September 22, 2011

Feeling lucky? Woody's horseshoe makes a triumphant return

Denison University alumnus Woody Hayes '35, plays a very important role in the rich history of the Denison football program. Not only did Woody play for the Big Red from 1932 through 1934, he would return following his service in World War II to become the head coach of the Denison football team in 1946. After winning just two games in 1946, Hayes was searching for a little luck heading into the 1947 season. Enter Woody's lucky horseshoe which was nailed above the door of the football team's locker room at Deeds Field. Woody would never lose another game at Denison.

His team's posted back-to-back undefeated seasons in 1947 and 1948, and after the 1948 season, Woody accepted the head coaching position at Miami University.

Woody may have left, but his lucky horseshoe remained, fixed above the door to the locker room where players would touch it for luck each time they passed through the exit.

The horseshoe would remain in the Denison locker room until 1981 when the visiting stands and the locker rooms below it were demolished. On the day the structure was set to be bulldozed, Bob Shannon '50, a longtime assistant football coach at Denison and player for Hayes on his undefeated teams here, raced to the construction site, just in time to rescue the lucky horseshoe.

Shannon would pass away in 2008 but his widow, Phyllis, held on to her husband's prize possession until two weeks ago. After a narrow opening week loss to Ohio Wesleyan, Phyllis was contacted by Kevin Bennett of the Granville Historical Society. She shared the story of the horseshoe with Kevin and felt that the legendary artifact would be better off in the hands of this year's team. Current Denison football coach Jack Hatem gladly accepted the gift that was delivered by Bennett on September 7. His team promptly went out and dismantled Earlham College 44-7. On Saturday night, the Big Red improved to 2-1 by defeating Hiram College, 42-14. This Friday night (September 23) Phyllis Shannon will be a featured speaker at the Varsity D Association's Hall of Fame Banquet where she will formally transfer custody of Woody's horseshoe to Coach Hatem.

Now, some 80 years after Woody Hayes arrived in Granville as a Denison freshman, his immutable legacy is still very much in evidence here. The university will never forget Coach Hayes, not only because of the unprecedented success he brought to his alma mater, but also because of the enduring contributions he made to all of college football. 

ESPN Cleveland WKNR 850 and KNR2 1540 morning drive host Mark "Munch" Bishop talked about Woody's horseshoe on air Thursday morning.  Download the audio clip courtesy of Bishop and the fine people at Good Karma Broadcasting.  Newark Advocate scribe, Abby Roy, penned an account of the horseshoe and its many travels.  Read her story here.

Veteran Columbus, Ohio sports anchor, Clay Hall, travelled to Granville on Wednesday to report on the story.  His account along with interviews with Hatem, Phyllis Shannon and Bennett can be viewed below.