The Buckeyes 2011 entry in the Nike Pro Combat series is meant to resemble those worn by the 1961 Ohio State squad that won the Big Ten and posted an 8-0-1 overall record. Members of the team are in Columbus this week for their 50-year reunion and will be recognized on the field during the game.
It will mark the second time the team has been allowed to gather at Ohio Stadium, joining a 1986 appearance that also included head coach Woody Hayes, and the continuation of what some team members view as a reconciliation with the university.
"For us to get together the evening before the game and have a semi-formal dinner and get a chance to commiserate is going to be great," Paul Warfield, a sophomore halfback in '61, told BuckeyeSports.com. "For us to receive the recognition at the floor of Ohio Stadium on the field itself will be monumental for all of us, and we really appreciate the university's acknowledgement towards us. We've had that happen once before and for them to do that again for us now that we're advancing in years is certainly wonderful."
The '61 Buckeyes are known best not for their conference title or their 50-20 blowout of Michigan – the game in which Hayes famously claimed he went for two with a four touchdown lead because they would not let him go for three – but for being denied a trip to the Rose Bowl. The university's faculty council voted to turn down an invitation to the annual showdown on the West Coast, setting off protests on campus and starting a period of time some members of the team felt it was not wanted any more.
Although they received Big Ten championship rings in short order, the school took years before it agreed to partially sponsor the purchase of rings to represent the national championship the team was awarded by the Football Writers Association of America.
"It's like the team got dumped on and now they're coming back and showing a pretty face to us," Bill Mrukowski, a quarterback and defensive back for the '61 Buckeyes, told BuckeyeSports.com. "Having the team on the field and a big reunion, those are beautiful things. Some of these old guys can't wait to get back they want to bring their kids and their wives. They want to bring everybody. It's going to be an interesting weekend for us."
Mrukowski and halfback Dave Tingley did much of the work to organize the team's reunion.
"I'm glad to see the university is making a big deal of the 1961 team with Nike giving them our uniforms to wear," Mrukowski said.
His favorite part of the special look is the helmets. They will be gray with a red stripe down the middle and black numbers on the side.
"We had a red sponge going down the middle of them, and I think that's what they're going to play up, too," Mrukowski said.
The distinctive stripe was a result of a safety feature Hayes had added to the helmets.
"Woody for the safety of the game decided we should wear this sponge going down the middle because then when we had hits in the head it wouldn't hurt as much," Mrukowski said. "That was the big deal, the sponge painted red going down the middle. Other teams would laugh at us and say, ‘What the heck is this?' We said, ‘Well, it's for safety.' "
Other features of the uniforms include a scarlet jersey with a gray stripe across the shoulders and gray hems on the sleeves with white block numbers.
The Buckeyes will wear dark gray pants with scarlet stripes and special shoes and gloves as well. An inscription of the year is on the inner neckline, socks and sleeves.
Additionally, the gray undershirts and matching arm sleeves include a print meant to resemble a buckeye tree. Nike says the design is to represent the Buckeye Grove, where a tree is planted for each All-American football player from Ohio State.
"That's a very nice tribute to our team of 1961," said Warfield, who went on to be named All-Big Ten twice before a Hall of Fame career in the NFL. "I greatly appreciate that, as do I'm sure most of my former teammates."