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Friday, January 17, 2020

Interview with Buckeye Legend Cornelius Green after His Induction into the 2019 Rose Bowl Hall of Fame

Q: What were your feelings when you first learned you were being inducted into the 2019 Rose Bowl Hall of Fame?

A: I was overwhelmed and I was shocked. It kind of came out of nowhere, so I was really more shocked than anything. I was really just overjoyed.

Q: So, it was a long time coming?

A: Pete and Archie had gotten in prior to me. I wasn’t jealous or anything. I was just hoping one day it would happen to me and thank God it did.

Q: Woody was inducted in 1989 and then Archie in 1990 and Pete Johnson was in 2007. What does it mean to join Woody and your teammates?

A: It means the world to me. Especially, I think this would be the first complete backfield to make the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame with Archie, Pete and I and then having Coach Hayes I was just overjoyed…They reminded me when I was getting introduced that Woody, Archie and Pete were in and it was just a great reminder of the team and their coach winning the highest honors that you can receive.

Q: Talk about the achievement of playing in four straight Rose Bowls and how hard that was to do at the time.

A: I think it was even harder during that time because you had to win the Big Ten Conference to get to the Rose Bowl. It was really even more difficult when you had a great coach like Bo Schembechler who was coaching at Michigan and for me to get past Bo four straight times with a 3-0-1 record and 4 straight Rose Bowl appearances speaks volumes. When you have Michigan’s greatest coach in their school history and I can say he never beat me…He was 0-3-1 against me and I’m very happy about that. I always mention that because during “The Ten-Year War (1969-1978)” between Woody and Bo, I think Woody’s record was 4-5-1 against Bo, so my class won 75 percent of those games.

Photo courtesy of Cornelius Green

Q: How important was it to beat that team up north in order to get to the Rose Bowl?

A: It was everything because in my head I practiced 364 days for Michigan. Every year we would be undefeated or had one loss and that one game decided who went to the Rose Bowl and who stayed home. When I look back now at Dennis Franklin as great as he was, his record is 30 wins three losses and one tie but those three losses and one tie were to us. He never played in a bowl game so you can get 30 wins and not get in a bowl game. That’s amazing.

Q: We live in an age of bowl saturation. What did the Rose Bowl when you played mean versus today? Would it be comparable to playing in a playoff game or a national championship game?

A: The Rose Bowl was like a national championship game. It’s the Granddaddy of Them All. To play in the Rose Bowl was like reaching the Mount Everest in college sports.

Q: Did Woody prepare for the Rose Bowl the same way he prepared for a regular season game? Did he spend any extra time during the season on it?

A: No. It was all about Michigan. We practiced for Michigan in the summer. I remember when we played Indiana, we practiced for Michigan Monday and Tuesday and then we practiced for Indiana Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and we didn’t have to play Michigan for like six more weeks. You knew that the Michigan game means more than anything.

Q: Do you have a favorite Rose Bowl memory?

A: I would say my sophomore year because I had hurt my right thumb prior to the Michigan game and that 10-10 tie we only passed like one time when I was in the game. I took that tie personally. Right before the Rose Bowl game they were saying Ohio State can’t pass so I kind of took that as a personal insult like they were saying I couldn’t pass. I completed 75 percent of my passes in that game and ended up being the most valuable player. Some of those passes that I threw were big 3rd down passes where we were able to continue our drive and score.

Q: What was your role in the 1973 Rose Bowl?

A: I was the scout squad quarterback. As guys were a little injured while we were working out, I just tried to help out on the kickoff return squad and the punt return squad. I didn’t get a chance to return any punts but I did get a chance to return 3 kickoffs.

Q: Expand a little more on the thumb injury in the Iowa game and how that impacted the game plan against the team up north.

A: I hurt my thumb against Iowa. Monday and Tuesday, I was at practice but I couldn’t take any snaps because my thumb was so painful. Then by Wednesday I could grip the ball. By Thursday and Friday, I could really grip it and throw a little bit, but not to the 100 percent satisfaction of Coach Hayes. Going into the game, I thought the game plan was to run and pass but I never realized Woody didn’t trust my thumb at all. We only attempted one pass in the whole first three quarters of the game. Michigan was bringing eight guys at us up at the line of scrimmage and Woody still refused to pass. It was tough for Archie to get beat up like he did that game. I just felt like I was just handing the ball off but wasn’t part of the offense.

Q: Did you run much in that game?

A: No. He didn’t call many option plays for me to pitch the ball. Anything that had to do with me passing or pitching the ball he just took that all away from me.

Q: What were your thoughts after the tie game with the team up north?

