CAMPTONVILLE, CALIF. — Here in Gold Rush country, a land of tall trees and taller stories in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, an elderly man walks a circular road near his home twice a day. Always, he walks with a cane. Often, he wears a red cap that says, "Ohio State, Big Ten Champion, 1950."
The cap is in good shape. So is William Henry Harrison Dye, 91, better known as Tippy.
It has been a while since Tippy Dye has been in the news, almost 33 years since he retired as athletic director at Northwestern and headed off to Florida and the golden years with his beloved wife of 64 years, Mary.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday January 07, 2007 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 49 words Type of Material: Correction
College football: A story in Friday's Sports section on 91-year-old Ohio State legend Tippy Dye twice referred to a "Roger and Mary" as part of his still-active life. It should have said Roger and Penny. Roger is his son-in-law and Penny is his daughter. Mary is Tippy's late wife.
Mary died in 2001, and Dye lives here now, with his son-in-law and daughter, Roger and Penny Carnegie, both retired.
He estimates that his move here was the 35th of his life.
"Always a step ahead of the creditors," he says, chuckling.
He was named after William Henry Harrison, a general and hero in the War of 1812 and, preceding that, the battle of Tippecanoe against Tecumseh's American Indian confederation. When Harrison ran for president in 1840, his running mate was John Tyler, and their campaign motto was: "Tippecanoe and Tyler too." Thus, Tippy.
Unlike his current namesake, Harrison didn't live into his 90s. In fact, he died of pneumonia a month after his inauguration, at 68.
Our Tippy Dye has outlived both his contemporaries and his fame.
If you are under 50, his name probably draws a blank. If you are over 50 and a knowledgeable sports fan, you are mostly amazed that he is still alive, but happy to add his name to those of John Wooden and Pete Newell, 90-plus sports legends still blessing our state.
It took some creative public relations work by Ohio State last fall to produce Dye's public resurrection.
Before the game of the year, No. 1 Ohio State versus No. 2 Michigan on Nov. 18 at Columbus, Ohio, somebody recalled that only one Buckeyes quarterback had ever beaten archrival Michigan three consecutive times.
His name was Tippy Dye and the years were 1934, '35 and '36. He was 5 feet 7, 135 pounds, wore No. 50 and played offense and defense as the Buckeyes shut out the Wolverines all three years. Dye's three straight were viewed as an especially significant feat last fall because Ohio State's quarterback, eventual Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith, was about to match that accomplishment. Smith did exactly that in the Buckeyes' 42-39 victory that day, a victory that set up Monday's national title game against Florida.
Ohio State's public relations people even provided the network telecast with information for a graphic that told viewers that Dye was not only alive, but at the game. The game notes for the press said he was 94 and lived in Los Angeles. That was off by three years and several million people, Camptonville having a population of about 500.
Still, Ohio State had done well to recognize its past and, somehow, it became journalistically incumbent to track down this surviving nugget of gold in the hills and streams that have produced so many. Tippy Dye is a panful, a full 14 karats of history. He is from an era of sports that we know mostly through old books and old movies. Here was a chance to interview it.
He talks about one of his friends, Jesse Owens. They were page boys in the state capitol, a job given to scholarship athletes in those days.
"In his book, there is a picture of the two of us, running up the steps of the statehouse, going to work," Dye says.
He also remembers what an incredible athlete Owens was.
"I didn't get to see him compete much, because I was in baseball and he was in track and we were always on different fields," Dye says. "But one time, I watched him in the Big Ten meet. He was in the 220 low hurdles and he hit the first hurdle. Must've flown 15-20 feet before he hit the ground. Then he got up and won the race."
Dye wasn't a bad athlete himself and recalled the 1934 game against Michigan as memorable for two reasons.
The sophomore Dye was hit so hard while running back a punt that his leather helmet came off and little pieces of cardboard flew out all over the field. On those little pieces of cardboard were many of the 300 plays that Coach Francis Schmidt imposed on his quarterbacks, who, in those days, called the plays.
"I was running all over the place, making sure to pick all of them up," Dye says.
The other reason? The opposing center, Michigan's most valuable player, was a senior named Gerald Ford.
Dye went to Ohio State as a star basketball player from Pomeroy, Ohio, mostly because the girl he was dating, his beloved Mary Russell, was heading there.
The basketball coach wanted him, but the football coaches weren't quite as excited, especially because he had begun his high school playing days weighing only 99 pounds and had put on only 20 or so since.
So, when he went out for football in his first year, he found himself seventh-string on the freshman team. By the end of that season, he was No. 1 and destined to step up to a starting varsity role as a sophomore.