It wasn't easy, mind you. As a Southern California sportswriter, I had ample reason to hate the Ohio State football coach.
In his first visit to the Rose Bowl on Jan. 1, 1955, Woody Hayes sniffed haughtily after a 20-7 Ohio State victory over USC and ventured that the Trojans ``would finish about sixth in our league (Big Ten).''
Four years later, following a 20-0 loss to new USC coach John McKay on his home ground in Columbus, Hayes took a swing at Los Angeles Examiner reporter Al Bine and struck a brother of another Southern California writer.
But this was just a warm-up for Woody. Prior to a 42-17 loss to USC's national championship team in the '73 Rose Bowl, Los Angeles Times photographer Art Rogers got too close to Hayes, who promptly shoved the camera into Rogers' face and screamed, ``That'll take care of you, you sonofabitch.''
And two years later, after the Trojans again foiled Hayes with a Haden-to-McKay touchdown pass and two-point conversion in the '75 Rose Bowl, Woody violated a contractual Rose Bowl stipulation by barring newsmen from interviewing his players.
Oh, but over the years, I had gotten to know him and his lovely wife, Anne, and Woody sort of grew on me.
When Pasadena Star-News sports editor Joe Hendrickson and I interviewed Anne Hayes, she revealed many of her spouse's faults, among them an overriding belief that the job came first.
Asked if she had ever considered divorce, Mrs. Hayes laughed and replied: ``Divorce, no; murder, yes.''
But, she added, she knew he loved her dearly, and the feeling was mutual.
Over all those years, Hayes never ceased being a fascinating character. Each time the Buckeyes appeared at the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Times' inimitable sports columnist, Jim Murray, would make a point of coming to one of Woody's press conferences at the Huntington Sheraton in Pasadena. The duel between these two legends was great theater and always attracted an overflow crowd.
I had my moment late on the afternoon of Dec. 24, 1972. The Buckeyes arrived in Southern California three days earlier and were preparing to spend Christmas Eve at the Huntington Sheraton. I was working in the writing room of press headquarters at the hotel when the door to the room opened and the man himself peeked in.
I had a bottle of beer beside my typewriter, something that did not miss Hayes' gaze.
``Hey, Loel, where did you get the beer?'' Hayes asked.
` ``From the press bar just down the hall,'' I replied. ``Do you want me to get you one?''
``Well, that would be mighty nice of you,'' Hayes said.
So, I walked to the press bar and got two beers for Woody, not one, and returned to the writing room.
Hayes thanked me profusely and began working on the first of the beers.
``What are you going to be doing tonight?'' I asked.
``Well, I know exactly what I'll be doing,'' the Ohio State coach said. ``A good general should always take care of his troops, and that's what I'll be doing tonight, Christmas Eve.''
He took a couple of long swigs, then added: ``I have 50 players here. I know the top players will be surrounded by other guys who want to be around the leaders. But it won't be the same for Nos. 48, 49 and 50. Nobody will be swarming around them. So, that's where I'll be tonight. I'll be with those guys, trying to make certain they have a good Christmas Eve.''
Hayes paused. ``You know, that'll make it a good Christmas Eve for me, too.''
The Ohio State football coach's career ended half a dozen years later, when, in a fit of temper, he punched Clemson player Charlie Bauman along the sidelines at the Gator Bowl.
Woody once observed, ``It worries me that there's supposed to be two coaches meaner than I am. I would hate to have them referring to me as good old Woody.''
I was at my newspaper on March 12, 1987 when word arrived via the Associated Press wire that Wayne Woodrow Hayes had died in Upper Arlington, O., at 74.
Unfortunately, good old Woody was gone.