We were there on Nov. 1, 1890 when Ohio State played its first home football game.
We were there on April 13, 1986 when Jack Nicklaus won his sixth green jacket.
We were there on Feb. 10, 1990 when Buster Douglas knocked out Mike Tyson in Tokyo.
We were there for Woody’s hiring and firing, for the Blue Jackets’ birth and when the Crew was saved. We were there when tragedy struck Brittanie Cecil and when Archie Griffin found Heisman Trophy fame. Twice. We saw Katie Smith light up the basketball court and witnessed Desmond Howard darken the hearts of Buckeyes fans. We wrote about Ben Curtis returning with the Claret Jug.
For the past 150 years, The Columbus Dispatch was there. Attending games. Writing player profiles. Chronicling Columbus sports.
We feel no need to provide evidence of the reporting that happened, but over the next 2,000 words we will prove it anyway.
No subject was too big or too small, whether celebrating a titan of industry or a middle school coach. Both deserved our coverage.
“John H. McConnell died yesterday. He wasn’t quite 85 years old, and he had an incredible life. It began in a house that did not have electricity. It ended in a hospital where he donated a tower. To make it from one place to the other, from a poor kid in a steel town in Depression-era West Virginia to a billionaire industrialist and builder of hospitals, you either have to sell your soul without a second thought or hang onto it despite all costs. McConnell hung on. He never really changed, not at his core.” — Dispatch columnist Michael Arace, April 26, 2008, eloquently crafting the obituary of the Blue Jackets majority owner.
“The small black-and-white mugshot jumped out from an otherwise gray obituary page. It wasn’t a famous face. The name didn’t ring a bell. There was nothing beyond a vibrant smile that attracted much attention. But the look of high-beam happiness was enough to lure a sometimes cynical sportswriter into delving deeper into this abridged biography.” — my May 18, 2002 tribute to Debbie Merriman King, a track and cross country coach at Blendon Middle School and Westerville South who died of cancer at age 33.
Let’s begin the timeline of Columbus sports and those who played them where millions of fans spend their time: Ohio State football. The Buckeyes’ first game was played May 3, 1890 — the first spring game — at Ohio Wesleyan. But the first home game arrived six months later.
“Notwithstanding the raw, cold weather, of last Saturday a fair crowd went out to Recreation Park to see the first of the inter-collegiate football games, between the Ohio State University and Wooster teams. A number of ladies were present and attempted to cheer the O.S.U. boys to victory, but it was of no avail, as there was not the remotest possibility of their winning and the game closed with the score 64 to 0 in favor of Wooster.” — Columbus Evening Dispatch, Nov. 3, 1890.
Losing to an in-state school, which has not happened since Oberlin got the best of the Buckeyes, 7-6, in 1921, may be sad to many, but the first real OSU tragedy occurred on Oct. 26, 1901, when 27-year-old senior John Sigrist suffered a spinal cord injury during a game against Western Reserve that would lead to his death two days later.
“Gloom was heavy on all.” — Dispatch, describing the Oct. 30 funeral scene at University Hall.
Death on the field was followed 20 years later by the birth of a field, when Ohio Stadium hosted its first game, against Ohio Wesleyan on Oct. 7, 1922.
“Ohio State football men met Ohio Wesleyan Saturday afternoon in the practically completed Stadium and unofficially dedicated the immense horseshoe with a 5 to 0 victory over the Delewareans. There was a little bit of everything in this historic event that will lead up to the official opening with Michigan a fortnight hence. The showers, the immense crowd of around 25,000; the disappointment of Scarlet and Gray partisans over the inability to score a touchdown on an Ohio team for the first time in many years.” — H.A. Miller, Evening Dispatch, Oct. 8, 1922.
But wait, voluminous Ohio Stadium would not have needed to be built except for celebrity crowd pleaser Charles “Chic” Harley, the Columbus East star who first wowed OSU worshippers in 1916.
“Perhaps you don’t recognize the brass harness of “Charles,” but its (sic) the long way of “Chic.” Yes, sir, this is Chic Harley, the greatest of the thousands of athletes produced in Columbus high schools since it was put up to the voters to buy bricks for the new buildings.” — Dispatch, Oct. 15, 1916.
