Sally Xia / Lantern photographer
More than 25 years after his death, one name has the power to draw more than 900 former Ohio State football players, coaches and supporters together: Woody Hayes.
Guests came out to an event celebrating Hayes’ 100th birthday and honoring Hayes’ and his wife Anne’s legacy Friday night at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center.
Former football players and Heisman Trophy winners Archie Griffin, Eddie George and Troy Smith along with ESPN anchor Brent Musburger attended the event.
“He had a genuine care for student-athletes,” said OSU football coach Urban Meyer, who attended the event.
The culture Hayes helped establish in the Big Ten during his tenure as Buckeye football coach still lives on today, Meyer said.
Registered guests were encouraged to donate and contribute to scholarships and funds in Woody and Anne Hayes’ names.
The event started and ended with an impersonator wearing Woody Hayes’ iconic baseball cap and glasses, who spoke to the audience as if he was talking to his players.
The stories and memories of Anne and Woody Hayes were shared in about 34 interviews on screen with notable OSU greats including former football coaches Earl Bruce and Jim Tressel, former OSU President Ed Jennings and former football players such as Greg Lashutka and Glenn “Shemy” Schembechler III, son of Bo Schembechler, who fought a “10-Year War” with Woody Hayes as a head coach of Michigan’s football team from 1969 to 1978.
Two-time Heisman Trophy winner and president and CEO of the OSU Alumni Association, Griffin made a keynote speech about his memories with Woody Hayes and shared a private recording of him talking to players in the locker room. He said the language Woody Hayes used is “a little different from what you saw on TV.”
Besides the often remembered tough side of Woody Hayes, his dedication to charity, his caring for players, his emphasis on education and the “Pay it Forward” spirit were also highlighted at the event.
“One of the things he talks about most is education and how important it was for me to get a good education,” Griffin said in an interview with The Lantern. “His mantra of paying it forward is the thing that really helped me with my life because that’s something I would like to do.”
Anne Hayes was remembered as a funny, smart, understanding and loving speaker and social worker in the segment “The Woman BESIDE the Man.”
The segment depicted her close relationship with the players and how she cheered them up when she knew Woody Hayes’ words might have been harsh.
Their grandchildren, Laura Hayes-Elick and Phil Hayes, shared their memories of the couple at the event.
Some attendees shared their memories with The Lantern.
Musburger said he was “completely intimidated” when he first met Woody Hayes in 1968.
“I didn’t want to ask him stupid questions,” he said.
Gene Smith, OSU athletic director, said being recruited by Woody Hayes was his favorite memory of the former coach.
“I chose to go to Notre Dame because it was in my hometown with my parents,” Smith said. “Though my parents would have preferred I went to Ohio State.”
The tribute event marked the end of the weeklong birthday celebration. Valentine’s Day would have been Woody Hayes’ 100th birthday.
An 8-foot statue of Woody Hayes was erected in front of Woody Hayes Athletic Facility Wednesday, and a tea party with Shelley Meyer, Urban Meyer’s wife, was held at the Ohio Union on Tuesday as part of the celebration.
“It really is tradition,” said Javaune Adams-Gaston, vice president of Student Life. “It really is a sense of who we are, but most importantly, it’s a sense of what we give.”
More than 100 students participated in the event without having to pay the registration fees.
“We want to be inclusive about our entire community,” Adams-Gaston said. “Of course we know that students can’t pay the price to come, but it’s the part of what we give so that they have these opportunities.”
Anooj Bhandari, a third-year in public affairs, participated in the event and said it was “phenomenal.”
“I know this sounds like such a clichÃ© concept, but I think Ohio State reads this feeling as equality and giving to other people and by dedicating your life to that, you can really create something meaningful for yourself and those around you,” Bhandari said.