Mount Rushmore National Memorial is an iconic place that attracts more than three million people annually. It features four 60-foot tall granite carvings of the faces of former presidents of the United States — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt.
The historic significance of the four presidents cannot be disputed. Although there have been many important figures in American history, these four have unique legacies that make them worthy of having their faces chiseled into a mountainside.
Often people talk about creating a hypothetical “Mount Rushmore” for other disciplines outside of American history. This is especially common in the world of sports.
For example, last year LeBron James was asked who he would include on a NBA version of Mount Rushmore. With so many great players and coaches in the league’s history, the task of choosing just four can be tough. But it is fun to find out which four individuals people consider to be the cream of the crop.
I will take on that task and narrow down my top four legends to be included on a Mount Rushmore of Ohio State football.
OSU is regarded as one of the marquee programs in college football, with eight national championships, seven Heisman Trophy winners and 79 consensus All-Americans. The task to sort through all of the legends from the program’s history and then dwindle them down to select four was at times difficult. But I believe I have found the four most worthy Buckeyes to be carved into the hypothetical granite.
I will break down each of my four choices with reasons why I nominate them to the imaginary monument. With a program that has such rich history, there will be deserving individuals who who have been left off, but I only could choose four. Here they are:
Woody Hayes- Head Coach, 1951-1978
This one wasn’t all that difficult. I would go as far as saying it was a no-brainer to include Woody Hayes. He was the head coach of OSU for 28 seasons, and under his leadership, the program soared into the category of elite. Hayes guided the Buckeyes to five national championships and 13 Big Ten titles. He also coached 58 All-Americans. During his tenure, the Scarlet and Gray went undefeated twice.
Hayes’ career at OSU ended in controversy when he punched a Clemson player in the final minutes of the 1978 Gator Bowl, but he was known throughout his time in Columbus to be an incredible leader of the young men he coached. The positive stories surrounding his leadership should — and in my opinion do — overshadow the incident with the Clemson player that got him fired. Hayes is truly a college football coaching legend.
He had his trials and tribulations, but a career winning percentage of .761 and five national championships speak for themselves. He helped solidify the Buckeyes as a premier program. No Ohio State football Mount Rushmore would be complete without a carving of Hayes donning his famous large-framed glasses and black hat with a bold scarlet block O outlined in white. To me, his contributions to the program make him 100 percent deserving.
Archie Griffin – Running Back, 1972-75
Like Hayes, this one was not too agonizing of a selection. Hayes is OSU’s most decorated coach, Griffin its most decorated player. The only two-time Heisman Trophy winner in the award’s 79-year history, Griffin — who was coached by Hayes — first won it as a junior in 1974 when he amassed 1,772 yards from scrimmage and 12 touchdowns. He won his second Heisman in 1975 when he totaled 1,620 yards from scrimmage in 1975 and four touchdowns.
Griffin’s Buckeyes made four straight trips to the Rose Bowl, including a victory over Southern California in 1973. He is the only player to lead the Big Ten in rushing for three consecutive seasons. He finished his career with the Scarlet and Gray with a school-record 5,589 rushing yards.
In 1986, he was enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame. His No. 45 has been retired by Ohio State. In 2014, he was named the All-Century Player of the Rose Bowl Game. Hayes said of Griffin, “He’s a better young man than he is a football player, and he’s the best football player I’ve ever seen.”
I believe Griffin is the best player to ever wear scarlet and gray. Buckeye Mount Rushmore would not be complete without him on it.
Eddie George, Running Back, 1992-95
Before, I said the task of choosing four people to hypothetically carve out of granite was “at times difficult.” It was. This is where it began to get difficult. The first two choices — Hayes and Griffin — were almost obvious. The final two required much more thought.
Eddie George got the nod for the third spot on the fictional monument. He suited up for the Buckeyes from 1992 to 1995, having at least three touchdowns in all four of his seasons. George emerged during his junior year when he rushed for 1,442 rushing yards — ninth most in school history — and 12 touchdowns. But his 1995 campaign solidified his spot in Buckeye history and on the OSU Mount Rushmore.
George captured the Heisman Trophy for his performance during the 1995 season, and rightfully so. He tallied 2,344 yards from scrimmage — 1,927 of those rushing — and 25 total touchdowns. He rushed for over 100 yards in a school record 12 of the Scarlet and Gray’s 13 games. His 314 rushing yards against Illinois set another school record. Additionally, George had three games over 200 yards rushing in the regular season — another school record. He currently sits behind Griffin in second place for most rushing yards in school history, with 3,768.
Finding a season better than George’s 1995 one in Buckeye history would be tough. He dominated competition and carried the team to a 11-2 mark. Those opposed to George being carved into the imaginary granite might point to his 1-3 record in bowl games and a 1-2-1 record against Michigan. Those arguments are fair, but the Buckeyes did finish inside the AP’s Top 20 during each of George’s four seasons, which proves the teams still were successful. He had two exceptional seasons as the featured back, in 1994 and 1995. His senior season was pure dominance. In my opinion, it is arguably the most impressive individual season in OSU history, and because of that, I could not leave George off of the Buckeye Mount Rushmore.
Bill Willis, Offensive and Defensive Line, 1942-44
The final spot came down to a few people — Urban Meyer, Howard Cassady and Jim Tressel — but in the end, Bill Willis emerged as the most deserving. Willis, who is most likely the least-known individual on the list, started for three seasons for the Buckeyes from 1942 to 1945. He played on both the offensive and defensive lines during his tenure. Willis helped the Scarlet and Gray capture the program’s first national championship in 1942.
During his junior and senior seasons in 1943 and 1944, Willis was selected as an All-American. As a senior, he was a part of an undefeated OSU team.
Being a lineman — especially from the 1940s — makes statistics more difficult to come by, but Willis’ impact is still easily accessible. When he was voted an All-American, Willis became the first African American from OSU to receive such an honor. He was not the first African American to suit up for the Buckeyes, but he was the first one to become a star.
After finishing his career in Columbus, Willis joined the Cleveland Browns in 1946, making him one of the first African Americans to play professional football in the modern era. He went on to have a largely successful professional career.
He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame and the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1971 and 1977, respectively. His No. 99 was retired by OSU in 2007.
Willis was truly a pioneer in the game of football during his time wearing scarlet and gray and beyond. His accomplishments and legacy certainly make him deserving of the final spot of the Ohio State football Mount Rushmore.