Illustration of man in black turtleneck
Chic Harley was a three-time All-American at Ohio State in 1916, 1917 and 1919. Credit: Oscar Hinojosa

COLUMBUS — There was probably no bigger fan of Ohio State’s three-time All-American Chic Harley than the famed author and humorist James Thurber.

The internationally-recognized Ohio humorist was so taken with his fellow Buckeye in that pre-World War I era that he penned a poem, “When Chic Harley Got Away.”

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There’s a good reason for Thurber’s admiration.

Harley ushered in the era of big-time college football to central Ohio starting in 1916.

The Columbus East graduate was also the key figure in Ohio State’s first-ever win over arch-rival Michigan, snapping a 15-game winless streak, and reshaping what had been a once-sided rivalry.

To that point, in 1919, the Wolverines owned a 13-0-2 edge in The Game. Since that afternoon, the Buckeyes have gotten the better of it, 51-47-4.

The stage was set on Oct. 25, 1919 at Ferry Field in Ann Arbor.

“I don’t remember any exact plays in that game,” Harley said upon his return to campus for the 1948 Homecoming. “But I remember we beat’em!”

The 5-foot-9, 156-pound dynamo ripped off the clinching 42-yard touchdown run and intercepted four passes (still the school’s single-game record) in a 13-3 victory.

To put an exclamation point on his all-around brilliance that day, Harley punted 11 times for a 42.2-yard average.

“You, Mr. Harley, I believe, are one of the finest little machines I have ever seen,” Michigan’s legendary head coach Fielding Yost said.

It was just another day at the office for Harley, the greatest all-around threat college football had seen to that point.

More than 70 years after his final game, Sports Illustrated theorized that if the award had existed in his era, Harley would’ve won the Heisman Trophy in 1916 and 1919, and finished runner-up in 1917.

Harley finished his collegiate career with 23 touchdowns in 23 games while leading Ohio State to a 21-1-1 record, including back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1916 and 1917.

The only game Harley lost as a collegian was the final game of his career, a 9-7 defeat to Illinois on a field goal with eight seconds remaining. That defeat cost the Buckeyes yet another Big Ten championship.

Harley was so distraught, he could be seen sobbing on the bench more than 30 minutes after it ended. His teammates eventually had to help him off the field.

Still, seeing how much money could’ve been made from the ticket demand for the final game of Harley’s career is what triggered Ohio State’s board of trustees to approve a resolution for the construction of Ohio Stadium.

The excitement around Ohio State football could not be denied, and within three years the university would build a palace to accommodate the lunacy Harley had ignited. To this day Ohio Stadium is known as “The House That Harley Built.”

Harley scored 201 points in 23 career games, a career scoring record that stood for 36 years until Heisman winner Howard “Hopalong” Cassady broke it in 1955.

Harley’s 8.3 points scored per game remains an Ohio State school record that is unlikely to ever be broken.

“He was the greatest football player we Ohioans have ever seen and, we like to add belligerently, we have seen them all,” Thurber noted. “If you never saw Chic Harley run with a football, we Ohioans could not describe it to you. It wasn’t like (Red) Grange or (Tom) Harmon or anybody else.

“He was kind of a cross between music and cannon fire, and it brought your heart up under your ears.”

Thurber expanded on his thoughts with a poem about the immortal Harley, pasted below the photo gallery.

We’ve asked Lexington public address announcer to offer a dramatic reading of the poem which we’ll publish on Thanksgiving afternoon. So be sure to check back for that special feature.

Chic Harley in a huddle with his Ohio State teammates.

When Chic Harley got away

By James Thurber

“The years of football playing reach back a long, long way,

And the heroes are a hundred who have worn the red and gray;

You can name the brilliant players from the year the game began,

You can rave how this one punted and praise how that one ran;

You can say that someone’s plunging was the best you ever saw,

You can claim the boys now playing stage a game without a flaw —

But admit there was no splendor in all the bright array

Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away.

“You can tell the tale of Gibson who ran for eighty yards

Bowling Michiganders over like a row of paper cards;

You can sing the song of Barrington, whose deadly toe oft sent

The hurtling ball to victory when his men were all but spent.

There’s a thousand other stories of the games of other years.

But one from the thousand like a flash of light appears.

And there’s nothing half so thrilling from the first year to today,

Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away.

“Declaim accounts of smashing lines and plunging backs and then

Shout a little louder and declaim them once again.

There never was another time like in the good old days

When they used to play a man’s game with the mass formation plays.

You can laud the Powells and Dunlaps as the mountains in the line

That made the game of football something superman and fine.

But still there’s nothing in it all, when you have had your say,

Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away.

“Old grads can mention how they fought when Kenyon came to town.

And how they used to up and knock the bleeding foemen down,

And we’ll admit the good old days were red and raw and rough,

And the men that wore the moleskin surely had the old-time stuff.

Or you can land the recent days and name a field of stars

As scintillant as Jupiter and as militant as Mars —

But they’ll never be another thing can light up all the day

Like the glory of the going when Chic Harley got away.”