In addition to Bo, I once had a fascinating experience with Woody Hayes, during the 1975 Michigan-Ohio State game in Ann Arbor.
Working for the Sports Information Department, my assignment for that game were to provide quotes from the visiting coach and visiting lockerroom. I dreaded the prospect; Hayes was not a happy man if he lost and I didn’t want to think of what would happen if we lost.
Unfortunately, the Griffin brothers, Archie in his second Heisman-winning year and Raymond, a defensive back with two interceptions, rallied the Buckeyes to a 21-14 victory that afternoon.
And now, I had to get Woody quoted and relay that information to hundreds of scribes on hard deadlines.
The visitors lockerroom was located directly opposite the Michigan lockerroom at the end of the east tunnel, and it was smaller than a cheap room at any EconoLodge. Suddenly, a group of 30 reporters pressed against the door and I knew there was no way Hayes would allow them inside or would be able to satisfy all the requests for quotes.
When I entered the players’ quarters to make arrangements, I already discovered that Paul Hornung of the Columbus Dispatch-Journal had been inside (how he got past security and the crowd remains a mystery other than to presume he was inside before the game ended), and this made those outside quite angry. I was stuck in an impossible situation and possible solutions were few and far between.
Out of desperation, I motioned everyone into a utility area (actually more of a garage-like enclosure) to keep them away from the fans leaving and to permit a sliver of privacy for them and Coach Hayes.
It was as dark as any cave, with one 60-watt light bulb hanging from the ceiling illuminating notepads and camera lenses. Back in the day, everything was filmed, not taped and no one made provisions for low light photography.
And since Hayes enjoyed needling and toying with the press, he was in his element. Although I stood next to him and could hear what he was saying, Woody was deliberately speaking in a rather low volume, bordering on a loud whisper, smiling all the while.
“Coach, can you please speaker up?” shouted one of the Buckeye media.
“Well, you’ll just have to be more quiet in order to hear me,” was his response and he maintained that monotone for the entire press conference. All during the fiasco, I could feel the poisoned darts be visually hurled at my direction.
When I finally returned to the Michigan Stadium press box, and after others had loudly complained about what had transpired. My boss, SID Will Perry, asked why I did what I did and I defended my actions, explaining Hayes’ reluctance to let anyone, other than Hornung, into the lockerroom, and asked what options were open to me since there was no secure place to conduct interviews.
Perry’s scolding façade changed to understanding and he said, “You did the best you could; we’ll have to work on that next season.”
I wasn’t there next season. In June, 1976, I left for Texas, to become sports editor of a small suburban daily paper, The Daily Courier in Conroe, north of Houston. I become immersed in the new tribal rituals at Texas and Texas A&M, and other non-descript schools (Rice, Houston, Sam Houston, etc.).
In the fall of 1977, the Aggies scheduled to play at Michigan in week three, and as a surprised (actually, a shock), the newspaper hierarchy, as a reward presumably for hard, dedicated work, bought me a round-trip ticket to Detroit, authorized a hotel room and furloughed me for 36 hours back on the Michigan campus. I was able to secure a press pass from my former employers, and bright and early on Oct. 1, I boarded a Northwest Orient plane for Detroit International.
I met up with old faces in the press box and enjoyed watching A&M, led by then-sensation running back Curtis Dickey, get its collective head handed to it, 41-3. Michigan scored its 41 points after an early Aggie field goal and it was a major butt whipping by any standards.
With five minutes to play, as was the traditional, those reporters wishing to do post-game interviews with coaches and players, headed down the press elevator and through the crowd to the playing field. When the final gun sounded, everyone, players, staff and media ran across the stadium turf to the east end tunnel and down the corridor toward the lockerrooms.
Except something was different. There was a separate area for interviews, with Schembechler, obviously, the first one to speak. Instead of making reporters waited outside the lockerroom door, subject to the mass of slowly moving bodies as fans also used that exit to leave, they could wait comfortably and patiently.
When I saw it, I smiled, knowing that the fiasco two years before obviously made an impression.
Bo took a seat a couple of minutes after addressing the team (the interview room permitted players to shower and get themselves ready to meet reporters without scurrying around half-naked and clad in only small towels). He glanced around the room and locked eyes with me. He nodded, as one man does to another, as a matter of greeting. I smiled back.
He fielded questions for about 10 minutes and an assistant coach stuck his head into the room from a side door, and said, “OK, coach.” That was the signal that the reporters could enter the players’ area and do more mining for quotes.
As I arose, Bo approached me directly, thrusting his hand out, gripping mine in a firm shake.
“How are you doing, young man?” he asked.
“Great; it’s going great in Texas,” I replied. “I’m working hard, I got married and things are looking up.”
“That’s good; sorry we put that ass-whipping on your team today,” he said.
“No sir, that’s not MY team; I am, and always will be, a Michigan man until the day I die,” I answered.
“Damn right,” he said, as he turned away to go back into the lockerroom, “and don’t ever forget it!”
And this graduate of Ohio State by way of Miami of Ohio WAS the ultimate Michigan man until the day HE died.