The man behind the uniform
Former Buckeye and WWII vet Charles Csuri was an inspiration behind OSU’s throwback jerseys
Published: Monday, November 22, 2010
Updated: Friday, June 15, 2012 22:06
Former Ohio State lineman Charles Csuri was hesitant to go to New York City on Sept. 1, even though coach Jim Tressel pleaded for him to do so.
Nike was unveiling its line of Pro Combat jerseys, and OSU's uniforms were to resemble the ones worn by the 1942 squad, which Csuri was a part of, that brought the school its first national championship.
In an attempt to distance itself from creating another stale marketing gimmick, Nike designed the uniforms to pay homage to the team members who traded their OSU uniforms for those of the Armed Forces during World War II. Csuri served as a corporal in the Army during the war, and Tressel wanted him at the event to speak at the press conference.
Csuri reluctantly decided to attend the unveiling after his wife persuaded him. But at 88, getting around isn't as easy for him as it once was, even though his dark hair and firm handshake belie his age.
At the event, Csuri spoke to a crowd of media about his former teammates while standing next to a stagehand dressed in the uniform. Unknown to him, there was a bronze star on the helmet and gloves with his initials printed on them.
When someone from Nike pointed the star out to Csuri as he was leaving the stage, he realized why Tressel was begging him to go.
"I was surprised, flattered, honored and slightly embarrassed," Csuri said of the decal. "It was nice."
Although Tressel kept that small tribute hidden from Csuri, he's made no secret about his excitement to honor the 1942 team against Michigan on Saturday.
"We're looking forward to the fact that we're honoring that 1942 team, which one could argue that that's when a great part of our tradition began in Ohio State football," Tressel said. "Not to mention the fact that what those men did once the season was over, they went and served in the ultimate way."
Few Buckeye football players have served their country better than Csuri.
The son of Hungarian immigrants, Csuri was born in West Virginia and grew up in Cleveland as his family struggled to make ends meet during the Great Depression.
"There were a lot of hungry people," Csuri said. "People were in a survival mode and had low expectations."
During his youth, he developed an interest in football and art. He spent his weekday afternoons on the football field and his weekends riding the streetcar to the east side of Cleveland for art classes.
Csuri began attending OSU in 1940 and, like his other teammates, he was just happy to get the chance to go to college.
"We were all children of the Depression, so we had a different level of expectation," Csuri said. "For most of us, it was just exciting to get a college degree."
At first, getting that degree seemed like a difficult task. He was a mediocre student by his own account, lagging behind others who went to better secondary schools and primarily spoke English (Hungarian was his first language). His interest in art waned as the economy offered little hope to art as a means of living. Instead, he aspired to become a machinist or cabinet-maker.
He faced imposing odds on the football field as well. At 6-foot-1-inches and slightly more than 205 pounds, he said he was the smallest tackle in the Big Ten.
But Csuri played beyond his small stature, winning the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player award and being named an All-American in 1942.
That year, he helped the Buckeyes to a 9-1 record and a national championship by clearing lanes for star running backs Les Horvath and Gene Fekete.
But Csuri's football career was put on hold when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943. He spent a year at the Newark College of Engineering (now the New Jersey Institute of Technology) studying analytical geometry, calculus and physics, while training to become an officer.
Csuri was sent into combat when the Army needed more troops and served as a forward observer with the 69th Infantry Division, helping to direct artillery fire. He entered at the beginning of the Battle of the Bulge and nearly left in a casket.
At one point during the battle, the lines of communication between the front line and the artillery unit had been disconnected, and Csuri volunteered to take information back to Allied headquarters. In the snow-covered forest, he said, he ran across enemy lines, getting his helmet and belt pack shot off during the trek.
"You do things like that when you're very young," Csuri said. "When you're 20 to 21 years of age, you think you're invincible in a way, or you can't conceive of your being killed in some respects."
Csuri said he doesn't remember much from that episode or the contents of the message he delivered. Nonetheless, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for heroism during the battle.
Not long after receiving the medal, he tucked it away in a drawer, where it stayed for several years before his daughter discovered it.
Before the 2010 season started, his daughter gave the medal to Tressel, who has it displayed in the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
"It was good what I did, but what can I say?" Csuri said. "It's one of those things that I did when I was very young, but I've long since forgotten about it."
After completing military service in 1946, Csuri returned to OSU and served as a team captain during his senior year. But he was ready to move on from football.
Former OSU coach Paul Brown even recruited him to play professionally when he established the Cleveland Browns, but Csuri turned him down.
"You realize that war isn't a TV show or movie, it's something very different," Csuri said. "You're just simply not prepared for it."
"When I came back, I didn't have the psychological makeup to be as aggressive about things as I was before I went into the war," Csuri said. "I had no desire to play professional football."