A: Woody always said a tie game is like kissing your sister, and I didn’t ever want to kiss my sister, Ill tell you that. I was upset, man. We were crushed for a tie and Michigan guys were jumping up like they had won a Super Bowl or a Rose Bowl or something. They were so happy with a tie because I think by them tying us, they were sure they were going to the Rose Bowl. I just saw them jumping up with laughter and joy and that was my first tie, so I didn’t know how to deal with it. At the same time, I felt we weren’t going to go to the Rose Bowl, I just couldn’t get over why Woody wouldn’t call any pass plays and trust my thumb at all.

Q: Were you fully healed going into the 1974 Rose Bowl?

A: It took by about mid-December for my thumb to heal. We were out there, and I was passing. For some reason the game slowed down for me out in California. I really started seeing the defenses better. It was just a great thing for us to go out to California with warm weather where we could pass the ball versus back in Columbus playing in 10- or 20-degree weather where you couldn’t pass as much.

Q: What was your personal mindset going into the 1974 Rose Bowl? Were you looking to redeem yourself?

A: There is no doubt about it. The funny part is the second play of the game Woody called a pass play and I threw an interception. We were trying to prove it to everybody that we could pass and the second pass play of the game I threw an interception. Woody told me that it was their fault, and that it was the wrong formation, which restored my confidence in passing. So, it wasn’t my fault. They kind of put the blame on them for throwing the interception, so that was a cool thing.

Q: What was your overall team’s mindset going into the 1974 Rose Bowl having lost to USC the prior year?

A: We wanted revenge. We wanted to show folks that they chose the right team…that they chose us and not Michigan especially with that 10-10 tie. So, we had a lot to prove. We had gotten beaten pretty good the year before and then we wanted to come out and redeem ourselves and I’m glad we did.

Photo Courtesy of Cornelius Green

Q: I’d like to go into some of the key moments of the 1974 Rose Bowl. It looked like you were down 21-14 in the third quarter and you completed a 40-yard pass to Fred Pagac to set up a score. Talk about that play and the impact it had on the momentum.

A: That play was a game changer. The play that was called didn’t work and I had to ad lib. I was almost about to get tackled so I was scrambling on my left side and rolled back around to my right side. Fred was running his route to the left and sprinted back to the right. It was just a godsend. I saw him and threw a perfect pass and thank goodness he caught it. That was a game changer. It could have gone either way. If I didn’t make that big play we might have had to punt and they could have gotten the ball back and drove down and scored again.

Q: It had to be a little shocking to them that you threw a 40-yard pass and kind of put them back on their heels.

A: I didn’t think they thought we were going to be passing anyway and for us to make some big pass plays against them had to be shocking. They had Lynn Swann on their side so they were used to making big passes to Lynn but I think we caught them off guard when we started hitting passes over 20 yards.

Q: Who were some of their key players?

A: They had Lynn Swann. They had J.K McKay, Pat Haden and they had Anthony Davis who was Archie’s rival for the Heisman. They had a great squad. That sophomore year they probably had 10 guys going into the top four rounds so they were a strong team.

Q: What were some other key moments that stood out to you in the 1974 game?

A: I think when I scored a touchdown. Also, we had a lot of big third down plays. I think the first time we scored it took us 20 plays to score a touchdown. We were able to make third down plays and continue long drives to keep the defense off the field. That was important because they had a good running and passing attack and they had a good ball control team…so we were able to take the ball out of their offense’s hands and we kept their defense on the field quite a bit.  It was amazing for Pete being a freshman and scoring three touchdowns. Archie had his 100 yards and then I had a big day. So, it was huge for all of us to have big games in the same game.

Q: Woody wouldn’t play favorites just because you were an upperclassman?

A: Woody picked the best players. He didn’t care if you were a senior or a sophomore. He didn’t care if you were a two-year starter or a three-year starter. You better come and play and be the best at that position. That kind of told me and Archie that no matter how good we were we could always be replaced. I just never took my own position for granted.

Q:  Watching that game, I think you really showed yourself to be a true dual threat quarterback. You were able to throw for 129 yards and then rush for 45 yards. What were your thoughts on emerging as a dual threat?

A: Coming out of high school I threw 28 touchdowns so I knew I was a passer but now I’m with Woody Hayes and the three yards and a cloud of dust. I had to come up out of the ground and show people I could pass and thank God it was the Rose Bowl and a nationally televised game. Just coming back in my junior season, he trusted me in passing more. That opened up our offense quite a bit and of course it showed that I could be a great dual threat if given the chance.

Q: I was going to ask that. How did that performance in the 1974 Rose Bowl help you fully earn Woody’s trust?

A: It was night and day. I think I passed maybe 50 times the whole season my sophomore year, versus maybe 150 times I passed my junior year and maybe 150 or more passes my senior year. We passed three times more than we did my sophomore year.