Chic never got to run in “The House that Harley Built,” but Jesse Owens did, and the “Buckeye Bullet” became Ohio State’s first truly international star by winning four gold medals at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. But even that feat was not as impressive as Owens setting three world records and tying a fourth over a 70-minute period during the 1935 Big Ten track and field championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
“Transcending all figures, all championships or what you will, the performance of Jesse Owens, who broke three world marks and equaled a fourth, stood out as a beacon in a fog.
“They crowded around him by thousands after the meet was over in the middle of the field, and swarmed his dressing room. … But Jesse had nothing to say, as usual. He is, I believe, not only the greatest track athlete the world has ever known, but perhaps the greatest contribution personally the colored race has ever made to American athletics. You can’t go too strong on this boy, no matter how you look at him.” — Ed Penisten, Dispatch, May 26, 1935.
In researching this column, what struck me is how the more things change, the more they stay the same. In 1942, as today, the college football rankings created buzz. The Buckeyes finished 9-1 in 1942 under second-year coach Paul Brown, and before the Buckeyes were voted No. 1, Dispatch reporter Russ Needham wrote:
“Tulsa may have a fine football team and doubtless has. But you can’t win national recognition playing the Rover Boys. … You can’t say the same for Georgia and Georgia Tech, but you can claim they filled their schedules with “soft touches” sandwiched around their hard games, as most southern teams do.”
And, of course, the Snow Bowl.
“Under weather conditions even an eskimo would have called atrocious, Michigan defeated Ohio State, 9 to 3, Saturday in snow swept Ohio Stadium as 50,503 of a paying 82,700 braved the severest of elements to witness one of the most amazing football spectacles ever seen anywhere.” — Russ Needham, Oct. 26, 1950.
Woody Hayes remains an Ohio State enigma, beloved for building teams that won three national championships, but also caricatured for his sideline tantrums.
Longtime Dispatch sports reporter/editor Paul Hornung covered Hayes hiring and firing — although being especially close to Hayes, he initially reported that Hayes had resigned — in the colorful and often breathless writing style of the day.
“Thirty-eight-year-old Wayne Woodrow “Woody” Hayes closed up shop at Miami University Monday and moved his T-formation to Ohio State as its 19th head football coach. The portly, black-haired 1935 Denison University grad inherits what his resigned predecessor, Wesley Fesler, hinted was a “hot spot.” — Hornung, Feb. 19, 1951.
And then …
“Woody Hayes’ office in the campus Biggs Facility — where Ohio State locker rooms and training room are located — is a cubbyhole, but it has been his home-away-from-home since the building was constructed. The walls are lined with books — many more historical, military and philosophical than football. He packed his much-used library in pasteboard boxes Saturday. He wandered in the halls. He sat pensively in the big classroom where he always met with his football squad. He ran a gamut of moods, but mostly he seemed a little at sea.”
It took about 60 years, but Ohio State men’s basketball finally broke through the football noise to take center stage in 1960, when the Buckeyes won their first, and still only, NCAA championship.
“Yes, Columbus, Ohio State’s fantastic Buckeyes did win the national collegiate basketball championship. They did it in the wee hours of Sunday morning, perhaps after some of you had gone to bed. And they did it like no one before in the 22 years the tournament has been held. They beat the defending champion, California, 75-55, and the 20-point margin was two more than ever before in NCAA history.” — Dick Otte, Dispatch, March 20, 1960.
Those Buckeyes packed a punch with a roster that included Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, but the most powerful uppercut belonged to Columbus boxer James “Buster” Douglas, who knocked out Mike Tyson to shock the world.
“TOKYO — James “Buster” Douglas of Columbus pulled one of the biggest upsets in boxing history last night. With a vicious left uppercut, then three more punishing blows, he beat the thought-to-be-unbeatable. He knocked out Mike Tyson, the undisputed heavyweight champion, at 1:23 of the 10th round of their scheduled 12-round fight.” — Tim May, Dispatch, Feb. 11, 1990.
From Japan to Amen Corner to the Brickyard, The Dispatch had you covered.
“AUGUSTA, Georgia — The privilege to write does not carry with it the privilege to write off. Given yesterday’s events, it is safe to say only Jack Nicklaus, and not the chroniclers of his career, will know when it is time to write off Jack Nicklaus.
