The Best OSU Football Player Ever?

Whenever Ohio State fans gather to debate the best player ever to wear the Scarlet and Gray, several names will enter the conversation.

When the time comes to discuss the greatest individual performance in the long and storied history of the Buckeyes, however, no one can match the performance of Vic Janowicz on a late October afternoon in 1950.

Janowicz, who would have celebrated his 79th birthday today, was one of those rare individuals who excelled at everything he ever tried to do. But even his great talent reached new levels when the Buckeyes hosted Iowa on Oct. 28, 1950.

In just one afternoon, the junior speedster scored two touchdowns, threw for four scores, recovered two fumbles each of which led to OSU touchdowns, was responsible for kicking 10 extra points, kicked off eight times, carried the ball six times for a 5.1-yard average and completed 5 of 6 pass attempts for 128 yards.

Once the dust had cleared, Ohio State owned an 83-21 victory over the Hawkeyes – a point total that still stands as the most ever scored by the Buckeyes against a Big Ten opponent – and Janowicz was on his way to becoming only the third underclassman to win the Heisman Trophy.

By the time he arrived in Columbus to play for head coach Wes Fesler, Janowicz was already well-known throughout Ohio.

Born Victor Felix Janowicz on Feb. 26, 1930, he was a triple-threat player at Elyria High School, starring on offense, defense and special teams. There was nothing Janowicz couldn’t do on a football field. His speed made him a threat to score a touchdown every time he touched the ball as a halfback or kick returner, and he played safety on defense with reckless abandon. His athletic talents were so great that he was also his team’s punter and placekicker.

Although recruiting was not followed at the frenzied pace that it is today, Janowicz’s exploits in high school made him one of the most highly sought-after prospects in the nation. More than 60 colleges and universities offered full scholarships, many of them promising to build their entire teams around Janowicz.

However, the Buckeyes had a little something extra going for them as they pursued the services of “Vic the Quick.” The previous year, an organization known as the Frontliners was formed to help recruit top talent for the Ohio State football program. Alumni Association field secretary J. Edward Weaver – who would later serve as the school’s athletic director from 1970-77 – joined with longtime assistant coach Ernie Godfrey to form the group comprised of prominent alumni, top businessmen and well-heeled program supporters. The group’s main purpose was to help direct top high school talent to Columbus.

One of the group’s members was property developer, thoroughbred breeder and Pittsburgh Pirates owner John W. Galbreath, who took an immediate liking to Janowicz. The feeling was evidently mutual and the Buckeyes were able to land one of the most prized high school recruits in many years.

Janowicz first arrived at Ohio State in the fall of 1948 and immediately made a name for himself on the Buckeyes’ freshman squad. The following season, he was one of several talented sophomores who worked their way into playing time with other talented players such as Pandel Savic, Fred “Curly” Morrison, Ray Hamilton and Jimmy Clark. Janowicz saw playing time on offense and defense as OSU had one of its best seasons in many years. He scored his first collegiate touchdown during a 46-7 win over Indiana, and later scored again during a 30-17 homecoming victory against Illinois.

The Buckeyes finished the 1949 season tied for the Western Conference championship and earned their first Rose Bowl bid in 29 years. Best of all, they got to avenge their 28-0 loss to California in the 1921 game by getting a fourth-quarter field goal from Jimmy Hauge for a 17-14 victory over the Bears. Janowicz didn’t see much action on offense in the contest, carrying the ball only once for a gain of just 1 yard. But he managed to play well on defense, picking off an interception early in the game and returning it 44 yards.

Years later, Savic would remember that “Vic’s interception and return turned things around for us, and it really took the spirit out of California’s attack.”

That kind of game-changing play would be in full display the following season as Janowicz took center stage for the Buckeyes.

Ohio State had lost its 1950 season opener, a 32-27 decision to Southern Methodist. The team regrouped, however, and rattled off three straight victories, outscoring Pittsburgh, Indiana and Minnesota by a combined 115-21 score. But the Buckeyes were just getting started when Iowa invaded Ohio Stadium on an unseasonably warm late October afternoon.

The annual Dad’s Day crowd of 82,174 was the third-largest ever in the Horseshoe at the time, and they had barely had a chance to settle into their seats before Janowicz lit the fuse on the offensive fireworks display.

