Jared Drake checked his locker at Rutgers last month to find a time machine waiting for him. Hanging inside was a No. 42 jersey. When the Ohio State running back pulled it on, he was transported 75 years into the past.
It was 75 years ago this season that the Buckeyes won their first national championship, and Drake’s grandfather, Phil Drake, was a backup quarterback on that 1942 team coached by Paul Brown.
“When I first came here (in 2015) I wanted to wear No. 42 to honor him,” said Jared Drake, a junior walk-on who played quarterback at Westerville Central and attended East Tennessee State on scholarship before transferring to Ohio State.
It took a mistake for Drake to finally fit into his No. 42 jersey. He had been wearing No. 30 as a linebacker but switched to running back in the fall. During the UNLV game, Drake found himself on the field with hybrid back Demario McCall, who also wears No. 30.
“We were both in the game at the same time and nobody realized it,” Drake said. “The next week I show up at Rutgers and in my locker is a new jersey, with No. 42. I did not even ask for it, and it was a cool thing to happen.”
Drake knows his grandfather wore No. 68 and owned at least “pair” of gold pants for the Buckeyes’ 21-7 win over Michigan in 1942, but otherwise knows little about the school’s first team to win a national championship.
Let’s help him out.
World War II was raging in 1942 when Ohio State athletic director Lynn St. John added a game at the end of the season against Iowa Pre-Flight, a service school with a physical education and football program for college and professional players who were in the Navy. The Buckeyes had just defeated Michigan to improve to 8-1 — the lone loss was a 17-7 setback at Wisconsin — when Iowa Pre-Flight showed up at Ohio Stadium on Nov. 28.
“It was a bunch of pros … big guys,” former Ohio State fullback Gene Fekete told the Dispatch in 2007.
The Seahawks outweighed the No. 3 Buckeyes by an average of 21 pounds on the line and 18 pounds in the backfield.
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“Brown said, ‘I know you just had a big celebration when you won the Big Ten, but if you just go out and play your usual game of football, you'll be all right,’ ” Fekete recalled.
By usual, Brown meant fast. In his second season at Ohio State after making a name for himself as a high school coach in Massillon, Brown made use of his players’ superior speed to guide the Buckeyes to a relatively easy 41-12 win over the Seahawks. The national championship fell into place when No. 2 Georgia Tech and No. 1 Boston College both lost on the final weekend.
Unlike today, when a national title is celebrated with follow-up festivities at Ohio Stadium, tons of commemorative merchandise and nonstop coverage, in 1942 the players returned to polite applause and … war. While modern college players look forward to entering the NFL, those from The Greatest Generation eyed a different sort of draft.
“The war was a very heavy kind of thing hanging over us,” former OSU tackle Chuck Csuri told me a few years ago. “We knew we were going into the military.”
Csuri, 95, said that winning a national title provided a sense of accomplishment, but otherwise the hype associated with finishing No. 1 was nothing compared to today.
“We won the national title, and what happened shortly thereafter is that most of us had to go into military service,” said Csuri, voted MVP of the ’42 Buckeyes. “Of course, we were very proud of what had happened, but no big deal was made of it. It was more of a routine thing. We had none of that exhilaration, and I regret that. And the kind of stories on individual players that you read today would have been unheard of then.”
Ohio State played no bowl game in 1942. After finishing 9-1, the Buckeyes joined about 600 fans at the annual appreciation banquet in the men’s gym. Several weeks later, many were taking marching orders from actual drill sergeants, not ones coaching football.
Csuri arrived in Europe after D-Day, but in time for the Battle of the Bulge, where he earned a Bronze Star for heroism.
Phil Drake flew planes over Europe.
Bob Shaw, an All-America offensive and defensive end under Brown, served with the 104th Infantry Division, earning a Bronze Star as the Timberwolf Division fought its way through Europe, eventually liberating the Mittelbau-Dora concentration camp in Nordhausen, Germany.
Shaw, who died in 2011, seldom spoke of the war in later years. What the Timberwolf Division discovered at that camp for political prisoners was a million miles removed from beating Michigan. And nothing to celebrate.
The next time you see Drake wearing No. 42, remember that Ohio State championship team. For more than just football.