Friday, November 16, 2007

Bo, Woody & Ralph Waldo

"Go forth into the busy world and love it. Interest yourself in its life, mingle kindly with its joys and sorrows."--Ralph Waldo Emerson (right).

The coming weekend's showdown between Ohio State and Michigan brings up memories of the late, longtime Wolverine coach Bo Schembechler and his mentor and coaching rival, Woody Hayes (above), whose long career as coach of the Buckeyes was ended by an intemperate moment in the 1978 Gator Bowl, when he gave a dandy upper cut to Clemson linebacker Charlie Bauman, who had intercepted an Art Schlichter pass to seal the game.

In the early 80s, I had a phone interview with a retired Hayes on the subject of pep talks, for which he was famous. He often liked to talk with his players about history. ("I've got two dollars," he said to an Ohio high school audience in the 70s. "Whoever tells me the two most important events of the 20th century, I'll give you a dollar and sign it!." Woody's answers: the Russian Revolution and the explosion of the atomic bomb.)

When Ohio State played at Illinois, Hayes said he liked to look at the portrait of Abe Lincoln in the dining hall and talk about Lincoln -- what kind of a man he was, what kind of an athlete he was (a rail splitter, state champion wrestler) and what kind of a football player he would have been (a defensive tackle, the team decided, "because he could use those rail-splitter's arms to shed blockers") .

Hayes then said he often liked to talk with his players about Emerson's essay on "Compensation." It's a 40-page essay, with many complex themes relating morality to the natural world. But one theme is, roughly, that you receive many kindnesses and benefits in your life (like, say, from teachers and parents) that you can't really pay back to those people. But you can (and should) extend similar kindnesses to others to balance out the give and take of the cosmos (or something like that).

Hayes said many a player had come back to him in later years and said, "Coach, Emerson was right!"
Suffice it to say that the world of college football has changed a little since the days of Woody Hayes -- though Joe Paterno could probably throw a little New England trancendental philosophy around the locker room if he really wanted to get the Nittany Lions up for a tough game!

Art Schlichter, by the way, went on the become one of the most tragic victims of compulsive gambling ever. He threw away his NFL career and his life because of the addiction, for which he was treated in the best gambling addiction facilities in the country, to no avail. Schlichter most recently served a sentence in federal prison for money laundering and fraud. He was released from prison on June 16, 2006. By one estimate, he owes half a million dollars in restitution.
Schlichter has founded a non-profit organization, Gambling Prevention Awareness, to educate others about the perils of compulsive gambling, including college and NFL players. He told ESPN that he started gambling because the pressure of being Ohio State's starting quarterback was too much on him, and he wanted to be just a regular guy.

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