"Football '61 and Bob Ferguson"



"Football '61 and Bob Ferguson"

By Dr. Ken


During any football career, high school, collegiate, or professional, there are different motivating factors for each individual participant. My primary “push” as high school began came from being smaller than every other candidate for the varsity football team and I was madly in love with all aspects of the game. There were players that caught my attention the first time I saw them play and gave me something I could identify with or wished to emulate. There were stars that every fan and player was aware of, those that stimulated Monday morning conversation in offices, coffee shops, and in my case, on the school bus. The big time running backs on the collegiate scene in 1961 were Ernie Davis of Syracuse, Jimmy Saxton of Texas, and Bob Ferguson of Ohio State. HELMET HUT has had numerous features about Ernie Davis and the 2008 movie “The Express” on site [ see  http://www.helmethut.com/College/Syracuse/syracuseindex.html ] and without a doubt, he was one of a kind. Saxton was a whirlwind back with raw sprinter’s speed that helped make Texas a national power, renown in the Southwest for being able to chase and catch jack rabbits with his bare hands. Ferguson was the type of back I could most identify with and the prototype Woody Hayes’ Ohio State fullback. That Davis, Ferguson, and Saxton finished one-two-three in the Heisman Trophy race was no surprise as each had a strong regional and national following, and each brought a dynamic and distinctive style to the college game that season. The 1961 pre-season polls picked Iowa as the class of the Big Ten with Ohio State second or third based upon the Buckeyes’ 7-2 finish in 1960 and what appeared to be an unusually strong backfield. Tom Matte had led the ’60 squad from the quarterback position before becoming a terrific pro halfback with the Colts and his running ability fully explained the Hayes’ approach to offense. The quarterback was a running back, often gaining more yards than the other backs in any specific game, and the fullback was expected to be the workhorse, carrying twenty to thirty times each game and usually between the tackles. Two great tackles, Bob Vogel and Daryl Sanders, were the driving force on the offensive line, and both destined for long and successful pro careers. The quarterback position was shared the entire season by three capable players and future Major League Baseball star Joe Sparma served as the de facto “designated passer” on the rare occasions Hayes saw the need for this approach. The rushing was left to Ferguson, a 1960 All American who punished tacklers and who had never been tackled for a loss of yardage, and halfbacks Paul Warfield and Matt Snell.


The super backfield that featured future pro stars and 1961's Maxwell Award winner

Sports Illustrated stated that Ferguson  “…probably is the best college fullback to come along since Jimmy Brown…” and summed up the 6’, 227 pound wrecking machine’s physical running style as; “…who pounds over opposing players on a pair of stumpy legs that are about the same circumference as the average man’s waist.” In the biggest game of the season against Iowa, the fullback gained 144 yards on twenty-seven carries, most of them “…with four or five linemen hanging on him.” Ferguson, who looked as if he had been carved from stone when he left Troy, Ohio for Columbus, definitely had my attention, running low to the ground in what was usually a guaranteed three to five yards and the expected Woody Hayes “cloud of dust.” Despite the other talented players, it was Ferguson that was the focus of the team and the bonus for me was the great looking externally padded helmets worn by the Buckeyes. After an opening game 7-7 tie with Texas Christian University and their 6’7” quarterback Sonny Gibbs, the Bucks ripped through their schedule. The big showdown came against Iowa in the



Homecoming Game on November 4th
Bob Ferguson rips through Iowa in pivotal game for Big Ten crown



End Charlie Bryant made the play of the game, catching a pass from Sparma and shrugging off almost every member of the Iowa defense who took a shot at bringing him down. He finally settled into the end zone sixty-three yards later with his second touchdown of the day. Still, it was the consistent pounding of Ferguson that had the Iowa defense exhausted by the third quarter and the game ended with a 29-13 Buckeye victory. Though the year would be completed with an undefeated record, a National Championship as awarded by the Football Writers Association Of America, and Ferguson being the recipient of The Maxwell Award as well as the second place Heisman finish, a crushing disappointment came with all of this as the Ohio State Faculty Council vetoed the Rose Bowl bid because they “felt football was getting too big at Ohio State.” Ferguson’s three year performance included two unanimous First Team All American selections, 2162 rushing yards, and a career yards-per-carry average of more than five yards. Ferguson was named to the Ohio State All Century Team and The College Football Hall Of Fame and to many, remains the greatest of all of Hayes’ fullbacks if not the greatest in OSU history. Unfortunately, after being drafted in the first round by the Steelers, he suffered a very severe concussion early in his rookie season that effectively ended his football career. He hung on for the 1963 season with the Vikings and then left the pro game. However, he succeeded in the classroom by earning his Masters degree in sociology from Ohio State. Ferguson was an obvious “I need to play like that” role model for me as I sought success as a high school running back and I’m sure he did the same for a legion of high school and college players.