Field of play, field of service
History is made when Ohio State and West Point meet at the ’Shoe.
When West Point and Ohio State face off Sept. 16, it will constitute the two schools’ first meeting on the gridiron, despite their own respective rich histories of excellence in football. This occasion serves as a unique opportunity to reflect on the eras of college football in which both Ohio State and West Point were championship-caliber contemporaries on the field and also recognize the lasting contributions each institution has made and continues to make in the defense of our nation off the field.
Much more than a game, this historic matchup will showcase two institutions that share a rare combined pedigree of athletic achievement and service to the country.
Unlike the Bowl Championship Series and College Football Playoff eras, preeminent football powers rarely, if ever, met on the field to determine the national championship outright during the sport’s formative years. This was especially true in the 1940s, when Ohio State and West Point were titans of the sport, taking turns as reigning champs but never facing off head to head. Ohio State won the national title in 1942, with West Point winning national titles in 1944 and 1945. The programs even rotated Heisman Trophy winners, with Ohio State’s Les Horvath winning in 1944, while West Point’s Doc Blanchard and Glenn Davis won the Heisman in 1945 and 1946, respectively.
Though these football programs have been separated by time and space through the evolving landscape of college football, graduates of these institutions were united in common cause during World War II.
Ohio State and West Point trained and educated thousands of officers who would see combat almost immediately upon graduation. (The Ohio State Army ROTC program produced more than 1,100 officers in 1943 alone.) Graduates of both institutions made enormous sacrifices during the conflict. The airfield at Ohio State’s airport is named in honor of two-time All-American quarterback Don Scott, who perished in a bomber crash in England in 1943. At West Point, the Class of 1943 erected a memorial, named Constitution Corner, to the two cadets and 74 graduates of their class of 409 who perished in the war. Adjacent to the names of the fallen are a series of plaques featuring select passages of the U.S. Constitution, as well as the oath of office that all cadets (West Point and ROTC alike) take before entering service as commissioned officers.
World War II was a transformative experience for Coach Woody Hayes, who served in the U.S. Navy in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Coach Hayes taught military history at Ohio State and kept his office in Converse Hall, the home of ROTC. One of the early students of “Professor Hayes” was Bobby Knight, who before earning his nickname as “The General” coaching basketball at Indiana University got his first head coaching job — at West Point.
The service to nation demonstrated by graduates of both institutions in the past remains a touchstone of West Point and the ROTC programs at Ohio State in the present. West Point produces roughly 1,000 officers a year, carrying with them the values of duty, honor and country as they set off to be leaders of character in the U.S. Army. At Ohio State, the Buckeye Battalion remains one of the preeminent Army ROTC departments in the nation, continuing a legacy of excellence stretching back to its founding in 1876. In 1996, the ROTC program commissioned its 10,000th officer into the profession of arms. It has commissioned hundreds more since then, many of whom, like their peers at West Point, have served honorably in conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and other combat zones around the world.
In peace and in war, graduates of Ohio State and West Point have carried on a tradition of selfless service that has been unbroken throughout their rich histories. Fans and supporters of both schools can take pride in these shared traditions of football excellence and national service, in many ways reflective of the famous dictum made by Gen. Douglas MacArthur, who said, “On the fields of friendly strife are sown the seeds that, upon other fields, on other days, will bear the fruits of victory.”
About the author
Lt. Col. Scott Smitson ’00 PhD is a Distinguished Military Graduate of Ohio State’s Army ROTC program. He is a military strategist currently supporting the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He previously served as a strategic advisor to the commander of the United States Central Command and continues to write on Middle East security issues. From 2010 to 2013, he was an assistant professor of political science at West Point. He is married to Rosa Ailabouni ’01, a member of The Ohio State University Alumni Association Board of Directors, and they have three children.