When Woody Met Bo In Heaven

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - November 29, 2006
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That must have been one hell of a noisy Saturday afternoon behind Saint Peter’s gates. Chairs being tossed, lockers busted, water bottles thrown and a few choice words rarely heard in such a community.

No doubt the Seraphim were pulling double duty keeping the overexcited words of the Old Man and his infuriating former protege from the ears of the Big Guy.

“You’re out of your @#*!! mind!”

“No, I’m not!”

“Yes, you are!”

“Shut the !*@^# up!” “You’re fired!”

“You fired me a week ago!” Not that the Dominions, those charged with keeping order, had an easier time maintaining the peace. Not with one coach who wouldn’t stop for gas in his opponent’s state - “I won’t buy one g**damn drop of gas in the state of Michigan! We’ll coast and push this g**damn car to the Ohio line before I give this state a nickel of my money!” - and another who crawled over a table on his hands and knees to entice, exhort, threaten a quarterback who didn’t want anything to do with a team that loathed the pass. “You’re the first kid I had to recruit and you’re a Michigan man, and I’ll be damned if you’re leaving Michigan!”

He played four years at the university, by the way.

Did the one in red and the other in blue pay any attention to the two groups of heavenly custodians? Maybe. Who knows? Probably not. We’re talking about a pair of individuals who put back-to-back presidents on hold.

And while their arguments became the stuff of legend, no one may have been happier than Woody Hayes to see Bo Schembechler, his former player, assistant, friend and arch-rival from “that damned school up north” enter the room.

Sitting just inside the gates while cranking out his favorite tune, “Schembechler kicked my crippled dog,” Hayes smiled broadly with a joy that only victory can produce. Pleased not just because it has been 19 years since he saw his old friend, but more importantly, because he beat Bo one final time. And not just by a little - 19 years, nearly two decades. Makes that two point conversion near the end of that 1968 58-14 blowout seem charitable. A favor that #@*!! Bo purposely paid back by keeping the Old Man waiting on the sidelines. Sure, Bo may have gotten the best of his old boss 5-4-1 back on the terrestrial plain, but this is for eternity. Hayes 1, Schembechler 0 - the final and biggest victory. For Woody, that is. For Bo, it’s still that game in 1969. “G**damn you. You will never win a bigger game than that,” said the Old Man to Schembechler at a dinner to honor Woody after he got canned.

This is how it was when Schembechler was an assistant, it’s how it was during the 10-year-war, and that’s the way it is now - an every down, every day battle for bragging rights whether it was on the football field or in less-important pursuits.

“You meet me at the racquet-ball court in half an hour, Bo. And if you’re not there it’s because you can’t take it!” That was Woody’s one time invite to Bo for a bit of exercise.

But for all the anger, oneupmanship and tales of knuckle-to-knuckle confrontations as partners and combatants, the relationship between the two angry men was one of appreciation.

“We respected one another so damn much. Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t get so mad at him that I wanted to kick him in the, uh, groin,” said Schembechler is his book, Woody and Me.

Woody offered a different account of their battle-tested appreciation.

“I didn’t like the son of a bitch when he played for me, I didn’t like him when he worked for me, and I certainly don’t like him now.”

In 1987, Hayes, in poor health, heard Schembechler was to give a speech in Dayton, and the Old Man decided he needed to introduce him. Hayes, thin, weak and barely able to support himself with a cane, thrilled the audience with a 20-minute talk about the speaker.

Woody died the next day. Out of respect, Schembechler skipped two days of spring practice - something that not even kidney stones could do.

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