes mused, "but that '54 team was a fabulous team. We had some great runners on that team, too; maybe not as many as we do now and not as much speed on the line. Our '61 team was awfully good, too."

Woody called in Lou McCullough "who coaches all our defense" and turned the writers over to him. He sent a manager to get Hindman to answer further questions on the offense (Hugh is senior assistant in this area).

Stealing swiftly away, Hayes checked on Muhlbach who was on his way out with Dr. Bob Murphy to have X-rays taken of the injured ankle (X-rays showed no fracture).

By this time, most of the Buckeyes had dressed and left. But Woody went around to those remaining, shook hands and talked quietly. Eventually, he got back to his own locker. The press had gone; the trainers had gone. Only equipment chief Paul West remained.

"Was this your biggest victory?" Woody was asked.

"I suppose it was," he agreed as the hot shower water splashed on the tile floor. "Pretty convincing, wasn't it?

"I was a little worried," he confessed. "We weren't sharp and we had Stier hurt and Rex's shoulder. But Mark played the whole game and Rex's shoulder went out again, but he said it went right back in after he went all the way."

Defensive backfield coach Lou Holtz dashed in. "Coach," he shouted into the shower, "the boys are getting awfully restless. They'd like to get going."

"Don't wait on me," Woody waved. "I'll get back to the hotel. Get 'em going."

There was an almost-immediate thunder of a big bus revving up in the stadium tunnel outside and away they went.

"Happy?" Woody repeated a question. "Why sure I'm happy. Say, I got to get back to the hotel. The President of the United States is going to call. That's the word they got to me. I don't want to miss that."

Hayes becomes an unofficial U.S. envoy to servicemen in Vietnam and adjacent military installations as of Friday and will he be happy to show the color movies of Wednesday's classic? He promised to go win or lose, but it's bound to be better after one of football's great victories — for the national title, against an unbeaten foe, after you've spotted a team with the great O.J. Simpson 10 points.

Jim Otis felt "I knew we were going to go, even when the Trojans went ahead 10-0. When I went into the huddle, I said all we've got to do is take it to them."

He thought "Southern Cal had a good defense," but that the Bucks had an advantage because, "like Woody Hayes has said so many times, we've got four runners in the backfield."