COLUMBUS -- Should Ohio State ever rename Ohio Stadium, Harley Field would be a chief candidate.
After all, Chic Harley's incredible exploits triggered the building of the facility in the first place.
"Harley could do everything, he was the complete player,'' said his teammate Gaylord "Pete'' Stinchcomb in Wilbur Snypp's book, The Buckeyes. "Chic was like a cat. You know how hard it is to catch a cat? It usually takes more than one person. It always took more than one player to catch Harley."
Harley was Ohio State's first great player, and ignited the city's passion for college football that exists to this day.
Born in Chicago, Harley, his parents, three brothers and three sisters moved to Columbus when he was 12. In 1913, just before Chic's senior year, the family was about to return home when Columbus East High School principal John D. Harlor and Tigers' football captain John Vorys convinced the Harleys that Chic should stay for his final prep campaign.
Their motive was purely selfish.
In Harley's career, East lost just one game, a 14-0 decision to Columbus North in his final high school game.
Harley was so good, so charismatic, Columbus East High School was drawing more fans than Ohio State played to at Ohio Field. Naturally, the Buckeyes took a concentrated interest in further delaying Harley's return to Chicago. Thanks to the Phi Gamma Delta Fraternity on campus, he was persuaded to attend college at Ohio State.
Harley would letter in four different sports at OSU. He was also a natural as an outfielder on the baseball team, a guard on the basketball team, and owned the school record in the 50-yard dash. But his impact in football was groundbreaking.
Harley became a three-time All-American and was the first Ohio State player inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame (in 1951). He almost single-handedly plunged the program into the big time of college football.
When Harley arrived, the scene was very different. Ohio State was the baby brother in the Big Ten lodge, and coach Dr. John Wilce wasn't able to push his team past third place in the program's first three years in conference play.
Harley changed that in his first year of eligibility.
With just 1:10 remaining in his first conference game as a sophomore at Illinois, Harley faded back to pass, scrambled, faked a throw and zipped in for a 13-yard TD run. He then changed shoes and drilled the PAT boot out of the quagmire field to give the Buckeyes a 7-6 victory in Champaign, the first Illini home loss in four years.
A 5-foot-9, 160-pound star was born.
"He could dodge, feint, and run fast,'' Stinchcomb said. "In addition, he used a straight-arm to ward of tacklers like nobody else could.''
Two weeks later, unbeaten Wisconsin invaded Ohio Field. The Buckeyes trailed 7-0 in the second quarter when Harley zig-zagged through the Badgers for a 27-yard TD run. His PAT tied the game at the half. Harley cemented his legend in the fourth quarter, returning a punt 78 yards for a touchdown on a breathtaking run. This time his extra-point would be the difference. Wisconsin scored late, but missed the conversion kick to give the Buckeyes their biggest win in school history.
Playing before 15,000 fans at home, Ohio State ended the season by dumping undefeated Northwestern 23-3 as Harley scored two more TDs and added a field goal. The Bucks finished 7-0 and were undisputed Big Ten champions.
"Chic had an uncanny sense of timing," wrote Lew Byrer, sports editor of the Columbus Citizen. "I can't recall ever seeing him brought down by one man after he'd broken past the line of scrimmage.
"That timing is rare talent. Coaches can't teach it. It seems to have to be instinctive.''
Harley completed the 1916 campaign with eight TDs, seven PATs and a field goal for a team-high 58 points.
He, and Ohio State, would be even better in 1918.
The Buckeyes successfully defended their conference crown by rolling to an 8-0-1 record. Harley shook off an early-season injury to author three touchdowns against Ohio Wesleyan. He had four more at Indiana on runs of 40, 8, 11 and 33 yards. That set up a showdown at Wisconsin, where the Badgers were talking revenge.
They had no answer for Harley, however. Stuffing him on his usual dazzling end runs, the Wisconsin defense opened itself up to the pass and Harley took advantage. The Buckeye ace rifled 44-yard TD pass to Charles Bolen, set up another score with a 32-yard strike, and booted a 40-yard field goal in a 16-3 win.
