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Headline: Homan A Part of OSU History
(From Nov. 2003)
By Charles Babb
Marv Homan worked in the Ohio State athletic department for almost four full decades. He served as the sports information director at the university as well as in other capacities. In 1988, he was given the Arch Ward Award by his peers. The award is annually presented to someone who has enhanced their profession through their contributions and conduct.
We caught up with Homan recently to chat about the OSU/Michigan rivalry and take a look back at his days at Ohio State.
Bucknuts the Magazine: What is it like behind the scenes at OSU leading up to the game?
Marvin Homan: "For some reason, and I guess I could give the answer to that, the Michigan-Ohio State game was always something special. By special, I mean from my point of view in all the years I was in the sports information office, the press and radio -- and then to a certain extent I will throw television into that -- was always the heaviest for the Michigan game. I don't think it was strictly because of the rivalry. I think that looking back on it so many times, the Big Ten championship and the Rose Bowl was at stake, and frequently both teams were in the same position. In other words, the winner was going to win the Big Ten championship and was going to go to the Rose Bowl. Then, almost invariably in other years, one or the other team would be so involved. So, it always had a very special meaning beyond the rivalry that has developed."
BTM: When was your first Michigan game?
MH: "When I was a freshman in 1944."
BTM: What do you remember about that game?
MH: "Well, that was a very memorable game because Ohio State went into the game undefeated, and I think I am right… that the winner of the Ohio State-Michigan game would be the Big Ten champions. I believe Michigan was in the picture, although they had had at least one conference loss, and I am kind of hazy on that, but it was of a huge game for Ohio State. I think it was also nearly an equally big game for Michigan. Well, it was a typical Ohio-Michigan game with the thing going back and forth. Ohio put together a fourth quarter drive and scored a touchdown and ultimately won the game, it seems to me something like 18-14, although you would have to look."
[Editors note: After speaking to Marv, I looked it up. The final score was 18-14 and Michigan had only one conference loss up to that point.]
BTM: How many games have you seen at Ohio Stadium given that your first year was 1944?
MH: "I have seen every home game since then with the exception of 1948, and I have seen most of the road games. I retired after the 1987 season and have not been to Michigan since and very frankly do not plan to go back again. That is not my favorite place."
BTM: Have you missed any home games since 1948?
MH: "I have missed one home game in 54 years. That was after the September 11 episode. If you recall, Ohio State was to have played San Diego State, and by coincidence, and it was a huge coincidence, both teams had an off date in October. Well, we had made plans to go to Florida, and it was just too complicated to change it, so we went ahead and consequently I missed the San Diego State game on the rescheduled date."
BTM: Have you ever thought about the fact that this year you have seen 60 of the 100 Ohio State-Michigan games?
MH: "No, it really hasn't until you mention it. That number would be substantial. I never even bothered to count them up."
BTM: Since you were someone who was actually there, could you indulge us and talk about the Snow Bowl?
MH: "Well, that was a nightmare, and it was a real shame. There was a case of an Ohio State football team that was better than Michigan, and by all odds deserved to go to the Rose Bowl, but the many offensive weapons that they had were just taken away from them because of the weather. The game itself was just a farce. Can you imagine a team winning a football game that one, never completed a pass, and (two) never made a first down? That was Michigan. They did two things: they blocked two kicks and one of them was recovered in the end zone, and one of them went out of the end zone, and that was it."
BTM: What happened that they even played that game?
MH: "Well, something happened that I don't know that a visitor can really do legally, but Michigan was coached by Fritz Crisler, and he was also the athletic director. He made a remark before the game, ‘We will play the game or we will cancel the game. We will not postpone it.' In other words, Michigan would not come back to Ohio State a week later. I would imagine if the game were to be postponed, they would have said they would play it one week later. Well, he said he would refuse to do that. I am not real sure that a visitor can do that, but he did it and got away with it. There were other factors. The refund situation would have been absolutely calamitous. That, along with -- in this case -- the visiting team said they would either cancel it or we'll play it, but that's it. I don't know that they are in position to make those demands, but they did it, and I guess you would say they got away with it."
