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On Stage: Woody and Bo

Their danders up and their game faces on, six days of secret preparations behind them and the triple prospect of an unbeaten season, a Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl ahead, Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler meet for the seventh time this Saturday. If we have learned any lessons at all from the six previous games, this one, played before 105,000 fans in Ann Arbor, Mich., will be low scoring, close and controversial. Woody and Bo always see to that, personally.

Because they are enough alike that they could share one shadow, positive identification would seem to be in order. Hayes is older, heavier and louder. Schembechler makes more money, wins more games and watches more Rose Bowls on television. Woody was born on Valentine's Day, 1913; Bo on April First, 1929. But Hayes is no more a cupid than Schembechler is a fool.

As any battered and beaten Big Ten opponent will testify, the similarities between the two far outnumber their differences. Both are small-town Ohio boys who were football and baseball players at small-time Ohio colleges, entered military service after graduation, earned master's degrees in education at Ohio State and became successful coaches. They have explosive tempers and hearty appetites, a nice combination when it comes to chewing out players and officials. Because of their manic devotion to duty, each has been national Coach of the Year and each has suffered a heart attack.

The most obvious similarity, however, is their style of play, which is as conservative as their Midwestern politics. Hold that line, run that ball, eat that clock. And you need not look far for an explanation, either. Schembechler was an offensive tackle under Hayes at Miami of Ohio in 1949-50, Woody's graduate assistant at Ohio State the following season and the Buckeye line coach in the years 1958-62. From Hayes, Schembechler learned the virtues of long hours, strong fullbacks and an iron fist. "It was tough coaching under Woody," he says in his book Man in Motion. "Some of the players just couldn't take it. He was too demanding in some things. He would argue about ridiculous things and there was no way you were ever going to win an argument with him."

But Schembechler learned his lessons well. While Woody might prefer beating on players with his fists, Bo has favored a rubber bat. Once, during an Ohio State staff meeting, Hayes threw a chair at Schembechler and the young assistant coach threw it back. "I know he drives his youngsters," Hayes said in Schembechler's book. "I think maybe he learned some of my bad habits." Bo concedes that the influences stemming from their close association were not always positive.

Ironically, Schembechler's one criticism of Hayes might well be turned against himself. "I don't think anyone is as completely engulfed in football as Woody," he says. "I've tried to keep my sense of humor and have some other interests." As a matter of fact, Hayes is a standup comic compared to Bo, while maintaining well-known interests in reading, writing and history. Schembechler's concerns do not extend much beyond athletics and his own family.

In the six previous Ohio State-Michigan games Woody has a 3-2-1 edge over the man who hates to be called "Little Woody." Even so, Bo's overall record is better and he has won or shared as many Big Ten titles, five. Unfortunately, the game itself can bring out the worst in the two men. The 1971 meeting will be remembered as the one in which Hayes attacked the sideline markers. Schembechler had his moment in 1973 when, after the teams tied 10-10, the conference voted to send Ohio State to the Rose Bowl for the second straight year. Bo's verbal tirade did not change the vote (or the score) but it did put him on probation for excessive behavior.

Despite the rivalry, the two coaches do express respect for each other and the schools they may refuse to recognize by name. Old ties and old feelings were stirred by the heart attacks—Schembechler sent Hayes virtually the same note Woody had written him 4½ years earlier—but otherwise they have had little contact with each other. Except, of course, every year on a Saturday in late November.