The drama of the game was packed into the early minutes. Iowa won the toss and elected to receive but that allowed Ohio State to choose defense of the south goal, giving them the advantage of a gusting wind. That decision paid off quickly when Janowicz’s opening kickoff sailed far over the Iowa kick returners’ heads, hitting 10 yards behind the end zone and rolling to the cinder track that encircled the playing field.

That gave Iowa the ball at its own 20-yard line, and when Jerry Faske fumbled on the first play, Janowicz pounced and recovered the loose football at the 23.

The Buckeyes quickly moved to the 11-yard line and then Janowicz took over. He tried to break through a hole in the line on a trap play, but was hemmed in about the 7 by four Iowa defenders. But after making two of them miss and getting a block from Julius Whitman, Janowicz steamed over the last Iowa defender and into the end zone for the touchdown. He added the extra point and the Buckeyes were off and running with a 7-0 lead.

When the Hawkeyes got the ball back, they didn’t do much with it. They had a motion penalty on first down, a short run on second down and an incomplete pass on third down to force a punt. Iowa punter Glenn Drahn lofted a beautiful spiral into the crystal blue sky, sending Janowicz back in full gallop to field the kick. But Drahn’s effort was too good. His 70-yard boot had not only sailed farther than Janowicz had anticipated, it also outkicked the Hawkeye punt coverage.

Janowicz circled back to field the punt at his own 39-yard line, turned upfield, got a couple of key blocks and didn’t stop until he was in the end zone with a 61-yard touchdown return. He added the PAT again, and the Buckeyes enjoyed a 14-0 advantage only three minutes and 29 seconds into the contest.

And they were just getting warmed up.

On Iowa’s next play from scrimmage, the Hawkeyes fumbled again and Janowicz recovered at the 26-yard line. Three plays later, he ran wide to the right on what appeared to be a sweep but quickly stopped, jumped and threw a pass to Tony Curcillo, who was waiting in the end zone and made a leaping catch for the touchdown.

That made it Ohio State 21, Iowa 0, with 9:50 still remaining in the first quarter.

“It was like a dream,” Janowicz would say years later. “Everything we tried just seemed to work. It seemed like every time we got the ball, we scored.”

The advantage swelled by two more scores after a 43-yard run by Walt Klevay and a fumble recovery in the end zone by OSU lineman Jerry Manz. Janowicz added the PAT after both scores to give the Buckeyes a 35-0 cushion – and more than three minutes still remained in the first quarter.

The Hawkeyes counted seven possessions in the first quarter alone, and had the ball for more than 11 minutes to less than four for the Buckeyes. But Iowa fumbled away four of their possessions, and the three others resulted in punts, one of which was returned for a touchdown by Janowicz.

A holding penalty early in the second quarter momentarily stalled the Buckeyes, but on the next play, Janowicz flipped a short pass into the flat to Bob Grimes. The Buckeye receiver gathered in the ball, stopped for a moment to let an Iowa defender fly by, and then finished off a 40-yard touchdown play by outrunning a pair of Hawkeyes to the end zone. Janowicz added the extra point for a 42-0 lead.

As if the score wasn’t already out of hand, touchdown No. 7 for the Buckeyes featured some trickery. After a three-and-out on their next possession, Iowa punted to Fred Bruney, who fielded the ball on his own 13-yard line. As he scampered to his left, teammate Bob Demmel came from the other side of the field to offer some interference. However, when the two crossed paths, Bruney shuffled the ball to Demmel, who never broke stride.

Most of the Hawkeyes continued to track Bruney, and by the time they discovered what had happened, Demmel was well on his way to an 87-yard touchdown romp. Janowicz added another PAT, pushing the Buckeyes’ advantage to 49-0.

Ohio State tacked on one more touchdown in the second quarter. This time, faced with third-and-15 at the Iowa 25, Janowicz threw a strike to Richard Anderson in the end zone, who pivoted at the exact time the ball arrived.

The touchdown pass made it 55-0 in favor of the Buckeyes before Janowicz pushed his point-after kick attempt wide. An account the next day in The Columbus Dispatch characterized the missed kick was “just to show the guy is human – perhaps.”

The Hawkeyes finally got on the scoreboard at the 9:43 mark of the second period, tallying a short touchdown pass, and then they got another score on the final play of the second quarter to make it 55-14 at the break and close what was probably the most frenzied first half in Ohio Stadium history. The teams had combined for 10 touchdowns, including two on punt returns and one defensive score. The first half also featured 69 points, 476 total offensive yards, eight turnovers and 12 penalties.