BTM: After the game, thousands had to be put up places there in Columbus since they were stuck. Was the athletic department involved with that effort?
MH: "I don't know directly. I don't think that was the case, but oh yes, thousands of people were stranded. They couldn't get out of Columbus. It was just inundated with snow. Undoubtedly, that included thousands of Michigan fans who had intended to go back to Ann Arbor after the game but couldn't do it. It created all kinds of weird situations. I think I can say without precedent, we have never had a situation equal to that. My lands, I hope we never have another one."
BTM: What is the most extraordinary performance you have ever seen in The Game by an Ohio State player?
MH: "I guess Hop Cassady's performance in the game that wound up 17-0 up at Ann Arbor (1955). That was one of the most memorable Ohio State wins I have ever seen. There again, it came against Michigan and with the championship at stake. Cassady just had an exceptional game. I am sure that maybe there have been others that in terms of statistics did more, but that one stands out."
BTM: How about for a Michigan player? The one I think of is (Tim) Biakabatuka in 1995.
MH: "Yeah. I would agree. I would almost say that was the – well, I don't ever remember anything exceeding that. We certainly made his professional career, which as it turns out did not amount to much, but we got him a good contract."
BTM: What is the single greatest coaching performance you ever witnessed in this series?
MH: "Well, I think of Earle Bruce's last game as the head coach at Ohio State. There is no kidding anybody -- Michigan figured to win that game, and Michigan undoubtedly had the better team. Then, to make it even more remarkable, it was up at Ann Arbor… just an outstanding game up there. That score was 23-20."
BTM: What was the atmosphere in the athletic department in the week leading up to that game?
MH: "Well, I guess you would describe things as being rather gloomy. One, there was a great deal of sentiment for Earle Bruce. That was a decision that was basically made by the president, and it was forced upon Rick Bay, who was then the athletic director. He just couldn't bring himself to almost deceiving Earle and his coaching staff the week of the game, and then, regardless of the outcome, telling them after the game, ‘By the way, you're fired.' So, in protest of the president's decision, Rick Bay resigned as well. Many in the athletic department had a very empty feeling because Earle was gone for all intents and purposes, the assistant coaching staff was gone, and so was the athletic director. The general feeling was that they just didn't deserve that, so it was kind of an empty feeling among the athletic department, and frankly, I almost sensed a defeatest attitude regarding the final game with Michigan because in all sincerity, Michigan probably had a better football team. I don't remember if they were in the championship picture then or not; if not, they were certainly one of the top teams in the Big Ten. Of course, that was just unfortunate all the way around because after Ohio State beat Michigan, they had to turn down several bowl bids because they didn't have a coach, and technically, in all probability, didn't have a coaching staff and no athletic director. In other words, it was literally a ship without a rudder. As a result, the team that had really rallied superbly around Earle was left high and dry and was definitely cheated out of a bowl appearance. But anyway, the effort I thought was a real tribute to that football team and the coaching staff, despite a gloomy outlook, hung in there and did a great job. There have been other upsets of course, but that one really stands out."
BTM: What is the most disappointing loss to Michigan that you can remember?
MH: "Well, there have been a lot of them. Let's see, in 1996 there was the 13-9 loss. That team was undefeated going into the Michigan game, and boy, they had just annihilated some teams. You remember Pittsburgh and Rice, and they walloped Purdue, shut out Minnesota and Illinois. I mean, that was really a great football team. Somehow or another they managed to lose the Michigan game 13-9. They had a measure of revenge in that they got to go to the Rose Bowl and defeat Arizona State. That was, in my opinion, absolutely a national championship caliber team, but of course the Michigan game did them in. They had a great team in 1995, maybe not quite as good as '96. That was a thrilling football game. It was up at Ann Arbor, and we lost it 31-23, but in reality that was a very disappointing loss, because I really think we had a better football team than Michigan did."
BTM: How close do you work with the coaching staff?
