Life Outside the Lines

Dick Schafrath helped the Buckeyes to a national title and the Browns to an NFL Championship. And that's before we even get to the most interesting stuff he's done.

Almost no one runs 60 miles on a bet or canoes across Lake Erie or wrestles a bear for the fun of it. Dick Schafrath has done all three. That’s in addition to playing for Woody Hayes’ 1957 national champion Ohio State team and the 1964 NFL champion Cleveland Browns. Schafrath later parlayed his straight-shooting persona into two terms in the state senate and went back to earn his college degree 48 years after leaving campus without one. The Ohio football icon shares his life story in a new book “Heart of a Mule: The Dick Schafrath Stories” (Gray and Co., $24.95). We recently talked to “The Mule” about what 69 years of living has taught him.

From his football days to canoeing across Lake Erie, Dick Schafrath's "Heart of a Mule" details a legendary life.
Photo Courtesy of Gray and Co.

I have always been associated with a mule, because I grew up on a farm and everybody said I was a little stubborn. I was often called “The Mule” by Mom and also by some of my classmates. But, I loved to read sports books and the “Four Horseman” and the “Seven Mules” of Notre Dame were my heroes.

My father meant so much to me because I worked day and night with him on the farm. We worked the way the Amish work. It would be dark and he’d say, “Why don’t you take the rest of the day off.”

The first time I met Woody Hayes, he came on a Sunday, motoring in to our farmhouse in a station wagon, and wanted to know if any of us go to church. … When I went in the house after he left, Mom came and convinced me I was going to Ohio State.

When I failed a course to get out of school, [Hayes] made me move into his house. So, I lived with Woody off and on for two years. Every time I would try to get out of [college], he’d have me living in his house.

Jim Brown is a blood brother. He’s tattooed my butt and back with his cleats a lot of times. … He didn’t slow down or wait for a cut, he just ran all over the field.

I am impressed by any coach who uses sayings, because it helps to motivate a team. So, I have a little fun doing it with Ohio State, and [Jim] Tressel lets me do it each week.

I was a dreamer, and I loved challenges. I probably overdid it with that [62-mile] run at that age, because that certainly brought my career to an end quick. … I made it, and they put me on a stretcher and stuck me in the hospital, but I recovered pretty quick.

The big challenge in canoeing Lake Erie was I don’t know how to swim and I get seasick and, of course, I had just come off a cancer operation. I think that motivated me.

The biggest challenge I ever had was going back to college. I always talk to my kids about honoring your commitments, so I went back and ended up getting on the dean’s list. That was the most amazing of all my achievements. I’m sure my mom and dad and Woody are shocked on that one.

Click here to purchase Dick Schafrath's book "Heart of a Mule."

Click here to read excerpts from "Heart of a Mule."

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