Ohio State has played Illinois more times that any Big Ten opponent except Michigan. Saturday’s home finale will be the 103rd with the Fighting Illini, while next week’s contest at Ann Arbor will be the Buckeyes’ 114th against the Wolverines. Ohio State leads the all-time series with Illinois at 68-30-4.
The 1942 and 1944 contests were played at old Municipal Stadium in Cleveland. Both were Illinois “home games.” The Fighting Illini were suffering from poor attendance - travel was restricted because of the World War II gas rationing program. When Cleveland alumni of both Illinois and Ohio State urged that the games be transferred from Champaign to Cleveland, authorities from both schools consented.
Ohio State won both games; 44-20 in 1942, and 26-12 in 1944.
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The ’42 game was staged November 14 in bitterly cold weather before a half-frozen crowd of 68,656. Buckeye halfback Tommy James was outstanding, racing 76 and 33 yards for Ohio State’s second and third touchdowns. Wingback Les Horvath, who came to Ohio State from Cleveland Rhodes High School, scored twice and also completed four passes for 109 yards. The ‘42 Buckeyes captured the school’s first national title after finishing the season with an overall record of 9-1.
Unlike 1942, weather for the 1944 game was ideal, and scalpers were getting as much as $15.00 for box seats that regularly sold for $4.50. The November 18 attendance of 83,627 was (at the time) the largest in Cleveland Municipal Stadium history, and the largest to see a football game anywhere in the country in 1944. The stadium’s previous largest crowd had been 80,184, when the Cleveland Indians dedicated the stadium against the Philadelphia Athletics in 1932.
Because of a printing error, some duplicate tickets were sold before the game, resulting in the sale of more tickets than seats available. Temporary seats were quickly set up near the sidelines to compensate for the error. A special radio booth was constructed for NBC's Bill Stern, who broadcast the game nationally and to servicemen overseas. Representatives of the Army, Navy, Marines, and Coast guard participated in the flag-raising ceremonies.
Coach Ray Eliot’s Fighting Illini entered the game with a record of 4-3-1. Ohio State posted the thrilling 26-12 victory after leading the Illini at halftime, 20-6. Tackle Bill Willis made one of the game's most spectacular plays, catching Illini speedster Buddy Young from behind to prevent a touchdown. Guard Bill Hackett was excellent on defense, making tackles all over the field.
Ohio State finished the 1944 season at 9-0 and was unofficially named the National Civilian Champion. That year quarterback Les Horvath became OSU’s first Heisman Trophy winner and head coach Carroll Widdoes was named Coach-of-the-Year. The Buckeyes finished second to Army (9-0) in the final 1944 Associated Press poll.