MH: "I had an almost daily contact with the coaching staff starting with Woody. Not so much in 1951, 1952, or 1953, it really picked up in '54 when we had that great team that went undefeated and went on to win the Rose Bowl. That was a national championship team, and I had a daily contact with the coaching staff."
BTM: What is the temperament of the coaching staff during the week leading up to The Game?
MH: "It would vary with the situation. You could go into the meeting room say on a Monday following a game, and if the team had performed well, you could kind of sense that in the general attitude of the assistants. If they had played poorly and lost, or if they had had an injury or two to a key man who in all likelihood was going to be out the following week, you could sense that. So, it was really a week-by-week proposition. A lot of it hinged on the way the team had played the preceding week and the general health of the team."
BTM: What was Woody like after a loss to Michigan?
MH: "One, there was no question but that you could tell things did not come out the way he wanted them or the way he thought they ought to… he took so much of that personally. In other words, he felt that probably the biggest single reason they lost is he did not do a good job of getting them ready. That very frankly was not true, but that was what he at least conveyed to outsiders. Oh, he was gloomy and kind of shot down, but goodness, you could talk to him, and if there was some kind of a request that you felt was of an important nature either to him or to Ohio State or to the football program, you could certainly broach it to him. Generally, he was very receptive."
BTM: Is there anything that sticks out to you about Woody and the Michigan game?
MH: "I guess one of the stories that always amused me – and this is true – it did happen. The week before a Michigan game, and this is hard to believe, but he was to make an appearance somewhere. I don't remember whether it was recruiting or a speech or what it was – up in the Toledo area. For some reason, he got across the state line and was actually in Michigan, and his gas tank on his car registered empty. He told a sports writer (with him) that under no conditions were we going to stop and get gas in Michigan and give them our money and pay the gas tax, etc. They were going to get across the line whether or not. It turns out that they made it, but they just made it. The car quit going into a gas station, and that sort of reflected his emotional thinking at the time that they were not going to spend any money in Michigan unless it was absolutely necessary. Well, it nearly was, but as it turned out, he managed to get back across the line and got back into Ohio."
BTM: How much of that with Woody was real? I think what was missed is that he could be a great actor when he chose to be.
MH: "In that case it was all real because he didn't have any audience. Oh yes, he was the actor. No question about it. A lot of things were done for a certain effect. He was a very calculating individual."
BTM: So was most of it real or was most of it acting?
MH: "I think it was both. He really – he worked himself up deliberately into a feeling that, well, how can I say it? ‘Now it's time to play football. We're going to put everything else aside and we have one objective in mind and that is to beat Michigan in football.' That was not an act. But, some of the things leading up to that were. He had a clear-cut objective. He knew how he wanted to be, but he wanted others to be – namely members of the team and coaching staff – to be in the same general mood. There is no doubt he would work himself up into a certain mental stance before not really just Michigan, but other football games. Especially when there was a championship at stake or a major non-conference opponent or something like that. He had a variety of ways of working himself up in that position, but he expected the coaching staff to do the same thing. Well, in some cases that was natural in other cases it was not."
BTM: What was the media coverage like during the stretch of 1968-1975 when Ohio State and Michigan came into The Game both in top 5?
MH: "I don't think there was really a great deal of difference."
BTM: Every year, fans want to win a national title and beat Michigan in Columbus, can you talk about that?
MH: "The expectations at Ohio State I think over the years have been unrealistically high, and this has put the coach and the coaching staff at a distinct disadvantage. There were some years in there where we were not a bad football team but by no means were we of championship caliber. You wouldn't know that by some of the external writings and some of the preseason publications, etc. It just seemed like Ohio State and Michigan were always down as the favorites to win the Big Ten, and if they didn't there certainly was widespread disappointment. Well, yes there was – but that was magnified and was really kind of drawn out of proportion. So, over all of those years we had some … certainly some down years. Not so much in terms of losing records, but we certainly had a losing record in I am going to say 1959.
BTM: With Woody, losing seasons were rare; can you talk about that team in 1959?
