One of the perks of my job is to play in the annual Buckeye Boosters golf tournament held each year at the Scarlet course. The tournament is the group’s largest fundraiser of the year and attracts nearly 200 golfers who get to rub elbows with Jim Tressel, members of his staff and Buckeye greats from the past.
In the past, I have played with Heisman Trophy winner Vic Janowicz, former running back Jeff Logan and associate athletic director Miechelle Willis, and the golf course setting always seems to be perfect for entertaining stories.
Yesterday, the celebrity in our group was former All-American defensive back Ted “The Tree” Provost. He was a member of the 1968 national championship team and is one of only eight players in Ohio State football history to record three interceptions in a single game.
But Provost is probably most well-known for his interception return for a touchdown in the Purdue game during the national championship season. On the first tee, I asked Provost how many times over the past 40 years he had been asked about that interception and he smiled. “What is 365 times 40?” he said with a grin. “That’s about how many times – and I never get tired of being asked about it. It just means they remember you.”
In case you don’t remember, Woody Hayes was seething after the 1967 game against Purdue. The Boilermakers had several star players including quarterback Mike Phipps and running back Leroy Keyes, and they had taken the Buckeyes to the woodshed in ’67. The lopsided 41-6 verdict was – and still is – the largest defeat to Purdue in Ohio State program history.
“They could have beaten us 60-0 that day,” Ted said. “We just got humiliated in the secondary. They wiped us out. And it made Woody point to that game for the whole next year. Usually it was Michigan that we thought about all summer. That year, it was Purdue. We had those guys’ (jersey) numbers taped up on our lockers, we had their faces taped on the mirrors in the locker room. We saw those guys in our sleep.”
The teams played to a scoreless draw at halftime but the Buckeyes finally drew blood in the third quarter. OSU was trying to disguise its coverages and finally confused Phipps. The Purdue quarterback saw safety Jack Tatum playing up and figured Provost was covering the deep zone. Instead, however, Provost was also playing up and picked off a pass, returning it 35 yards for a touchdown.
And then he did something completely out of character. Known as one of the quietest guys on the team, Provost heaved the football into the stands.
When asked if he incurred Woody’s wrath for that show of emotion, Provost shook his head. “No,” he said. “(Defensive backfield coach Lou) Holtz told us that if we scored, we could do it. I just got caught up in the emotion, I guess. The whole weekend was like that. The day of the game, I drove my car down to campus and then walked home after the game. I woke up the next day, looked outside and wondered, ‘Where’s my car?’”
The Buckeyes scored another touchdown when backup quarterback Billy Long, subbing for an injured Rex Kern, scrambled for a score to account for the 13-0 final score. Ohio State had knocked off the top-ranked in the country and rose from No. 4 to No. 2 in the national polls. The Buckeyes would remain in the No. 2 spot for the remainder of the 1968 regular season and wouldn’t secure the No. 1 ranking until upsetting Southern Cal in the 1969 Rose Bowl.
The following year, OSU returned a power-laden squad that everyone expected to successfully defend its national championship. But the Buckeyes were upset by Michigan in the final regular-season game and finished the season a disappointing 8-1. It is a game that continues to haunt Provost and his teammates nearly 40 years later.
“We had a letdown against Michigan and I don’t know why,” he said. “That was my final game. I never got a chance to come back and redeem myself. I know that if we’d have won that game, we would have been considered one of the best teams in college football history. But we didn’t and that’s why we still have reunions for the ’68 team but not for the ’69 team.”
By the way, I always figured that Provost’s nickname came from his lanky 6-3, 185-pound frame. Not so. He explained that Woody first began calling him “The Tree” after he had collected so many Buckeye leaf stickers, he couldn’t fit them all on his helmet.
After a couple of years in the NFL with the Vikings and Cardinals, Provost played five seasons with Saskatchewan in the CFL. After his retirement from pro football, he started his own construction company in Hilliard, a successful company he continues to run today.
Happy 26th birthday today to former Ohio State defensive back Will Allen. Born June 17, 1982, in Dayton, Allen was a three-sport star at Wayne High School in Huber Heights before joining the Buckeyes in 2000. His OSU career is best defined by game-clinching interceptions against Cincinnati and Michigan during the 2002 national championship run. Allen was also the one who put a devastating tackle on Miami (Fla.) running back Willis McGahee in the title game, sideling McGahee for the remainder of the game. Allen was Tampa Bay’s fourth-round pick in the 2004 NFL draft and continues to play safety for the Buccaneers.
Also celebrating birthdays around the world today are former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, singer Barry Manilow, retired U.S. Army Gen. Tommy Franks, former Saturday Night Live comic Joe Piscopo, current SNL member Will Forte, actors Greg Kinnear (“Little Miss Sunshine”) and Thomas Haden Church (“Sideways”), Olympic gold medal swimmer Michael Gross, former Cincinnati Reds shortstop Dave Concepcion, Baltimore Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller, and women’s tennis star Venus Williams.
TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO TODAY
On June 17, 1986, iconic singer Kate Smith died in Raleigh, N.C., at the age of 79.
Smith rose to fame in the 1930s on radio and had a string of hit records through the 1940s, singing such standards as “The White Cliffs of Dover” and “Seems Like Old Times.”
Perhaps Smith’s most enduring legacy is her rendition of “God Bless America” which she sang countless times, including December 1969 before a Philadelphia Flyers home game. The NHL team recorded the song and continued to play it before important home contests. Smith appeared in person to sing the song again several times, including before Game 6 of the 1974 Stanley Cup finals against Boston. The Flyers went on to win the game and clinch the first of their back-to-back Stanley Cups.
In all, the Flyers are an amazing 75-20-4 in games in which the song has been played. The team thought so much of Smith that it erected a statue in her honor outside the Spectrum in 1987.
It’s difficult to characterize the kind of electricity Smith’s singing of “God Bless America” meant to the Flyers. Luckily, you can relive it by clicking on this link: Kate Smith Sings God Bless America. If it doesn’t give you at least a little tingle, better check your pulse.
** What exactly was Columbus Destroyers head coach Doug Kay thinking Saturday night? Playing out the string of a 2-13 season just one year after going to the Arena Football League championship game, the team heavily marketed its final home contest by indicating former Ohio State quarterback Justin Zwick would finally get a chance to play. Zwick did get into the game for the first time this season – for exactly one play. He threw a 47-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and then rode the bench for the remainder of the game. Chants of “We Want Zwick!” fell on deaf ears as the Destroyers went down to a 63-60 defeat to Grand Rapids.
** Funny how the NFL meshes together players from college fan bases that hate one another. Case in point: New Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh may field a starting backfield that includes quarterback Troy Smith (Ohio State) and Willis McGahee (Miami-FL). In case you’re thinking Harbaugh went to Michigan to further mix things up, he didn’t. His brother Jim went there, of course, and his father Jack was an assistant at U-M under Bo Schembechler. But John is a graduate of Miami (Ohio). And in case you care, his brother-in-law is Tom Crean, new men’s basketball coach at Indiana.
** I guess New York City really is the city that never sleeps. The Mets announced that they had fired manager Willie Randolph at 3:15 a.m. this morning.
** If you ever have the opportunity to play golf with Ellen Tressel, take it. She was playing in the group ahead of us yesterday and was pounding the ball off the tee. I have often heard that she was an excellent golfer and I got to see that for myself yesterday. Her husband, on the other hand, doesn’t even attempt the game. “It takes too much time,” he said, “and besides I’m not any good at it.”