Woody Hayes, a National Championship and the Tale of the Toppled Top


Highlights from the 1954 Ohio State/Michigan game–before the goal post was toppled

During the summer of 1954, things didn’t look good for the Ohio State Buckeyes. After two losing seasons, fourth-year coach W.W. “Woody” Hayes was facing possible termination and considering the abrupt end of a number of recent Ohio State coaches (five in the past ten years), nobody expected Coach Hayes to stick around long. Ranked No. 20 in the preseason polls, optimism was at a low and the fans were not shy about their feelings toward Coach Hayes.

Although it’s hard to imagine 50 years later, fans even went so far as to change the words of the Alma Matter to:

“Oh come lets sing Ohio’s praise,
And say goodbye to Woody Hayes.”

Coach Hayes Iowa 1954

Hayes had done nothing to earn the fans respect either. Although he manged an overall winning record, he had also suffered two shutouts against his rival to the north including a 20-0 drubbing against the underdog Michigan team the year before.

That fall however, Ohio State tore through their schedule. After shutting out Indiana in the season opener 28-0, they beat No. 18 ranked Cal and followed up with a dominating 40-7 win over Illinois. The three wins moved Ohio State to No. 4 in the AP Poll. A goal-line stand for the win over No. 18 Iowa was followed by a big win over No. 2 ranked Wisconsin that included a game-changing 88 yard interception return for a touchdown by Howard “Hopalong” Cassady. The win moved them to the top spot in the AP. Poll.

A tough game against Northwestern the next weekend dropped them back to No. 2 but wins over Pittsburgh and Purdue were enough to move them back into the No. 1 spot in the AP Poll.

Meanwhile, the Wolverines were also doing well with with only one loss to Indiana. With only one game left in the regular season, Michigan was ranked No. 4.

Hayes Still in the hot seat
Even though they were sitting in the No. 1 spot, Buckeye fans weren’t letting up on Hayes. Over the past 15 years, Ohio State had lost to Michigan 11 times. With a record of 3-11-2 against the hated rival to the north, Michigan had helped Ohio State earn the nickname “The Graveyard of Coaches.” Hayes knew that if he lost to Michigan chances were it would be the last time he walked the sidelines as the Ohio State coach.

The week leading up to “The Game” was filled with tension and excitement as a win over the Wolverines would not only earn them a trip to the Rose Bowl, it would give them a shot at the National Championship. Coach Hayes had worked himself into a frenzy and more than 80,000 fans packed the Horseshoe for the 51st meeting of this storied rivalry. For only the third time in Ohio State history, the game would be broadcast on television.

I’ll leave it to the editors of the 1954-1955 Ohio State yearbook to describe the game:

A smell of roses was in the air as fans packed into Ohio Stadium to watch the annual Ohio State-Michigan classic. Rarely has so much depended on one game. A Big Ten title, a Rose Bowl Bid, an undefeted season, and a traditional rivalry were at stake. Rememberhing previous Michigan upsents, Ohio fans were shocked when the Wolves scored the first touchdown. Only on the merit of Jack Gibbs’ timely pass interception were the Bucks able to tie it up by halftime.

The picture again looked black for Ohio in the third quarter as Michigan drove to a first down on Ohio’s three. But the Bucks with a great goal line stand, held for four downs. This was the game’s turning point, for the Bucks then drove ninety-nine yards to score. Another touchdown in the final quarter wrapped up the game for Ohio. That afternoon the victory bell rang loud and clear as one of the greatest teams in Ohio State history left the field.

The ringing of the victory bell wasn’t the only sound of celebration as fans rushed onto the field to celebrate their win over their rival, a trip to the Rose Bowl and the eventual national championship. Revelers quickly toppled the goal posts (the last time this was officially allowed by the University) and at least one of the posts made it out of stadium to be paraded through campus and onto High Street.

Ohio State Michigan 1954

The Securing of a Relic
As the goal post moved south on High Street and the revelers started to drop off, five members the Epsilon Psi Epsilon (Optometry) fraternity realized that they were slowly becoming a controlling majority of the goal post celebration. As they passed the old Long’s Book Store, the fraternity brothers decided that the goal post would make a great decoration for their fraternity house. The goal post made a left turn onto 12th Ave. and arrived in the parking lot of 58 East 12th. Ave, the E Psi E house.

At this point however, not all of the celebrants were members of E Psi E and were not ready to give up their trophy. One of the fraternity brothers, Dick Britton, disappeared into the frat house and quickly returned with a hack saw. After a brief negotiation, the group agreed to allow Britton to cut off the top of the goal post to keep for the fraternity. The remaining non-optometry fraternity members hoisted the rest of the goal post back on their shoulders and headed off in the direction of High Street and the awaiting celebration.

A lost treasure
The five fraternity brothers now owned a souvenir from one of the greatest games in the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry. Richard Ball, Lowell Hone, James King, Will Stamp, and Britton named it “The Toppled Top” and found a place for the goal post top in a trophy cabinet at the E Psi E house. After their graduation the following spring, the five Guardians of the Toppled Top would return every alumni weekend and pay homage to their sacred relic in a visit to their old fraternity house.

At least until 1962.

Somewhere around that time, the guardians returned to the E Psi E house only to find the Toppled Top was gone. None of the fraternity brothers who lived in the house at the time knew what happened to their trophy and for the next fifty years, the Toppled Top was lost to the ages.

Lost for Fifty Years
Flash ahead to March of 2012. For the past fifty years Dr. Jim King wondered what happened to the Toppled Top and decided to share his memories of that glorious day in 1954 in an article he wrote for the Ohio State Optometry Alumni Magazine. Unfortunately, shortly before the article was published, Dr. King passed away never seeing the article in print or the response his article would receive.

Ohio State Toppled TOp

Upon reading the article Dr. Phil Keller, a 1962 graduate and fellow member of E Psi E realized that the round ball sitting on his book shelf is the lost Toppled Topper. He contacted one of the three surviving Guardians, Richard Ball, and let him know that he has the lost treasure. According to Ball, he was walking past the fraternity one alumni weekend shortly after graduating and noticed the Toppled Top sitting in the trash. He rescued the sacred relic and for the next 50 years, assumed his duties as a Guardian of the Toppled Top.

An Honored Return
This past September the surviving Guardians of the Toppled Top returned once again for Ohio State Alumni weekend. So to did the Toppled Top. In a gathering before the game, the Guardians presented the Top to Dean Melvin Shipp who told the crowd gathered that a display case was being built at the Ohio State School of Optometry and that this memory from that great day in 1954 would be made available for all to see.

The Guardians will gather once again to share their story in a special presentation during the Ohio State/Michigan Game and it is hoped that many more will make their annual pilgrimage to pay homage to The Toppled Top.

To learn more about the story of the Toppled Top visit the Ohio State College of Optometry website at http://optometry.osu.edu/toppledtop/

The Buckeye Battle Cry also has a post on the story today at: Lost and Found Toppled Top

A special thanks to Julia Megchelson of the Ohio State Optometry department and her efforts at bringing this story to life.

Some of the historical information on the 1954 season was found at  The Buckeye 50: Drive 6. Be sure to visit for a great telling of the historic 1954 Ohio State season.

(I’m also having technical problems with the image captions above. The first image shows Coach Hayes working the sidelines during the 1954 Iowa game. The second shows the goal post during the 1954 Ohio State/Michigan game with the Top still attached and the third shows the Toppled Top as it appears today.)

Update: The original version of this article included the name of an individual who was not involved in the events of this story. His name has been removed from the article.