Rob Harley’s last name meant little to the people he grew up with in Chicago.
As early as he can remember, he wanted to attend the college where the Harley name meant everything.
Rob Harley was born in 1982, eight years after his great-great uncle Chic Harley died. But Rob Harley, now linebacker coach at the University of Pittsburgh, grew up imbued with the knowledge of what Chic meant to Ohio State.
"My grandpa was his nephew," Rob said. "I was very close with my grandpa – my dad’s dad – and that’s all we ever heard about. I might as well have grown up in Columbus just in terms of our love for Ohio State."
One of his earliest memories is watching the Buckeyes in the 1985 Rose Bowl and telling his dad that he wanted to play for Ohio State.
Harley’s hopes of being offered a scholarship out of high school were dashed by an injury his junior year. He had lower-level scholarship offers but turned them down to become a walk-on at Ohio State. Harley eventually earned a scholarship and was a three-year letterman from 2001-05 under Jim Tressel, including the 2002 national championship team.
It was special playing at Ohio Stadium for Harley. Chic Harley’s brilliance during his career sparked the fanaticism for Buckeyes football that resulted in the push to build the Horseshoe, which opened in 1922.
By the time Rob Harley enrolled, Chic Harley’s glory days at OSU were more than 80 years in the past. Even then, Rob was linked with his famous uncle.
"If I go back to Columbus," he said, "nobody calls me Rob. Everyone calls me Chic. Since I got on campus as a player, coach Tressel started that. Even to this day, if I call him, he says, ‘Hey, Chic, what’s up?’ Or he calls me Chic-let, just for fun."
Harley loves history, and he revels in his association with his uncle. Unfortunately, Chic’s post-OSU life was tragic. After a brief time in pro football with George Halas’ team that would become the NFL’s Chicago Bears, Harley suffered from mental illness and spent most of the rest of his life in a Veteran’s Administration hospital in Danville, Illinois.
One of the rare times he left the hospital was to attend a Buckeye game in 1949. The marching band spelled out a script "Chic" instead of "Ohio."
Even among Harley’s relatives, Chic’s illness is a bit of a mystery, Rob said. Back then, mental illness tended to be a taboo subject.
"It was just like, ‘Yeah, he had some issues and had a breakdown’ and that was it," Rob said. "We never even talked about it."
Chic Harley’s troubled later years don’t diminish what he accomplished as Ohio State’s first great star. His name is one of those on the stadium’s Ring of Honor.
"Archie (Griffin) says all the time that Ohio State football is not what it is today without Chic Harley," Rob Harley said. "You’re talking about the two-time Heisman winner saying that. I think it’s really neat. I love the fact it is my family member, but I also love the fact that I’m just a part of that tradition as a player in general."