Ohio State – From Soldiers to Fashion Plates to Thurber’s Dog

In the early years of the 20th century, Ohio State featured some of the most imaginative game day program artwork of any team in the land.  The last year of World War I had its covers depict a soldier with a bayonet advancing in parallel formation with a halfback carrying a football.  The 1922 Ohio Stadium dedication game showed a beautiful outside view of the newly constructed shrine.  Three 1927 covers had clothes horses decked out in fashions that could have been taken from the pages of Vogue. And the 1929 Northwestern game had  an intricately designed comic campus map that displayed scenes that included entire buildings of sleeping students; a “jungle” on the campus north side; and a “Carnegie investigator” prowling the campus in search of  under the table payoffs to football players. (Yes, Virginia, that sort of thing didn’t begin yesterday.)

But in 1936 the athletic department really outdid itself, commissioning five of the country’s leading illustrators—all Ohio State alumni—to create the program covers for the Buckeyes’ five home games.  Among them were the most prolific OSU cover artist of all time, Frederick Machetanz, and the renowned creator of the comic strips Steve Canyon and Terry and the Pirates, Milton Caniff.
And then there was the most imaginative artist of them all, the Columbus native James Thurber, famous for both his New Yorker magazine stories and the whimsical illustrations that accompanied them.  With such a pedigreed resume, it was only fitting that his cartoon drawing was chosen to grace the cover of the Michigan game program, and it was also fitting that he chose for his cover theme his favorite subject—-dogs.   As it turned out, the players depicted by Thurber had just as much chance of getting the football away from the elusive mutt as Michigan had of crossing the goal line, as the Buckeyes posted their third of four straight shutouts in college football’s greatest rivalry.

Click here to buy a poster of this program cover.

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