In 1984, Centennial High School in Columbus was a football wasteland. We were the worst team in the City League's North division, but in our short history, we had never lost our homecoming game. We had a very good defense lead by seniors Bill Bullard and Dave Borror, and we had a tremendous running back in junior John Girves.
But our weak link was the starting quarterback, and our passing game. That would be me, Ted Glover, senior. I was, quite possibly, the worst quarterback in Ohio High School Athletic Association History. Really, I'm not kidding. If there's tape or film lying around, don't watch it. It burns the eyes, and it should be put to the torch to save any future generations that might stumble across it.
But one thing Centennial had never done, up until 1984, was lose our homecoming game. You guessed it – I was the starting quarterback on the first Centennial team to lose Homecoming, 6-0 to a terrible Marion-Franklin team. Resume enhancer, kids. I had a particularly brutal game, completing something like 1 of 12 passes. I also fumbled the ball and threw a couple of picks. Going to school Monday was tough – I was about as popular as Pol Pot, got some pretty snide remarks thrown my way in class, and someone had stuck a note in my locker that said, "Make the team better and quit."
It was the low point for me, and I knew I was the weak link. But our backup didn't know the whole playbook, and wasn't any better than I was. So I was it for the duration.
After school, we had a light practice which consisted of reviewing game film and then a brief walk through on the field afterwards. We had finished watching defense and special teams, who played well, and were about a minute or so into the shitshow that was the offense, when the camera clicked off, and the lights came on.
"Here it comes", I thought. "I'm about to get my ass chewed in a way that is going to be unique in human history. I'm getting benched and/or thrown off the team."
Our desks were all facing away from the door, and as the lights came on, our coach yelled, "EVERYONE TURN AROUND."
Gulp. Here it comes. Nice knowing ya, fellas. You know that sympathetic look your sibling gives you when you're about to get in real serious trouble from Mom and Dad? Chip Thomas, our starting center, gave me that look.
But standing in the doorway was an older gentleman in a coat and tie, with white, silvery hair and horned rimmed glasses.
It was Woody Hayes.
We all looked around like The Lord God Almighty had appeared in front of us. In some ways, He had. I couldn't believe it. There was an immediate electricity in that room that was hard to put into words, but it was palpable.
"Coach Hayes," our coach, Larry Snyder said. "What a pleasant surprise. We were just watching some film from Friday night. Would you like to join us?"
"Well thank you, Larry. That would be fine. I'd love to."
Oh no. Pleasant surprise? God, no. The Greatest Coach In College Football History was going to watch me play with my head up my ass for the next 45 minutes. Oh yay. I'll just go eat a gun now and get it over with. Please, let's put the defense game film back in; they were pretty good.
No such luck. We watch the rest of the offensive film. And it was awful. For about 45 minutes, Coach Hayes was subjected to a type of football that would make people turn away from the game forever. Missed blocking assignments, terrible interceptions, easy throws that were dropped, fumbles – I can't over emphasize that this was a combination of every Nicolas Cage Ghostrider movie, Kevin Costner anything post Dances With Wolves (with the exception of Tin Cup), and the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs.
Mercifully, it ended. It seemed like hours, but it was over, and our coach asked Coach Hayes if he would like to say anything to the team.
"Larry," he said in the ever distinctive Hayes voice, "Thank you. Yes, I just had a couple of observations, if that's okay."
Great, I know I suck, but now I'm going to get my ass chewed by Woody. Screw my life. The whole school will know about this by tomorrow. I'm going to have to go join the French Foreign Legion now, because I'm never going to live this down.
Seriously, screw everything ever for all time.
Hayes started in that slow, methodical tone, almost a whisper, but both tone and inflection started to pick up as he spoke.
"You offensive linemen, I see too many missed blocks. When you square off against that fella in front of you, you HIT HIM, and YOU KEEP HITTING HIM, and you DRIVE HIM TO THE GROUND until the whistle blows."
"Running backs, you HIT THAT HOLE and lower your shoulder. You deliver a blow to them that they won't forget."
"Where's my quarterback?"
I raised my hand. Gulp. Here we go.
"Son, when you throw the ball, STEP UP in the pocket and RIFLE IT at your receiver. And when he catches it, you run down field and HIT somebody. When you receivers get an opportunity, CATCH THE BALL. Then turn up field for the end zone. And when somebody hits you, DRIVE YOUR LEGS, LOWER YOUR SHOULDER and keep moving."
Oh my GOD WERE WE FIRED UP! KILLMAIMHITSOMEONERAAAWRRRR!!!!!!
Wait....He didn't chew my ass out!! WOO HOO!!
We broke from the film room and had one of the best practices of the season. As we were heading to the locker room, Coach Snyder and Coach Hayes were talking in the hallway. Coach Snyder motioned me and a few other seniors over and introduced us to the legend himself. He shook each of our hands and talked to all of us individually. It was surreal.
"Hello, young man. I just want you to keep your head up and keep working hard. Your coach has told me a lot of good things about you, and I see some real talent there. Try not to get discouraged over one game, and just keep at it."
I can't put into words how I felt right at that moment. I now know that Woody Hayes was blowing sunshine up my jockstrap, but him telling me I had football talent, after playing the worst game of my terrible career, still resonates with me close to 30 years later. It put me on cloud nine, and I felt could do anything, if only for a little while.
There are some things that I will never forget: marriage, raising my daughters, walking those same girls down the aisle. I put that meeting and pep talk with Woody Hayes up there with any of those, and I feel privileged to say I was able to shake his hand and speak with him one on one. And I will go to my grave convinced that if we got that speech from him in the locker room before the game or at halftime, we would have won 50-0.
Go Bucks. Beat That Team Up North.