Ohio State and Notre Dame have played a mere five times, somewhat perplexing given the schools’ prominence and domicile in contiguous states. Notre Dame’s series with Ohio State ties for shortest with Minnesota of the “Original Big X” (Actually 12). Notre Dame has played Big 10/12/14 newcomers Rutgers and Maryland 5 and 2 times respectively.
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But the series did open with a bang. It was a strange time for Notre Dame, during the interregnum between Rockne and Leahy. Fielding Yost, in his vendetta against Notre Dame and the now deceased Rockne, who specialized in demeaning and aggravating Yost, had salted the fields in the Western Conference. Teams were loath to incur the wrath of the druids in Ann Arbor by scheduling Notre Dame. But Ohio State, which had not yet won a national championship (its first would come in ’42) was amenable to play the Irish.
COLLEGE FOOTBALL’S FIRST “GAME OF THE CENTURY”
The first game was in 1935, in Columbus, hard by the banks of the Olentangy River, in what was then truly a horseshoe—shaped stadium . Ohio State was a strong 4-0 under coach Francis X. Schmidt, having won every tilt by 14 or more points.
The denizens of Columbus awaited the first visit of Notre Dame, arriving with the ghosts of Rockne, The Four Horsemen and the Gipper. The game was set for November 2, 1935.
Elmer Layden was the coach of the Irish, and they too came in unbeaten at 4-0, but without the dazzling margin of victory and “style points” (a phrase not yet coined in 1935) which Ohio State had garnered.
The game had national interest, and a nationwide radio audience tuned in, and given the drama of the game, never tuned out.
One of Notre Dame’s players, Wayne Milner, who scored Notre Dame’s final touchdown, later wrote an article for his then employer, the Albert Richard Coal Company. Milner wrote:
Passing, rushing and receiving, Andy Pilney (‘36) did it all in Notre Dame’s win over Ohio State. His senior season was cut short by a significant leg injury, but the final play of the halfback’s Irish career was a 36-yard run, helping to set up the winning touchdown against the Buckeyes.
Layden passed to Pilney, Pilney passed to Fromhart, and then to Layden again and we had a second touchdown, to trail, 13 to 12. When Fromhart missed the tying point from placement, with less than two minutes to play, it appeared again that it was not Notre Dame’s day.
We tried an on-side kick on the kickoff, but Ohio State recovered the ball. Then Dick Beltz drove off his right tackle for a good gain. Larry Danbom, who had replaced Miller at fullback, checked him, and [Notre Dame’s] Pilney, who had been running, passing, and kicking like a demon, came up from the deep secondary to hit Beltz like a pile driver, forcing him to fumble. Henry Pojman, our center, recovered on the Ohio State 49-yard line.
Then Pilney turned in the climax play of the day, the play that was to engrave his name forever in the annals of football as the man who turned in probably the best single day’s play of any man in history. He faked a pass, raced through a hole at center, dodged eight separate Ohio State men, and was finally pinned on the 19-yard line by the remaining three Buckeyes, after a run of 30 yards which included every trick of ball-carrying, perfectly executed. Pilney was hurt on the play so seriously that he did not see action in the remaining three games.
As they carried [Pilney] off the field on a stretcher, Bill Shakespeare tossed a long pass to me which I was able to catch without breaking stride. Notre Dame had won, 18 to 13. The pass play called for a shift to the left. The ball came back to Mazziotti who had replaced Layden for the kickoff, he spun and handed it to Shakespeare, who faded deep and to his right. McKenna, quarterback who was sent in to call the play; Danbom, and Mazziotti blocked. Marty Peters, right end, cut to his left, drawing the secondary over. I ran straight ahead and then cut hard to my right.
We had been overcome by Ohio State’s reputation and the fatigue of a hard season, but Andy Pilney gave us all the fight and confidence it took to win one of the greatest games ever played.
Right from a hero’s mouth! Millner, in true Notre Dame fashion, attempted to share the credit, but he became a hero, along with (you can’t write this stuff) Bill Shakespeare, who joined Johnny “One Play” O’Brien as special late game heroes.
The game had lived up to its billing and all the adrenaline surging through the Buckeye fans. And it was named “The Game of the Century.” It was Notre Dame’s first, and of course, the Irish would play “Games of the Century” again against Army in ’46 (0-0), Michigan State in ‘66 (10-10), Alabama in ’73 (ND 24-Bear Bryant 23) Miami in ’88 (ND 31-Miami 30) and Florida State in ’93 (ND 31-Bowden, Charlie Ward and the ‘Noles 24).
This football commemorates Notre Dame’s win in the “Game of the Century” and is currently on display at the Joyce Center.
The teams met again in South Bend in 1936, but both teams came in with a loss. The Irish won a hard fought 7-2 battle, albeit without the sturm and drang of the ’35 epic.,
After 1936, there existed good will between the two schools, but they did not play again until 1995.
WOODY HAYES, ARA AND OHIO’s CATHOLICS
Once upon a time, Woody Hayes was the coach at Denison University in Denison, Ohio . He then moved to coach at Miami (OH) in ‘49 and ‘50 and recruited an assistant coach who was a young firebrand from Akron, a former star at Miami under Sid Gillman (a forefather of the West Coast Offense). The young coah was named Ara Raoul Parseghian. Ara had had spent two years with the Cleveland Browns, where he was coached by the legendary Paul Brown, one of the great technicians and teaching coaches of all time.
