A rousing, rah-rah, red-blooded stroll through the locker rooms of Columbus, home of some righteous football over the last half-century.
Ohio State, by this affectionate account from Buckeye State exile and current North Carolina–based sportswriter Menzer (The Wildest Ride, 2001), has been a college football powerhouse forever in a state where every honest citizen lives and breathes for the game and traditions are well remembered and observed. This becomes an important theme later in the narrative, for it has not always been beer and skittles—or beer and tackles, perhaps—for the stout Buckeyes. More than 50 years have passed since the great Woody Hayes, the dark hero here, came aboard as head coach and schooled them in glory. There walked a living legend, and sometimes a living cliché: Hayes loved football, whipped up his players with profane exhortations and smacked some of them around to inspire the others. If there is a constant in Menzer’s portrait of Hayes, apart from the projection of a certain sort of gridiron nobility, it is the coach’s mercurial nature: “Players and assistant coaches grew to label Woody’s rages ‘megatons.’ When he really went nuts over something, they called them ‘hundred-megatons.’ When these explosions occurred, the best advice was to stay silent and keep out of his way until it blew over.” Hayes was eventually fired after hitting an opposing player, though more unforgivably, he’d missed a couple of national titles. His successor racked up a good record by the standards of most colleges, but not good enough for OSU. Unforgivably, again, his successor’s successor dissed the locals and relaxed Hayesian standards to the point that he “eroded the level of internal discipline on the team until it bordered on the nonexistent.” The Buckeyes’ star was fading: but then came Jim Tressel, Henry at Agincourt, who proved anew that hard work makes things happen and proved as much to the Miami Hurricanes in the storied 2003 Fiesta Bowl.
You don’t have to be a Buckeye to like Menzer’s tale, one of the more readable football books of recent years. But it probably helps.