The story is as old as the classic Grecian heroic tales of Odysseus and Achilles. A community gathers to celebrate one of its own, a hero who brought fame and successful exploits to his home, to its midst. Last Saturday, at around 3:30 p.m ET, approximately 100,000 people rose for a moment of silence in recognition of the passing of Ohio State football legend, Howard "Hopalong" Cassady.
His was born March 2, 1934, Howard Albert Cassady. He was a local boy, went to the now defunct Columbus Central High School in the central part of downtown, across the Scioto River from the Ohio Statehouse. He died at his home in Florida on Sept. 20, 2019.
During his time playing college football, he was not a physically big back, listed at 5-foot-10 and 183 pounds. Despite his modest size, Cassady played "both ways". He was also a stalwart on defense where his play was distinguished by setting records for limiting the other team’s offense from the defensive back position. Cassady won awards for the best college football player, the Heisman Trophy and the Maxwell Award, both in 1955. According to Ohio State football historian Jack Park, Woody Hayes is quoted as saying about Cassady, "That guy who saved my job."
Howard Cassady apparently won his now famous name after a game early in his career at Ohio State when a football writer reported that Cassady "hopped all over the field" in his running the ball. The name was a reference to "Hopalong Cassidy" a fictional cowboy star. The Hollywood cowboy movie star was William Boyd who reportedly said that he was fine with the name "Hopalong" ascribed to the outstanding Ohio State football star "Hopalong" Cassady.
Howard "Hopalong" Cassady was a skilled athlete, to be sure, and he was also lucky. Many excellent athletes compete and never win championships. He was fortunate to win the two major championships. In 1954, Ohio State went 10-0 and became the "consensus" national champs. Then, in 1956, Cassady was drafted as the Third Pick by the Detroit Lions in Round 1. Cassady played with the Lions from 1956 to 1961 and the Lions were that NFL Champions in 1957, giving Cassady his second national ring. After that, Cassady played with the Browns in 1962, the Eagles in 1962, and finished with the Lions in 1963.
"Hop" can take his rest. As the game started, the name of the beloved hero Howard "Hopalong" Cassady, known to all Buckeye fans, will forever hold a place high, on the top rung of the "Horseshoe". Cassady’s No. 40 is listed along with the names of the other greats who donned the Scarlet and Grey: Willis #30 (Columbus OH East H.S.), Horvath #22, Janowicz #31, Griffin #45, George #27, Smith #10. (Ohio State is tied with the most Heisman Trophy awards with 7.) Together they are recognized.
The game of the day was played. The torch is passed, once again. It was suiting that the opponent was Miami University, another Ohio school with a distinguished and proud football history. It was OSU’s day, they won in overwhelming fashion, 76-5. It was an appropriate statement for old "Hopalong". A new hero was being witnessed on the field of the "Horseshoe".First year quarterback Justin Fields and the Buckeye team put up six touchdowns in the second quarter alone. Fields had four touchdowns passing and he scored two more rushing. As the name of Howard "Hopalong" Cassady sat high up perch of the "Shoe", "Hurricane" Fields made records down on the same field where "Hop" once ruled with authority.
Mike Danter, the usher in my section of the "Shoe", ruminated on the meaning of the passing of one legend. We looked at all the names on the top ring of the stadium. Mike has been in his station for over 30 years now and he has seen many of the heroic feats that have occurred on this "special" field next to the Olentangy River. We agreed that there are not many places like the "Shoe" in college football.
And, like in ancient Greece, the game will move on, breathing life into the new young men who dance on the turf of the "Shoe". The story of heroes and physical exploits, a story of heroic feats, it is as old as the Odyssey.