Janowicz had already accounted for five TDs in the first 30 minutes. He had rushed twice for 19 yards, including his 11-yard score; passed four times, completing three (all for TDs) for 77 yards; and returned a punt 61 yards for another score. He also punted for a 33-yard average, kicked off nine times and converted seven PAT kicks.

The second half was simply a cherry on top of the sundae. The Buckeyes scored four more touchdowns that afternoon, including a third-quarter pass from Janowicz to Fred Bruney that covered 43 yards.

For the game, Iowa committed 12 turnovers, losing seven fumbles and five interceptions. Meanwhile, Ohio State could easily have cracked the century mark on the scoreboard because the Buckeyes turned the ball over three times on three interceptions, and also had a punt blocked.

Nevertheless, it was one of the most high-scoring afternoons in stadium history. The Buckeyes wouldn’t crack the 60-point barrier again until the 1969 season opener against Texas Christian, a 62-0 blowout. And they wouldn’t break 70 again until a 70-6 win over Northwestern in October 1981.

But an Ohio State team has not topped the 80-point mark since that late October day in 1950. Likewise, the program has never again witnessed a single player account for points by running, throwing, returning a punt and kicking an extra point since Janowicz achieved the feat against the Hawkeyes.

Janowicz went on to earn the 1950 Silver Football Trophy, symbolic of the Big Ten’s most valuable player, and then became the school’s second Heisman Trophy winner. He won the award in a landslide, more than doubling the vote total of his nearest competitor, SMU senior halfback Kyle Rote.

After leaving Ohio State following the 1951 season, Janowicz spurned offers to play in the NFL and instead played two seasons of major league baseball with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Following the 1954 season, however, Janowicz decided to return to football and signed a contract with the Washington Redskins.

After easing his way back into the game in ’54 primarily as the Redskins’ kicker, Janowicz appeared to be back to form the following year. He rushed for 397 yards and four touchdowns, caught 11 receptions for 149 yards and two more TDs and booted six field goals and 28 PATs as Washington finished 8-4, just a game and a half behind Cleveland for the NFL East Division championship.

The following summer, Janowicz was primed for a breakout season but it was not meant to be. During training camp in 1956, he was nearly killed in an automobile accident. He suffered serious head injuries that left him partially paralyzed, ending his athletic career.

But Janowicz did not give up. After years of rehabilitation, he overcame the paralysis and spent many years as administrative assistant to the state auditor.

He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame in 1976, and one year later was in the inaugural class of inductees into the Ohio State Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1992, he received perhaps his highest honor when the Columbus Downtown Quarterback Club named him Ohio State’s greatest athlete of the previous 50 years.

Janowicz continued to be much in demand as a public speaker, especially at schools where he would cheerfully display his Heisman Trophy. He took great delight in telling children to rub the back leg of the player on the trophy for good luck.

He continued to tour the state as a goodwill ambassador for the university until his death from cancer on Feb. 27, 1996 – just one day after his 66th birthday.

HAPPY! HAPPY!

Today’s other Buckeye birthday belongs to former Ohio State basketball player Treg Lee.

Treg Lee was born Feb. 26, 1968, in Cleveland, Ohio, and named for his father’s four best friends – Tony, Ronnie, Eddie and Greg. Lee became an all-state performer and Class AAA player of the year at St. Joseph’s High School, leading the Vikings to the state semifinals as a senior while averaging 18.8 points, 13.7 rebounds and 6.5 assists. He also earned consensus prep All-America honors in 1987 and was selected to play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Lee signed with Ohio State but missed his freshman season as a Prop 48 academic casualty. He eased into the lineup as a sophomore and became a valuable backup as junior before starting at power forward for the Big Ten champion Buckeyes in 1991. Lee is probably best remembered for his game-winning shot that capped a terrific 97-95 overtime victory over Indiana, a game that is replayed often on ESPN Classic and the Big Ten Network’s “Greatest Games” series. Lee finished his OSU career with 643 points and 347 rebounds. After college, Lee played professionally in the Continental Basketball Association and also in Europe. Recently, he has been running General Lee Sports, his own basketball skills and fundamental business in the Cleveland area, and also officiating high school games.

