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Spirit & Sports

Ohio Stadium means the world to this football alum

After both playing and working at the ’Shoe, 84-year-old Daniel Connor still finds himself in awe of this Buckeye beauty and all the connections he made there.

Standing on the field inside Ohio Stadium, Daniel Connor, an older white man dressed in matching pants and sweatshirt—with an Ohio State logo—waves his baseball cap in the air as he greets the crowd at a football game.

In 2021, players from the 1961 team, including Daniel Connor, were honored on the field during an Ohio State football game. (Photo courtesy of the Connor family)

The 102-year-old Ohio Stadium gives Daniel Connor ’61, ’68 JD cause for reflection. The ’Shoe has been a touchstone throughout his 84 years, and for that, he says, he is forever grateful. Here, he shares a few of his memories.

Little boy, big impression

As “little Danny Connor,” a boy of 10, I sat in my parents’ bedroom listening to the Big Ten champion Buckeyes play the third-ranked California Golden Bears in the Rose Bowl on January 1, 1950. The teams were tied as the clock ticked down. When Ohio State kicked a field goal to win 17–14, my father jumped out of his chair in celebration. His reaction conveyed how exceptional the moment was. I look back on that as the start of my connection with The Ohio State University.

A valued free pass

The following fall, as a newspaper carrier, I had the opportunity to sell special game preview editions to fans filtering into the stadium. I did this as often as I could and, for a kid, made good money. My fellow carriers and I were allowed to watch the games for free after our sales had been finalized near the end of the first quarter. How exciting it was to go find an empty seat or open aisle to watch the Buckeyes.

My first game was against Iowa. From outside, we could hear the crowd repeatedly roar. The sound was deafening, and we gathered with excitement for our chance to watch the Buckeyes play. Once inside the stadium, we saw that Vic Janowicz was in the throes of leading an 83–21 victory for our team. I vividly recall our vibrant scarlet jerseys and the high-caliber athleticism of Janowicz, who went on to earn the Heisman Trophy at the end of that 1950 season.

The ‘Snow Bowl’

That memorable season culminated in spectacular fashion when the Buckeyes took on Michigan in the infamous “Snow Bowl.” As the Ohio State Monthly alumni magazine noted, “The game was played in the teeth of a full-scale blizzard, five inches of snow on the ground and snow whistling through the air, borne on a 29-mph gale. Despite the fact it was the worst blizzard in 37 years in Columbus, the Ohio capital easily defended its title as the football craziest town in the nation. A total of 50,503 persons braved the elements …” Amid all that craziness, the Buckeyes came up short 9–3.

Meanwhile, I continued to sell newspapers through the 1953 season.

Labor of love

At 15, I was offered a part-time summer job at General Maintenance and Engineering, which was hired to reinforce the outside of the stadium. My role was to keep the surface wet while other workers applied gunite, a mixture of cement, sand and water, to repair gaps in the concrete. The company paid me $1.25 per hour, for $40 a week, an impressive sum for a teenager!

I reveled in the opportunity to work on the stadium after all the games I had witnessed. Adding to my excitement was the chance, during my shift, to see the players and Coach Woody Hayes prepare for the 1954 season. That team was not initially expected to be very strong, but the players ended up winning the Big Ten and the Rose Bowl to claim a national title. I was in the B-deck on the 50-yard line when Howard “Hopalong” Cassady intercepted a pass on Ohio State’s 8-yard line. Hop ran 88 yards for a touchdown, crushing the spirit of Wisconsin and its terrific player Alan Ameche.

Unexpected opportunity

Six years passed, and I was in my 20s playing football at the University of Dayton. After learning I wouldn’t get to play in games, I left and joined the Ohio State football team that had been my inspiration for so many years. It was a dream come true to be on the field in Ohio Stadium during the 1960 and 1961 seasons. Sporting News named our ’61 team national champions based on our difficult schedule. Being on that team and getting to know Woody and the other coaches and players is one of the great honors of my life.

On the sidelines of a football game, famous Ohio State coach Woody Hayes holds the arm of a football player he’s talking to. The player watches him, but he looks straight ahead. Behind them, the player featured in this story intently watches something on the field.
In a black-and-white photo from 1961, four Ohio State football players are surrounded by six defensemen from Iowa. The ball carrier is last in the line of Buckeyes while Daniel Connor is first, ramming an Iowa players.

Solid career advice

In 1964, when I returned from the Navy, I met with Woody in his stadium office and shared my interest in a career as a football coach. Woody told me he would be happy to bring me on as an assistant coach, but first he wanted me to commit to pursuing a law degree. I had never even thought about becoming a lawyer, so I initially rejected his recommendation. But my admiration for Woody and his wisdom eventually led me to follow his advice. I graduated from the law school in 1968 and went on to advise Woody and some of his players on legal matters through the years.

And, true to his word, Woody hired me as a student assistant coach for the 1966 and 1967 seasons. Players who I worked with eventually won the Rose Bowl and became the 1968 national champions. Getting to know the coaches and players during that era was beyond thrilling.

Treasured moments

I have had many opportunities to reunite with my former teammates and coaches to celebrate our time together at Ohio Stadium. Most exciting are the moments we share on the field during home games when the 1961 team is honored and forming occasional Tunnels of Pride to welcome players to the stadium.

A handsome young man gazes off to his left in an official headshot photo from the 1960 football season. He has closely cropped hair, blue eyes and a slight smile.
Daniel Connor calls the seasons he played for Ohio State (1960 and ’61) “one of the great honors of my life.” (Photo courtesy of the Connor family)

To my utter surprise, Vic Janowicz and “Hopalong” Cassady invited me to be the third player on their golf team during Woody’s annual tournaments. He hosted the events each July in honor of former coaches, players and others close to the team. I was not a competent golfer by any stretch of the imagination, but I was beside myself to ride on the coattails of Vic and Hop for five consecutive tournaments.

A memorable flight

In my early 50s, I got my pilot’s license and bought a small, single-engine Cessna. I was still in touch with Billy Joe Armstrong ’63, who played center on our ’61 team. Billy Joe did a great deal of charity work, and he invited Buckeye legend Archie Griffin ’76 to help with one of his causes. Billy Joe asked if I’d be willing to fly Archie to South Carolina for the fundraiser. Would I ever! Archie and I had a great trip.

Straight from the heart

My most recent time on the field at Ohio Stadium was 2021, when our ’61 team was last recognized. As always, the memories came flooding back. From being an awestruck kid watching games to playing football to plotting my life’s career as a lawyer with Woody, Ohio Stadium and the people whom I’ve gathered with there have been at the center of it all. I am deeply honored to have played a small part in the story of Ohio Stadium. It surely has played a big part in mine.

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