Nearly three years ago, I began this blog for multiple reasons, all of which had to do with my love of Ohio state football. One of those reasons, as I stated in my inaugural post, was a quarterback from the 50’s named John Borton.
In the mid-to-late 80s, I became friends with a wonderful person named Mary Borton. She was (and still is) brilliant, energetic and beautiful, and I considered myself lucky to have her as a friend. Plus, she was a Buckeye fan, so she pretty much had it all. I don’t even recall the conversation, but one day I learned that her father had played QB at Ohio State.
A few years later, I was a sports correspondent for a small newspaper in Massillon, Ohio. One day in the early 90s, I asked Mary if her father John would be interested in being interviewed for a feature story, and the answer was a resounding “yes”. So I went to the Borton house and stayed for hours. Borton sat in his reclining chair and gave a warm smile as he told countless stories about everything that we Buckeye fans adore. It was like I had a taste of heaven, hearing all these intricate details about Hopalong Cassady, Dave Leggett, and a man named Woody Hayes.
His warmth was astounding. I had often wondered how Mary Borton could be such an amazing person….sitting in front of me was the answer to that question. That’s how she was raised.
Later that fall, the Ohio State University was honoring their 1954 National Championship team, of which Borton was a senior QB. Injury kept him on the sideline throughout the season, and Leggett led the team to the title. Borton was not healthy enough to attend the festivities, which included a halftime ceremony during the Purdue game. My newspaper arranged a press pass for me, and Borton asked me if I would please send his love to all his former teammates.
Like I said, it was heaven.
Standing on the sidelines at Ohio Stadium, I was a guest among the heroes of the early years of Woody Hayes. The men who actually saved his job by going 10-0 back in 1954, when alumni and boosters were less than thrilled with Hayes’ 16-9-2 record over his first three years. I shook hands with the best of the best, each one of them with huge rings on their fingers. Then I got to meet Anne Hayes, a frail but sweet woman who was there to represent her late husband. The rest of the day was a blur, and I went home with the task of sending love to John Borton from so many people that I couldn’t even keep all their names and faces in my starstruck brain.
I have been in attendance for dozens and dozens of incredible games at Ohio Stadium and around the Big Ten. I saw Earle Bruce’s last game. I saw Eddie George play. Same thing for Cris Carter, Beanie Wells, Archie Griffin, Troy Smith, and a long long list of the greats.
But all of the amazing things I saw in Ohio Stadium? None will ever compare to the gift that John Borton gave me on that fall afternoon.
In April of 2002, Borton passed away. I still believe that a lot of those “miracle wins” in the 2002 season was the result of Borton and Hayes finally convincing God to intervene and help out their favorite university. Hayes wore God down, and Borton finally sold the deal.
Last Friday night, Borton was finally inducted into the Stark County High School Football Hall Of Fame. After a record-setting career at Alliance High, Ohio State University, and a short career with the Cleveland Browns, he was given his due here at home. It is a fitting tribute to a man who loved the sport and taught that love to his family and friends.
The Buckeye Battle Cry wishes to congratulate the entire Borton family on this wonderful honor.
One additional story, not widely known. On January 1, 1955, Ohio State won the National Championship by beating USC 20-7 in the Rose Bowl. Late in the game, Hayes decided to empty his bench and give more of his players a chance to smell the Roses. He called on Borton, who had missed the entire season with an injury.
Borton declined, and asked Hayes to send in the third-string QB. Borton asked Hayes to do it because the kid’s father had played at Ohio State and was in attendance watching the game.
When asked to take snaps in the Rose Bowl for a National Championship, Borton gave up the opportunity so a teammate’s father could see his son play.
How great of a man do you have to be to give a gift like that?