Q: Woody called the 1974 Rose Bowl game “the best game we’ve ever ever played.” What do those words mean to you to know that you were part of that game that Woody spoke so highly of?

A: When I got introduced into the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame, what pleased me more than anything was to hear them say that Woody said that was his greatest game ever. For me to play my best game and then get the MVP in the game, and for him to be smiling at the end of the game and be that happy and have those words coming out of his mouth, meant the world to me.

Q:  And that was big for the Big Ten too?

A: We restored the name of the Big Ten so that was huge.

Q: Do you have a favorite Rose Bowl memory of Woody?

A: Just that sophomore year I guess because we won. We were happy. I would say that. Also, just seeing him smiling when we beat Bo, that means the world to me because we knew beating Bo meant we were going to the Rose Bowl.

Photo Courtesy of Cornelius Green

Q: Let’s shift gears a little bit. What are your thoughts on the job Ryan Day did in his first year after taking over for a legend in Urban Meyer and the overall direction of the program?

A: With Ryan Day coming in, there was no game plan on him. You pretty much knew how Urban coached. You pretty much knew how Jim Tressel and Woody coached. But with Ryan coming in being so creative and everything, he gives Ohio State a totally new dimension. I think that’s why we are getting a lot of new recruits and wide receivers. We are becoming a passing type of team that spreads the ball around. Defensively I think we are great. I really enjoy Ryan and his presence at Ohio state. I hope he stays for a while.

Q: How do you think you would have done in a Ryan Day offense?

A: I would have had a Heisman. I would have had a Heisman for sure. Archie would have had to move one of them over to my house.

Q: Would you have been able to showcase your skills a lot more?

A: Yes, because we never would have had Pete. We would have had only two backs, me and Archie. Everything that went to Pete would have had to go to me and Archie. Of course, our career stats would have tripled.

Q: Justin Fields is continuing on the legacy that you started of great African-American quarterbacks to start at OSU. What are your thoughts on Justin and the job he did in his first year as a starter?

A: I was very impressed with Justin. He is a team guy and never a me first type of guy. I just love that about him and I’m glad he is coming back next year. I’m one of his biggest fans, there is no doubt about it. Most folks see African-Americans quarterbacking at Ohio State and just take it for granted but didn’t realize that in the 70’s I was one of the few that was out there so I’m proud to start that legacy.

Q: Breaking the color barrier for QB’s at OSU was a significant part of your legacy at OSU. What does that legacy mean to you looking back at it now?

A: It means the world to me now. These kids can come here now and just play football and go to school and just enjoy life. I had to come in and I had death threats over the phone and averaged 50-60 letters a week from Klan members and stuff like that. I looked over my back quite a bit and wasn’t sure what might happen. It was a good lesson in life…My white teammates loved me. On the other hand, I’m getting these types of letters. It taught me about stereotyping. Not to stereotype and to love people for who they are and not their color. It was just tough. I got an ulcer my sophomore year so I had to play sick as well. It was some tough times looking back, but God was good.

Q: In 1975, when Archie won his second Heisman you were named team MVP and MVP of the Big Ten. What did that mean to you to win both of those honors with all of that talent on your team?
A: Those are two of the highest honors you can receive especially when you are on the same team with a Heisman winner. When you win the Heisman, generally you are the most valuable player on your team and when you win the Heisman you assume you will be the most valuable in the conference…And here I was the most valuable player on the team and the most valuable player in the conference. So those awards speak volumes. I won the team vote by one vote. Archie voted for me and I voted for Archie. If Archie voted for himself, he would’ve won by one vote.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share about your experience in Pasadena and being inducted in the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame?

A: It took me 45 years to get back there to get inducted into the Hall of Fame and just to put my feet back out on that field again…the memory of those 4 years rushed over me. Knowing that my grand kids can now come out and see their granddad’s name up on that wall and to have my kids go out there means the world to me.

Q: What do you want people to remember most about your time at OSU?

A: I definitely want them to remember I was the first African-American quarterback there. That means so much to me. Then I want them to know that I’m 24-0 at home, and never lost a home game. Then they can put on my tombstone that I never lost to Michigan.

Nicholas Jackson

Copyright 2020 Nicholas Jackson - All rights reserved.

Nick is a 1997 graduate of Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio where he received his B.S in Biological Sciences. He went on to receive his Master’s Degree in Physical Therapy at Andrews University in Dayton, Ohio and then his Doctorate in Physical Therapy from Chatham University in Pittsburgh. He has been published in the Newark Advocate, The Granville Sentinel, and the St. Louis Metro Voice; and professionally in the Journal of Acute Care Physical Therapy. Nick has also been a guest host on 88.9 WLRY and 880AM WRFD

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