He won the Masters championship for the sixth time yesterday at Augusta National Golf Club. At age 46.” — Bob Baptist, Dispatch, April 14, 1986.
Bobby Rahal grew up in Pennsylvania but eventually called Columbus home when joining Truesports, the Hilliard-based racing team run by Jim Trueman.
“They had been in the interview room perhaps 20 minutes. Bobby Rahal, full of victory, had come in first. Jim Trueman had followed. They sat behind a table at the podium, a moderator in between, and while Rahal fielded most of the questions about the Indianapolis 500, Trueman, his body gaunt in his pit coverall, his eyes fixed ahead, sat, lost in thought. Then there was a momentary interruption. Almost imperceptibly, Rahal reached his right hand behind the moderator’s back, and clasped Trueman’s left hand in his. At 51, Jim Trueman has cancer.” — Dick Fenlon, Dispatch columnist, on Rahal’s Indy 500 win in 1986. Trueman died 11 days after the race.
Katie Smith arrived at Ohio State from Logan High School in 1992 and set out on a career that included helping the Buckeyes reach the NCAA national championship game and then two ABL titles with the Columbus Quest before embarking on a 15-year WNBA career.
“The world is discovering Smith now that she is leading the WNBA in scoring. As ludicrous as it might seem to most Ohioans, others are finding that Smith, the best basketball player to come out of Logan, Ohio State and probably even the short-lived American Basketball League, can do everything with a basketball but peel it.” — Bob Hunter, Dispatch columnist, July 15, 2001.
I wrote 15 years ago that the NHL coming to Columbus was the biggest local sports story of the previous quarter century. I still believe it. Before 2000, the Arch City lacked a top-tier franchise from one of the so-called big four professional leagues. The Blue Jackets changed that.
“Being a major-league city may not mean what it once did, but not being one definitely means something. It is part of your image, part of what outsiders see when they’re trying to decide whether or not to locate in a city, one of the things that creates the public perception of an area. It is part of what defines you as a place. … The Blue Jackets, Nationwide Arena and the Arena District play right into that.” — Bob Hunter, Oct. 5, 2000.
Tragedy struck the Blue Jackets last week when goalie Matiss Kivlenieks died in a freakish fireworks accident, but just as heart-wrenching was the death of 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil after being hit by a puck while attending a CBJ game against the Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena in 2002. The tragic accident led to the NHL installing netting in arenas and prompted other sports to do the same.
“WEST ALEXANDRIA, Ohio — She was a brown-eyed, blond, high-energy delight — a young girl from small-town Ohio. In this Preble County town of 1,300, about 90 miles west of Columbus, the news of Brittanie Cecil’s death spread quickly yesterday.” — Paul Brinkley-Rogers, Dispatch, March 20, 2002.
“ST. PAUL, Minn. — For the past few days, Espen Knutsen has struggled to free his mind of thoughts about Brittanie Cecil.
“I’m thinking about it a lot. I can’t get it out of my head,” the Columbus Blue Jackets center said during a morning workout in preparation for the team’s game last night against the Minnesota Wild. Knutsen fired the puck that deflected off a Calgary player’s stick and struck 13-year-old Brittanie in the forehead Saturday night at Nationwide Arena.” — Aaron Portzline, Dispatch, March 21, 2002.
The Crew has won two MLS Cups, but the team’s biggest win was staying put when the evil empire tried to move it to Austin.
“Save The Crew as in, the grassroots movement has given us a vivid reminder of what makes our city special. These beautiful people inform and describe our larger civic aspirations. They give righteous voice to our collective thoughts: Do not mess with Columbus; we get stuff done; it is our Way.” — Michael Arace, Dispatch columnist, Dec. 6, 2018.
Finally, we end where we began, in a house of worship, where Holy Buckeye kept alive a national title run that set the stage for the past 20 years of Ohio State football dominance.
“This was the Buckeyes’ 11-0 season in a nutshell: The coaches didn’t go conservative. The offensive line and backs picked up the blitz. The quarterback made the right reads, made a smart decision and put the ball where it was supposed to be — into a stiff wind. The big-play receiver made a great catch — again.” — Tim May, Nov. 10, 2002.
We were there. We saw it. We wrote it. Thank you for reading it.