WILMINGTON — A “rag-tag team of largely self-coached fellows” in 1890 couldn’t have dreamed they were the start of an American phenomenon in college sports whose weekend fate could elevate, or sink, the mood of millions of Ohioans.
The newly released “Lords of Smashmouth: The Unlikely Rise of an American Phenomenon” ($30, Orange Frazer Press) is “the entertainingly comprehensive story of how Ohio State’s football monolith was built from the turf up.”
Written by Clinton County resdident John Baskin, a three-time Ohioana-award winner, with assistance from historian Michael O’Bryant, it is billed as “the quintessential book to have if you’re shipwrecked.”
The book is published by Wilmington-based Orange Frazer Press. It “delineates the subterranean alignment of forces that built one of America’s most spectacular sporting institutions, telling the story of its grand design through the larger-than-life figures that steered the program, from Jack Wilce, who painted the locker rooms red to inspire his ‘meat-eaters’, to the notable eccentric Woody Hayes, who called up his coaches in the middle of the night and read James Whitcomb Riley poems to them.”
The Ohio State Buckeyes’ lock on the sporting hearts of Ohioans was one of the first things that struck Baskin when he arrived in Ohio from the Carolinas to write for the Dayton Daily News in early 1969.
“Over time, I was interested in how everyone seems invested. So many people in Ohio — it’s like they’re all graduates of Ohio State. It’s wonderful for the program, but odd if you come from the outside,” said Baskin.
A driving impetus behind the Buckeyes book project is “how did it happen and why” because Columbus was a most unlikely place, he said. College football was essentially an East Coast institution.
In 1922, a singular event occurred in Central Ohio. A horseshoe shape football stadium was built that would hold something like a fourth of the population of Columbus at the time.
“It was sort of incomprehensible that you could do something like that which was so out-sized, and then make it work. And they did [make it work],” remarked Baskin.
The title of the book comes from the late sportswriter Lonnie Wheeler, who was the book’s line editor before his death last year.
Baskin sees the title’s word “smashmouth” as referring to the physicality of the team’s play. “Their defense and their offense — their play is ‘We’re going to hit you in the mouth’.” The author thinks Hayes would have appreciated the word ‘smashmouth.’
“I love this book,” said Bill Livingston, the former Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist who said Lords is for the fans “who like wit and style with their substance.”
An example of that wit and style is where Baskin comments on why Hayes wore short-sleeve shirts at cold weather games: He was “at odds even with nature”.
David Hyde, a National Headliner Award sports columnist, said the book “takes you through a hundred years of Ohio State huddles in a way that entertains and educates you on every page.”
The hardcover book is 360-plus pages and is available at orangefrazer.com or by calling 937-382-3196. In addition, women’s boutique Strength and Dignity at 57 W. Main St. in Wilmington (937-302-8028) will be carrying the book. And it’s also available via Amazon.com.
About Orange Frazer
Orange Frazer Press is a traditional book publisher and a custom book publishing service in its 34th year serving a local, regional and international client base from its historical building in downtown Wilmington.
Its many titles include “Ohio Matters of Fact”, “The Ohio Almanac”, and “Ohio Archaeology”, as well as a broader selection of books from architecture to travel to business to fiction.
Orange Frazer’s many sports titles include “The Legends: Ohio State Buckeyes”; “1968: The Year That Saved Ohio State Football”; “Earle: A Coach’s Life” (about former OSU coach Earle Bruce); “The Autobiography of Brutus Buckeye”; “Joe: Rounding Third and Heading for Home” a Joe Nuxhall biography; “Tony Perez: From Cuba to Cooperstown”; “Chad: I Can’t Be Stopped” (the bio of former Bengals’ receiver Chad Johnson); and “The Real McCoy: My Half-century with the Cincinnati Reds.”