On Nov. 17, OSU returned home to face undefeated Illinois, which hadn't allowed a point all season. Harley notched two field goals (14 and 29 yards) and tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Howard Courtney for a 13-0 win to complete another conference title.
OSU then played a pair of postseason games for the benefit of World War I soldiers. The Buckeyes were tied 0-0 at Auburn, before returning home to thump Camp Sheridan 28-0. That culminated the 1917 season with Ohio State outscoring its foes 292-6. Harley was more of a passer as a junior, but still scored eight touchdowns, added 15 extra-points and eight field goals.
"If you never saw him run with a football, we can't describe it to you. It was a kind of a cross between music and cannon fire, and it brought your heart up under your ears," wrote Bob Hooey, sports editor of the Ohio State Journal. "With his famous side-step, his reliable toe, his dashing runs and his cool judgment, Harley paved the way for Ohio State's first two conference championships. His fame grew so great and spread so far that people came to look upon him as a wizard.''
Harley was elected captain in 1918, but the U.S. became involved in World War I and he enlisted in the aviation corpse. Without him OSU staggered to a 3-3 record, but he had one more All-American season in him.
Harley stepped right back into action in 1919, and was again elected captain. He began the season with a 35-yard TD run in a rout of Ohio Wesleyan. He scored 52 points as OSU hammered the Bishops, Cincinnati and Kentucky. Next came Michigan, a team OSU had never beaten and which had just rejoined the conference after a five-year hiatus.
The matchup in Ann Arbor was a rude introduction for the undefeated Wolverines, who watched Harley weave through them their daunting defense a 42-yard TD run. A superb defensive player, Harley also intercepted an incredible four passes and punted 11 times for a 42-yard average to key a 13-3 victory.
"I don't remember any exact plays in that game,'' Harley said upon his return to campus for the 1948 Homecoming. "But I remember we beat'em!"
Purdue was the next victim, as Harley ran for a 30-yard touchdown and tossed a 13-yard TD pass to Bill Slyker in a 20-0 win. For the third time in his career, Harley pinned a defeat on Wisconsin, booting a 22-yard field goal in the fourth quarter for the only points in a 3-0 victory.
Unfortunately, as in high school, Harley experienced defeat for the only time in the final game of his career. Playing before a capacity crowd of 20,000, the Buckeyes trailed 6-0 in the second half. As usual, Harley rode to the rescue, throwing a 36-yard pass to teammate Clarence MacDonald to put the ball at the one. Harley bolted in for the score on the next play and his PAT made it a 7-6 edge going to the final period.
But coach Bob Zuppke's team drove more than 60 yards in the final moments and kicked a 25-yard field goal with eight seconds remaining for a 9-7 win.
That decision cost the Buckeyes another Big Ten championship, but the day wasn't a complete loss. Seeing how much money could've been made from the ticket demand for this contest, the school's board of trustees approved a resolution for the construction of Ohio Stadium on the day of the game.
OSU finished that 1919 season with a 6-1 record and Harley had 71 points on the year. In his three-year career, the East High product racked up 23 touchdowns, 39 PATs and eight field goals for 201 points. It was a school record that would stand until Heisman Trophy winner Howard Hopalong Cassady eclipsed it with 222 points in four seasons (1952-55).
The excitement around Ohio State football could not be denied, and within three years the university would build a palace to accommodate the lunacy Harley had ignited.
"Chic was an inspirational player, like few who've ever lived," wrote Russ Needham, longtime sports editor of the Columbus Dispatch. "His teammates had unlimited confidence in him, and knew he'd bring them through.''
Harley played briefly in pro football, but battled depression for much of his life. He was a patient at the Veteran's Administration Hospital in Danville, Illinois, from 1938 until his death, on April 21, 1974. Archie Griffin, another three-time All-American, was one of his pall bearers.
Originally published Tuesday, October 7, 2003