MH: "The interesting part of that was that was a good Ohio State football team, but the second game of the season they went out to Southern California and there were 17 injuries in that game. I don't think we have ever had a game equal that, and to be honest, the season ended out there the second game of the season. They were never able to get anything approaching their regular lineup back on the field. That happened the second game of the season. Well, you look at that and that team won 3, lost 5, and tied 1 and you would say, ‘My that was a poor season!' Well, yes it was, but there was no doubt why. They had some prominent football players, I mean really good, who were out from the second – they were injured the second game – and either never returned or were never the same after the injury in that particular game. So, I remember that was one of Woody's two losing seasons. Starting the season that was a good football team and was a legitimate contender for the Big Ten Championship. Now, you don't know how they would have done because unfortunately they were never able to play as a unit. So, it is problematic, but that was a good football team. By no means was there any indication that that was going to be a down year."
BTM: Have you stayed in touch with any of the teams?
MH: "Oh some of them yes. Sure."
BTM: What caused you to do that?
MH: "Well you get to know them. You get to know many of them when they are here and you want to stay in touch. I mean, you develop friendships and that does not end with their final game. Oh yes, I have many, many, many friendships or fond memories. There was a time when as these reunions were held, very frankly I was always invited back as kind of one of the unofficial team members. I always took pride in that."
BTM: When he was hired, was there talk about John Cooper's victory over Michigan in the Rose Bowl when he was hired?
MH: "I was retired then, so I don't really know. I think from what I can gather John was a very cooperative individual and was not at all difficult to work with. But, well … it is just a strange thing. That (Michigan) was just a team that just literally had a hex on him because you look at his overall won and lost record, and it is rather impressive. It isn't as good as Woody's, and it isn't as good as Earle's, but it certainly isn't bad. But, he just was not able to beat Michigan, and I often wondered if it was the fact that he was not an Ohio State person and deep down inside didn't quite understand that rivalry. But maybe that isn't the case. I don't know. It is hard to say. John was liked by members of the athletic department as far as I can see."
BTM: Have the game day traditions changed at all since you have been associated with The Game?
MH: "Oh, not nearly as much as you would think."
BTM: What about the media coverage; can you compare and contrast the media coverage from decades ago compared to today?
MH: "It is much greater now. I remember when we used to have special drivers who would take writers – more writers than television or radio people – out to the airport. They had special passes and that sort of thing, and I think that is still done although now the after game file is probably heavier in the press box – well not probably is – heavier now than it was when I remember it. Then when that is over, the writers are literally on their own. There does not seem to be quite the press after the game that there used to be. It is kind of hard to explain and yet it is true, but that is just (part of) evolution. I don't think it has changed a great deal. The number has. It is substantially more now.
BTM: How does a journalist of today differ from those of decades ago?
MH: "I suppose it is more of a business. I suppose the present day journalists pride themselves on being totally objective, but that implies that they weren't back in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, and I don't think that was true. I think there is more of a tendency now to…criticize and to find fault with the head coach, his style, certain players, what they do, what they don't do, what they can't do, and that sort of thing. I don't believe that was nearly the case before. I think that maybe is the biggest difference. There are more self-styled critics now than there used to be. I don't mean that entirely in a derogatory nature, yet in a way it is."
BTM: When you started in the sports information department, how many people were on staff?
MH: "Only two of us. When I started as an assistant in 1951, there were just two of us. The director was a man by the name of Bill Snypp and myself and that was it. That is all we had."
BTM: How many were on staff when you retired?
MH: "Two full time. Then, two more that worked with women's sports. That would be four, and a secretary."
BTM: Finally, who has been your favorite Ohio State coach to work with out of all the sports – male, female, etc.?
MH: "Really that is tougher to answer than you might think, but I suppose Fred Taylor, the (men's) basketball coach, was the easiest and for all intents was just totally cooperative. In other words, if I felt that it was important either to basketball or indirectly to Fred or to the player than that's it. That is the way it is going to be. You can't ask for anything more than that."