Other luminaries sharing birthdays this 26th day of February: former game show host Tom Kennedy is 82; R&B legend Antoine Dominique “Fats” Domino is 81; Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon is 81; political columnist Robert Novak is 75; Sixties TV actress Marta Kristen (Judy Robinson in the original “Lost in Space”) is 64; Detroit Wheels frontman Mitch Ryder (born William S. Levise Jr.) is 64; contemporary crooner Michael Bolton is 56; Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine is 51; Grammy winning singer Erykah Badu (born Erica Abi Wright) is 38; former NFL running back Marshall Faulk is 36; and eight-time Olympic gold medal swimming Jenny Thompson is 36.

A distinguished group of late celebrities also shared Feb. 26 as their birthday. They include English dramatist Christopher Marlowe; French author Victor Hugo; eponymous jeans maker Levi Strauss; American frontiersman William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody; Hall of Fame pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander; comedic entertainer Jackie Gleason; actor Tony Randall; music legend Johnny Cash; and actor William Frawley, who has been on television almost nonstop since the early 1950s. Frawley, who died in 1966 at the age of 79, played Fred Mertz on “I Love Lucy.”

AND FINALLY

** NFL draft guru Mel Kiper Jr. says that the four top quarterbacks taken this year will be underclassmen because this year’s crop of senior QBs is “the worst senior quarterback group” he has ever seen. Even so, Kiper doesn’t have much good to say about the guys who will follow Matthew Stafford of Georgia, projected to be the overall No. 1 pick to Detroit. Kiper said that both USC’s Mark Sanchez and Kansas State’s Josh Freeman should have stayed in school – “Freeman is a roll of the dice. Same with Sanchez.” – and Nate Davis of Ball State had a poor finish to his college career and measured small at the combine. Kiper’s idea of a quarterback steal in this draft? Curtis Painter of Purdue, who is expected to be taken in the late rounds.

** Bracketology warning! Beware about picking some Cinderella team like Arkansas-Little Rock to go far in the NCAA Tournament. The Trojans are currently 20-7 and leading the Sun Belt West. But you should also be aware that leading scorer Steven Moore, who had 10 performances of 16 points or more this season, was recently dismissed from the team.

** Like father like son – in some things. Texas Tech basketball coach Pat Knight was suspended for one game following his complaints about the officiating after his team lost a 79-73 decision Feb. 21 to Texas A&M. That loss sent the Red Raiders’ record to 12-15 in their first full season under Knight. Know how many losing seasons his old man had during his 42-year Hall of Fame career? Two. His 1971 Army team was 11-13 and his 2006 Texas Tech team went 15-17.

** Speaking of coaching as a family business, new Illinois State head coach Brock Spack has hired Dan Shula as an offensive assistant. Shula is the son of former Cincinnati Bengals coach Dave Shula, nephew of former Alabama head coach Mike Shula, and grandson of former Miami Dolphins head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Don Shula.

** Sign of the economic times? Northern Iowa has announced it will drop its baseball program after this season, saving the university approximately $400,000. As a point of reference, new NIU athletic director Troy Dannen was hired with a four-year contract that pays him $155,000 annually. Also, football coach Mark Farley, who has been in Cedar Falls for seven seasons, recently was given a five-year extension on a deal that is worth $220,000 with additional incentives based on team athletic and academic performance.

** Some top-rated high school football players have yet to sign national letters of intent and already the 2010 recruiting season is well under way. Texas head coach Mack Brown just received a verbal from cornerback Carrington Byndum of Lufkin, Texas. That gives Brown a even dozen commitments for next year already.

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2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this great story about Vic Janowicz.

    I started following OSU in 1948 when I was in the sixth grade then. I am originally from Dayton and have remained a loyal Buckeye fan fof over 60 years.
    I heard that game against Iowa on the radio. All you heard was Vic’s name, the annoucer was going crazy.
    Janowicz is still my favorite Buckeye.

    Thanks again for your great stories.

    RP in San Diego

  2. As a freshman when OSU played Iowa and Janowicz had his greatest day, I was in the first row of C deck in the closed end of the horseshoe. His was the greatest performance in OSU stadium I have seen in my over 60 years of watching our Buckeyes. I still have my freshman ticked from that year with the home games punched along the bottom of the ticket. Total price including tax was $10 and that included all games. Thanks for your great stories. .


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