Nearly three years ago, I began this blog for multiple reasons, all of which had to do with my love of Ohio state football. One of those reasons, as I stated in my inaugural post, was a quarterback from the 50′s named John Borton.
In the mid-to-late 80s, I became friends with a wonderful person named Mary Borton. She was (and still is) brilliant, energetic and beautiful, and I considered myself lucky to have her as a friend. Plus, she was a Buckeye fan, so she pretty much had it all. I don’t even recall the conversation, but one day I learned that her father had played QB at Ohio State.
A few years later, I was a sports correspondent for a small newspaper in Massillon, Ohio. One day in the early 90s, I asked Mary if her father John would be interested in being interviewed for a feature story, and the answer was a resounding “yes”. So I went to the Borton house and stayed for hours. Borton sat in his reclining chair and gave a warm smile as he told countless stories about everything that we Buckeye fans adore. It was like I had a taste of heaven, hearing all these intricate details about Hopalong Cassady, Dave Leggett, and a man named Woody Hayes.
His warmth was astounding. I had often wondered how Mary Borton could be such an amazing person….sitting in front of me was the answer to that question. That’s how she was raised.
Later that fall, the Ohio State University was honoring their 1954 National Championship team, of which Borton was a senior QB. Injury kept him on the sideline throughout the season, and Leggett led the team to the title. Borton was not healthy enough to attend the festivities, which included a halftime ceremony during the Purdue game. My newspaper arranged a press pass for me, and Borton asked me if I would please send his love to all his former teammates.
Like I said, it was heaven.
Standing on the sidelines at Ohio Stadium, I was a guest among the heroes of the early years of Woody Hayes. The men who actually saved his job by going 10-0 back in 1954, when alumni and boosters were less than thrilled with Hayes’ 16-9-2 record over his first three years. I shook hands with the best of the best, each one of them with huge rings on their fingers. Then I got to meet Anne Hayes, a frail but sweet woman who was there to represent her late husband. The rest of the day was a blur, and I went home with the task of sending love to John Borton from so many people that I couldn’t even keep all their names and faces in my starstruck brain.
I have been in attendance for dozens and dozens of incredible games at Ohio Stadium and around the Big Ten. I saw Earle Bruce’s last game. I saw Eddie George play. Same thing for Cris Carter, Beanie Wells, Archie Griffin, Troy Smith, and a long long list of the greats.
But all of the amazing things I saw in Ohio Stadium? None will ever compare to the gift that John Borton gave me on that fall afternoon.
In April of 2002, Borton passed away. I still believe that a lot of those “miracle wins” in the 2002 season was the result of Borton and Hayes finally convincing God to intervene and help out their favorite university. Hayes wore God down, and Borton finally sold the deal.
Last Friday night, Borton was finally inducted into the Stark County High School Football Hall Of Fame. After a record-setting career at Alliance High, Ohio State University, and a short career with the Cleveland Browns, he was given his due here at home. It is a fitting tribute to a man who loved the sport and taught that love to his family and friends.
The Buckeye Battle Cry wishes to congratulate the entire Borton family on this wonderful honor.
One additional story, not widely known. On January 1, 1955, Ohio State won the National Championship by beating USC 20-7 in the Rose Bowl. Late in the game, Hayes decided to empty his bench and give more of his players a chance to smell the Roses. He called on Borton, who had missed the entire season with an injury.
Borton declined, and asked Hayes to send in the third-string QB. Borton asked Hayes to do it because the kid’s father had played at Ohio State and was in attendance watching the game.
When asked to take snaps in the Rose Bowl for a National Championship, Borton gave up the opportunity so a teammate’s father could see his son play.
How great of a man do you have to be to give a gift like that?
The night before a big Ohio State game, I find it difficult to fall asleep. When I do finally drift off, it’s a hard sleep, but it never lasts very long. I often will wake up at 5am and have trouble getting to sleep again. This is my curse, and I am living it again at this very moment.
It’s 6:50 am (and Michigan still sucks), and I have read about everything I can read about the Ohio State/Penn State game that will begin in about 8 and a half hours. So there’s only one thing left to do….create my own Buckeye blog and write my own damn articles.
Welcome to The Buckeye Battle Cry.
A little intro…my name is Jeff, I am 37 years old, I live in Canton, Ohio, and I am an Ohio State football fanatic. For as long as I can remember, I have been a fan of the scarlet and gray. When I was a little boy, my dad and I used to watch games together every Saturday. Back then, the games would be re-broadcast at 1030pm, and I’d stay up late to watch the Bucks all over again. Dad took me to my first game on September 8th, 1984. We beat Oregon State 22-14 that day.
A few years later, I stepped onto campus as a freshman at The Ohio State University. My first game as a student was a 24-3 victory over West Virginia. Later that year, I traveled with Block O to the Michigan game, which turned out to be Earle Bruce’s final game as the Buckeyes Head Coach. Of course, we won 23-20.
I spent the next 10 years going to every Ohio State/Michigan game, whether it was in Ann Arbor or Columbus. I repaid my father by taking him to see the 1989 game up north. We lost 28-18. Yes, I was there when Desmond Howard struck the Heisman pose. I thought my luck was bad when I looked at my record of attending OSU/UM games and saw it at 2-7-1. Now I know it wasn’t my fault. It was John Cooper’s.
My favorite Buckeye player is a man who I never saw play, not even on tape. Quarterback John Borton (1952-1954) was the father of a very special friend of mine. In the early 90s, I wrote an article about him for the Massillon Independent. He invited me into his home and we spoke about every Buckeye detail we could think of. I was enthralled by the stories he had to share, and the article just wrote itself. A few weeks later, Borton asked me to represent him at halftime of the 1994 Purdue game, where the 1954 National Championship team would be honored (along with other NC teams). His health was failing him and he couldn’t make it to Columbus. I happily stood alongside Buckeye legends on the sideline, sending best wishes from Borton to his old teammates, but refused to step on the field with such great men. Despite representing one of the players, I never wore the uniform. Anne Hayes offered me a solution, and she insisted I ride with her in her golf cart to the center of the field. I could have died a happy man that day.
John Borton passed away four years ago, but left behind a loving family who honors his accomplishments to this day. And I firmly believe he had a role from up above, as a few short months after he passed away, the Buckeyes gave us a 14-0 season and their first National Championship in my lifetime.
His ashes have since been spread on the field at Ohio Stadium.
I’ll keep this blog updated as frequently as I can. If nothing else, I know I’ll have time every Saturday morning at 6am to work on it.