Hayes knew of Parsehgian’s prowess as an Akron schoolboy, as a star at Miami and figured Ara had picked up a coaching tip or two from Sid Gillman and Paul Brown.
After two solid years in Oxford, Hayes got a call from Columbus, and with apologies to the good folks at Miami’s Cradle of Coaches, Woody headed to the state capital. He coached there for 28 years.
Woody Hayes was fond of Ara, but he was even fonder of his vice-like control over the loyalty of the Ohio fans to Wayne Woodrow Hayes, Scarlet, Gray and the Buckeyes. It was an urban legend that Woody never referred to the “University of Michigan” but rather to “that school up north.” The apocryphal, unverified story was that Woody’s car once ran out of gas on a recruiting trip in Michigan, but that he pushed it over the nearby Ohio State line so he wouldn’t have to buy gas in the Wolverine State.
Woody was keenly aware that there were hundreds of thousands of Catholics in Ohio, He felt that playing Notre Dame would divide the loyalties in the state, that many Catholics would root for Our Lady’s University and that Hayes and the Buckeyes would be left with the protestants, agnostics, atheists, Buddhists (not many in Ohio) and Muslims (even fewer). Woody wouldn’t have that, And he did control the schedule. So Notre Dame and Ohio State did not meet so long as Woody Hayes had anything to do with it.
Rumor has it that if a Catholic schoolboy was considering Ann Arbor, Woody would turn papist and talk glowingly about what a great place Notre Dame was for a Catholic kid from Ohio.
Thus, a nearly 60 year gap.
’95 AND ‘96
OhIo State and Notre Dame did play twice in the mid 90’s in a conventional home and home. At that time John Cooper, a great aggregator of talent, coached Ohio State. Cooper’s team were noted for choking against Michigan and the Bowl opponent. Cooper finished 2-10-1 against Michigan and 3-8_ in bowl games. But it was considered dangerous to play Ohio State in September, before the glistening roster succumbed to Cooper’s coaching and his gagging on the pressure against Michigan in November and in the bowl season.
Lou Holtz had lost both Vinny Cerrato to the NFL and a few tilts to the administration and the most malodorous Canadian import this side of Justin Bieber and Black Velvet, Mike Wadsworth. Lou had lost only 9 games from ’88-93, but lost 11 in his final 3 years. The bloom was off the rose.
Ohio State won 45-26 in Columbus behind the unstoppable Heisman Winner, Eddie George. Ohio State’s win in South Bend was an even more dominating 29-16 in South Bend as an Ohio State tackle who was a worthy successor to the legacy of Jim Parker and John Hicks, one Orlando Pace, just blew up the Notre Dame defensive line that was starting to atrophy without Cerrato filling the pipeline, undeterred by the administration. The game seemed eerie and hollow as the upper deck expansion was not yet ready for occupancy, so the upper deck was vacant for the game.
Ohio State had evened the series at 2-2.
YOU CAN’T FIX STUPID-OR CHARLIE WEIS
So there was this Notre Dame coach who had lost two games by mid-October of his first year but was rewarded for poor home field performance with an absurd, profligate reckless extension. The University and alumni of a particular ilk were so relieved to be rid of Tyrone Willingham that they celebrated their Moses.
CharlIE Weis demonstrated equal stupidity and arrogance both before and after the opening whistle in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State which followed the 2005 season. First, he crowed in the press conferences about his Super Bowl rings and demeaned, by statement and implication, the outstanding achievements of Jim Tressel, the Ohio State Coach.
Tressel would not take the bait. He knew that people who are insecure and incompetent find their milieu in a press conference. Tressel preferred to compete on the field of honor.
Weis’ hubris continued in the first quarter. With the game tied 7-7, Ohio State’s Troy Smith fumbled at the Buckeye 15. After 3 unsuccessful plays, Weis eschewed the field goal, tried a pass play and A.J. Hawk sacked his future brother-in-law, Brady Quinn. Instead of 10-7 ND, it remained 7-7. It remained that way for 2:16 before Ted Ginn rushed 68 yards for the go-ahead touchdown making it OSU 14-ND 7.
The embarrassment had begun, and Weis’ defense “held” Ohio State and the obviously schematically disadvantaged Jim Tressel to 617 yards as Ohio State triumphed 34-20.
Weis had talked the talk and Tressel had walked the walk.
Ohio State leads the Series 3-2.
NOTRE DAME FOLK IN COLUMBUS
Gene Smith, Ohio State Athletic Director, was on the ’73 championship squad at ND and is a ’77 graduate of Notre Dame du lac.
Urban Meyer-assistant at Notre Dame from ’96-2000
Ed Warinner, Offensive Coordinator, Tim Hinton, Tight End and Fullback coach, and Tony Alford, Assistant Head Coach and Running Backs Coach all served as Notre Dame assistants under Brian Kelly.
Mickey Marotti was Notre Dame’s head of strength and conditioning before being shunned by Weis. Meyer immediately snapped up Mariotti and has kept him at his side ever since. Marotti has been the strength coach of three national championship teams. The number “3” is also relevant to Weis’ record. Within one calendar year, he lost AT HOME ON NOTRE DAME’S HALLOWED GROUND to these three teams:
No other coaching staff in America knows more about Notre Dame, its ways and its tricks. This will add some intrigue to the upcoming contest in Arizona.
Notre Dame and Ohio State will meet in 2022 and 2023.