Three Things Can Happen When You Pass and Two of Them Are Bad

Woody Hayes? Darrell Royal? Bernie Moore?

Dear Quote Investigator: It’s football season and I received an email from a friend with a collection of quotations from coaches and players. One of the sayings about passing the ball is credited to Woody Hayes, but I think it should probably be attributed to Darrell Royal, coach of the Texas Longhorns:

Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad.

Can you determine who first expressed this aphorism?

Quote Investigator: Candidly, the results of this exploration are confusing. The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a column by Bud Shrake in the Dallas Morning News in 1962, and it supported the belief that Darrell Royal created and/or popularized this adage [DRDM]:

Two plays later Wade threw another pass. The ball was batted into the air and Aggie linebacker Jerry Hopkins intercepted at the Texas 49.

You could almost hear Royal repeating his maxim: “When you throw a pass three things can happen to it, and two of them are bad.”

In 1963 the book “Darrell Royal Talks Football” by Darrell Royal with Blackie Sherrod was published, and it discussed the primary author’s philosophy of coaching.  A version of the aphorism was given, and Royal did not give credit to anyone else when he used the expression [DRDR]:

I might say this: we’ve always been a running team and I’m sure we will continue to be so. (We’ve been criticized for it, I might add.) But I’ve always felt that three things can happen to you whenever you throw the football, and two of them are bad. You can catch the ball, you can throw it incomplete, or have it intercepted.

Over the years other individuals have been connected to the saying. For example, in 1966 Woody Hayes, the celebrated football coach of the Ohio State Buckeyes, was attached to the aphorism [WHPD]:

Woody also professes to the theory that when you pass, three things can happen and two of them are bad.

The early evidence points strongly to Darrell Royal as the creator of this saying. But there is a key piece of counter-evidence that appeared in an interview that Royal gave in 2005 that was published in The Columbus Dispatch. Royal himself attributed the maxim to Woody Hayes according to the reporter [DRWH]:

“Now, you can hear some stuff in a barbershop. You can pick up some wisdom there. I’m just a model of the people I’ve been around in my life, and Woody was one of those people.”

Royal credits Ohio State’s Hayes, his contemporary and friend, with being the first one to say three things can happen on a pass play and two of them are bad.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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