Today, The Ohio State University and Department of Athletics will retire Howard “Hopalong” Cassady’s No. 40. A special honor for a player considered special from his first collegiate football game.
In four years, Cassady helped the Buckeyes to a 29-8 record and their first of five national championships under legendary head coach Woody Hayes. Cassady also earned many individual honors including twice being named All-America, the 1955 Heisman Trophy winner and 1955 Associated Press Athlete of the Year.
Now, 45 years later, as part of Ohio State’s Department of Athletics commitment to retire the jersey numbers of all Heisman Trophy winners, Cassady is getting his due. As only the third member of this prestigious class, No. 40 will be placed next to Archie Griffin’s No. 45 and Vic Janowicz’s No. 31 in Ohio Stadium.
“I think it’s very much deserved,” Marv Homan, former Ohio State Sports Information Director, said. “He was one of the greatest defensive backs to ever play at Ohio State. It’s a very deserving honor for him.”
From the beginning, Cassady proved despite his small 5-foot-10 inch, 150-pound frame, he belonged at Ohio State. Coming off the bench as a freshman in the fall of 1952, he scored three touchdowns in the season opener against Indiana.
“I still didn’t have a uniform the Thursday before the game,” Cassady said. “But, eventually I ended up with No. 40 and was on the bench for the first game. We got down 14-0 at the half. The coaching staff sent me in to play in the third quarter. I scored three touchdowns and Ohio State went on to win, 21-13.”
Stories like this are numerous when talking about Cassady. Burt Charles, a former radio voice of the Buckeyes, remembers Cassady’s ability to turn games around.
“He was a big play player,” Charles said. “When the marbles were up for grabs, he made the necessary plays.”
Cassady was a regular in the lineup from then on. He eventually played in 36 of 37 possible games. First, he had to help his team through the 1952 and ’53 seasons.
“In 1952, we went on to beat Michigan and tie for the Big Ten title,” Cassady said. “In ’53, we were struck with a lot of injuries, including our quarterback, John Borton.”
In 1954, Cassady and the Buckeyes came back with a vengeance. Cassady caught 13 passes for 148 yards to help his team to a perfect 10-0 record. The team also gave Hayes his first of five national championships. Cassady rushed for 701 yards, six touchdowns and averaged 5.7 yards per carry. His success on the playing field earned him unanimous All-America honors.
“I remember one game that year when Wisconsin came in as No. 1,” Homan said. “Ohio State was down early in the game, but they were hanging on. The Wisconsin passer threw a bomb and Cassady took it back for an 80-yard interception return. That’s the type of thing he did so often. The team went on to have a good season.”
Cassady was not finished. In 1955, he was once again named an All-American after rushing for 958 yards and 15 touchdowns. At the end of the season, he was recognized as the Heisman Trophy winner and the AP Athlete of the Year.
“It’s remarkable that two players (Vic Janowicz in 1950 and Cassady in 1955) who played the same position at Ohio State won the Heisman within five years of each other,” Charles said. “Both Cassady and Janowicz played both sides of the ball (offense and defense) and that helped them.”
Perhaps more remarkable for Cassady is he played baseball in high school and never considered what success he might have as a football player.
“The thought of winning the Heisman never entered my mind until my junior year,” Cassady said. “That’s big when you get such honors as a player.”
Cassady finished his college career with 2,466 rushing yards. A total that still ranks 10th on the all-time Ohio State rushing list.
“My greatest memory was my first game and the last and everything in between,” Cassady said. “I started out my college football career with three touchdowns against Indiana and finished with three touchdowns against Iowa.”
Cassady, who came to Ohio State from Columbus Central High School, said he never had any goals going into college. He also didn’t foresee himself being a successful football player.
“I just lived from day-to-day,” Cassady said. “Back then there were no scholarships, so I worked, played ball and went to school.”
A biological science major, Cassady graduated and was drafted as a first round pick of the Detroit Lions. He enjoyed eight years of professional football success with Detroit, Cleveland and Philadelphia before retiring.
Since 1979, Cassady has returned to baseball. He was a scout for many years and currently serves as the first base coach of the Columbus Clippers.
“I work with the outfielders and infielders,” Cassady said. “I also help the hitting coaches, Trey Hillman and Bill Robinson.”
While he spends his winter months in Tampa, Fla., Cassady is returning to Columbus today for the retirement of his jersey number. A retirement he said actually happened years ago.
“It was first retired by the Athletics Department many years ago,” Cassady said. “Now, it’s being officially retired by the university.”
Nevertheless, those who remember seeing him play at Ohio State said this is a well-deserved honor.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Charles said. “His teammates respected him a lot.”
“I think his ability to make a great play is the most memorable thing about Cassady,” Homan said. “He turned plays around time and time again. Few players could do that.”
Ohio State was lucky to have one who could.