I've mentioned before that I'm an Ohio State football fan. However, War As They Knew It will appeal to fans of Ohio State and Michigan. When my husband read the book, he ran into another man reading it at Starbucks. He agreed it was a terrific book, and then they found out one was a Buckeye fan and the other a Wolverine. For those of us of a certain age, from either Ohio or Michigan, there has never been anything like the football rivalry between Ohio State and Michigan, particularly in the years when Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler dominated the Big 10.
It's hard to believe it was really only ten years. Michael Rosenberg puts together the story of the "Ten Year War," but he sets it against the social and political unrest of the late 60s and the 1970s, which makes the book even more fascinating. The subtitle of the book is, appropriately, "Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest."
The end of the 1968 college football season saw Bo and his staff settling into new jobs in Ann Arbor, and Woody and Ohio State winning the national championship by beating USC in the Rose Bowl. Then Hayes left for a tour of Vietnam, the other war that hangs over this book. For the politics of the next decade affected both schools. Michigan, though was hit the hardest, as a hotbed of unrest. Rosenberg does an excellent job incorporating the politics, and the protests, into the book, showing how they affected the players, who were, after all, students at the universities. So, all of the unrest, and the changes that came about affected the football programs. Hayes, with his love of Patton and the military, hated the changes in the country, refused to accept the changes in the students and players, and only grew angrier as the decade went on. Hayes, who was a friend of Richard Nixon, ruled his team with an iron fist, and didn't let anyone question his authority. The book pulls no punches as to Woody's problem with his temper, and his refusal to change. Schembechler tended to isolate himself from the main campus, but his players were caught up in the protests. Since football dominated the lives of the two men, they refused to see the changes happening in the American heartland. Schembechler, who worked for "The Old Man" at Ohio State, admired him, but from 1969-1979, both men spent the football season preparing for "The Game", and that rivalry dominated their lives, not the social changes going on in the country.
There's one other person prominent in this book, Don Canham, the Athletic Director at Michigan, who changed the way schools marketed themselves. He shrewdly used Schembechler's success to promote Michigan, taking it from the team that was second in its own state to Michigan State, to one that sold out its stadium and was promoted throughout the country. Canham's story is part of the changes going on in college football in the decade.
Rosenberg acknowledges that to understand Woody Hayes, the reader must understand Hayes' passion for Emerson and Patton, an unusual combination. The reader must also understand the friendship that Woody and Bo shared, despite their rivalry. That's part of the intriguing nature of this book. It's more than a sports book. It's the story of the cultural changes in the 60s and 70s, that changed the country, the universities, and the football programs.
To fans of Ohio State and Michigan, there will never be anyone like Woody and Bo. "To a generation of football fans, their names would be intertwined." Michael Rosenberg has intertwined the legend once again, in a must-read book for fans of either team, War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest.
War As They Knew It: Woody Hayes, Bo Schembechler, and America in a Time of Unrest by Michael Rosenberg. Grand Central Publishing, ©2008. ISBN 978-0-446-58013-7 (hardcover), 384p.
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