Michael Rosenberg visits Morenci 2009.05.06

Written by David Green.


Where would football be without tradition?

Morenci graduate Zac Johnson was the first person Sunday to talk about tradition at Stair Public Library.

He was asked about his first University of Michigan/Ohio State University contest—the thrill of stepping onto the field as a Wolverine to play in one of America’s greatest football traditions.

Morenci’s new football coach Tom Saylor used the word tradition, also.

Tradition, talent and coaching—those are three key elements for a successful program, Saylor said.

Michigan Notable Book author and guest speaker Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press was also asked about tradition.

“What would sports be like without the big rivalries?” he asked. “It would just be a game with good players. It’s not just great athletes; tradition plays a major role.”

Rosenberg read a few pages from his book, “War as They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest,” then spoke about writing it before fielding questions from the audience of more than 100 people.

“If Woody and Bo had met in a different era, this book wouldn’t have been written,” he said. “What appealed to me was how much the country changed during that time.”

Neither of the coaches fit into the changing society of the 1960s and 70s, Rosenberg said. Their qualities just didn’t make sense on the college campus of the times.

“I wanted to see how they handled the situation,” he said. “Bo handled it better than Woody.”

Rosenberg said his goal was to write about football in a way that would interest fans as well as those who didn’t care about football.

“It was like writing a book in English and French at the same time.”

Rosenberg told several anecdotes from his research, including a report that Woody never recruited in Michigan until assistants finally convinced him to cross the border in 1972.

On the way back south, the gas gauge kept getting lower and lower, but he brushed aside urgings to stop for a fill-up.

Finally, he said, “We will push this car over the border if we have to. We will not spend a dime in the state of Michigan.”

Rosenberg often refers to Woody as The Old Man and he was asked about that moniker.

“A shocking number of his players and coaches referred to him that way. Actually he was in his 50s when he started at Ohio State, but he was an anachronism. The world was passing him by and he knew it.”michael.rosenberg.jpg

Rosenberg said he’s heard some complaints from Michigan readers because they ended up feeling some affection for Hayes.

“They were more comfortable hating him for those 40 years.”

Campus unrest was more of a challenge to Bo, Rosenberg said, with Ann Arbor as the center of the midwestern counterculture. The drug culture suddenly merged with football and Bo didn’t know how to deal with it.

The military draft fueled the unrest. Whether or not young men supported the effort in Vietnam, there was a good chance they would have to become a part of it.

Woody was a student of military history and Rosenberg pointed out an irony in his coaching. Wars are won in different ways, but Woody never changed his football strategy.

Wars are fought to acquire territory, he said, but that wasn’t the case in Vietnam. rosenber.picnic.jpg

“Woody probably didn’t understand Vietnam and he didn’t understand the passing game.”

When he talks to fans on either side of the border, he hears the same thing: Woody couldn’t coach today in modern college football; Bo could step right in.

“A lot of people think that Bo and Woody were two peas in a pod,” Rosenberg said. “I discovered they weren’t at all.”

Rosenberg expressed his delight with the Morenci program—the tailgate party, the pre-game show, the spread of food.

“I’ve probably had 25 book signings and talks and I can honestly say that I’ve never had a welcome or a set-up like this.”

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