Film producers debuted a documentary Thursday immortalizing Chic Harley, the tragic hero and Ohio State football star credited for building “Buckeye Nation.”
Producer Dean Carnevale and the production team at Brainstorm Media Inc. unveiled “Lost Legend: The Chic Harley Story” to family and friends at a private showing at the Buckeye Hall of Fame Café.
“It took eight long years to get to this point,” Carnevale said. He thanked his wife and daughters for their support of his “selfish endeavors” before the screening.
The documentary tells the story of Charles “Chic” Harley’s football career at both Columbus East High School and OSU, as well as his tragic battle with mental illness.
The film is narrated by OSU’s play-by-play announcer Paul Keels, with contributions from former Buckeyes Rob Harley — Chic Harley’s great, great nephew — and Archie Griffin, two-time Heisman Trophy winner.
Harley was born in Chicago in the early 1900s, but his family moved to Columbus before he started high school. According to the documentary, Harley dominated the high school football scene at East High, drawing bigger crowds than OSU football at the time.
He came to OSU in 1916 when the football program had no national attention. Under the leadership of coach Jack Wilce, Harley led the Buckeyes to their first Western Conference Championship, later known as the Big Ten Conference Championship.
Harley could “run sideways, and one guy couldn’t bring him down,” according to the Keels in the documentary. His running style became known as the “Harley Shift” because he would stiff-arm every opponent and, with a twist of his hip, run for the touchdown.
Harley got national attention for his style on the field, and the sellout crowds he drew prompted OSU to draft plans for a bigger stadium.
In 1918, Harley served in the U.S. Air Force in World War I. Jealous of his national fame, fellow airmen ridiculed him and superiors punished him.
With help from OSU’s president, William Oxley Thompson, Harley was released from duty just in time to play football.
In 1919, for the first time in OSU’s 15-year football history, Harley led the team to beat the Michigan Wolverines. According to the film, Harley intercepted four passes to win the game. At this time, OSU was dubbed the “best team in the nation.” Harley had the most attention and publicity of any athlete in the country.
His last game as a Buckeye was against Illinois and drew such a large crowd that the OSU Board of Trustees approved plans for a new stadium that day. Unfortunately, OSU lost.
While at OSU, Harley not only achieved football greatness, but he also lettered in baseball and track and even had the chance to play professional baseball.
After graduating, he stayed at OSU as an assistant coach. He also made appearances at events, raising money to fund building of the new stadium.
Harley left OSU to play professional football for the Decatur Staleys, who later became the Chicago Bears. However, he was ostracized by his teammates and eventually forced off the team.
This betrayal by his teammates, as well as the torment he suffered in the Air Force, led to Harley’s mental breakdown and battle with schizophrenia. In the years following his football career, he was confined to a mental hospital and slowly disappeared from public attention.
In 1948, Harley underwent shock therapy treatment and his condition improved. That same year, he was honored by a parade at OSU. Thousands of people lined the streets of Columbus to get a glimpse of the former hero.
Harley never married and spent the remainder of his life in a veteran hospital. He died April 21, 1975, from bronchial complications.
Ohio Stadium was originally supposed to be named after Chic Harley, according to the documentary. It is said to be the “house that Harley built.”
Many people do not remember Harley or the legacy he left behind, but the documentary aims to reverse that.
Carnevale said plans to distribute the documentary are still in the works.