What if you didn’t know you needed to be found? Tom Sherer is that guy.
Until late last summer, I didn’t realize there was a gap between Mike Caporal, who wore the papier-mâché Brutus head, and Al Kundtz, the first person officially appointed by Block “O” to be Brutus. Enter Jim Baer, the Block “O” equipment team member who took the infamous close-up photo of papier-mâché Brutus at his Homecoming debut. Jim was researching the history of Block “O” for his oral history with OSU Archives and came across a Lantern article about Block “O” moving from 13A to 1A and 2A that, oh, by the way, included an interview with Tom Sherer about being Brutus. Are you kidding? Another Brutus? OMGosh.
Not having super PI skills, it took Jim and me over a year to locate Tom. This is the embarrassing part. We were finally pointed to the Alumni website where, easy peasy, you can look up a fellow alum and have the website send an email on your behalf. First search. No Tom Sherer. Disappointment. Second search. Thomas Sherer. BINGO! And the graduation year was right. Then began the wait for a response. I wasn’t even sure the University would send my message that, in essence, said, “Hi, I saw your name in the Lantern and I want to write about you in my blog.” Yeah, right. As back up, Jim sent Tom an email via the same method. I’m sure it helped that they had been frat brothers.
Being Brutus – Fiberglass Version
Tom was Brutus for most of the 1966 football season. Jim Baer recalls that after the first or second game of the season, someone on the Block “O” committee asked where Brutus was. Shoulders shrugged. Jim knew that most of the cheerleaders were Pi Phis, so he called the sorority house. Jim mustered up a few of his PIKE fraternity brothers to meet at the north end of the ‘Shoe to move Brutus from the Cheerleading storage space to the Block “O” storage space. Tom, one of the brothers, was talking about being a frustrated cheerleader who failed the cut in high school and of his desire to try out for the Ohio State squad. Match made in heaven. Easiest volunteer Jim ever recruited!
Despite not making cheerleader, Tom was not a sit-around-on-your-hands kind of guy. At Bellbrook High School near Dayton, Tom was on the school newspaper staff, lettered in golf, starred in the Junior Class play, was a leader on the Scholarship Team and represented Bellbrook at Boys State at Ohio University.
In his year as Brutus, Tom reports what others have said about the fiberglass head being more bulky than heavy and the vision being problematic. Since he couldn’t see where he was going, he would pull up the front portion as high as possible and use the track around the field as a guide to keep from running into the groups of people along the sidelines. The sheer bulkiness of the head kept Brutus from doing anything athletic. Tom recalls the extent of what he could do was “waddling around the track, swaying back and forth to the band’s music.” Like others of the fiberglass era, Tom could change the facial expressions from smile to frown or eyebrows from surprised to neutral to angry. End of story.
When asked where he sat, Tom said, “Mostly I stood. With the head on, you didn’t get to see much of the game or much of what was happening. So sometimes I would take the head off and peer out between the photographers, officials and staff standing along the sidelines.” Was it worth it? Apparently so. Tom said, “To me this was exhilarating. I was down of the field level, close up and getting glimpses of things those in the stands would never see. What a privilege! This was such a treat for me.” This was in stark contrast to the year before. Tom remembers that getting student tickets for the games was a “grab bag affair.” He explained, “Once I got a seat way up under the bleachers next to a cement pillar that blocked more than half the field of view. As Brutus, I was down on the field!!!” The exclamation points say it all.
When asked about away games, Tom responded, “No, I never went to away games. We joked the head was too fat to fit on a bus or an airplane.” Even carrying the head in the ‘Shoe required some logistics. After a game Tom says, “I carried the head back to the designated storage area for Block ‘O’. Because the head was so big and bulky, I didn’t want to block the way for exiting fans. That could have been dangerous. I waited for spectators to depart to minimize problems.”
When asked about his most memorable Brutus experience, I expected Tom to bring up the Wisconsin cheerleader, but it was with the Band Director. He recalled, “During a half-time performance, I ventured into the end zone at the north end of the field near the flag pole. I thought I was safely distant from the band’s formation at mid field. After the show, the band director summoned me and berated me for being on any part of the field when the band was performing. I received a tongue lashing I never forgot. From that time on, I always honored his wishes. The lesson is clear, DO NOT MESS WITH TBDBITL !”
The other strong memory for Tom was a game when the “rain came in torrents.” He said, “As a TV broadcaster reported, there was not a dry place in the stadium, except Brutus.” The other thrill was that “About that time the Columbus Dispatch featured an article with this photograph of me. I was so excited to have made it in the newspaper. For a small-town boy, this was hitting the big time!”
Life After Graduation
“After listening to Walter Cronkite at the graduation ceremonies, I went home with my parents,” Tom recalls. “When we arrived, in the mailbox was my draft notice which was my invitation to further my international studies (my major). Enlisting in the Air Force was an option then and I took advantage of it, thinking that I would avoid going to Vietnam. The Tet Offensive and subsequent ferocious fighting was on that year’s lunar new year. The nightly news featured frightening views of war’s destruction. So, as luck would have it, I still ended up in Vietnam. “
Tom’s major in international studies gave him a great foundation for his career in military intelligence. He was stationed in Okinawa, Japan, Vietnam, Thailand, Taiwan, and Korea and became proficient in the Chinese Mandarin and Korean languages. “I even attended Yonsei University in Seoul.”
Like the rest of us involved with Brutus in the early years, Tom says, “I could not have imagined how Brutus would become so famous.” And like some of us who moved from Ohio, Tom saw little of Brutus or the Buckeyes. “While in the Air Force, I was stationed in the Far East for almost 15 years, so I had little exposure to the evolution of Brutus. Armed Forces Radio and TV service didn’t regularly broadcast games in a timely manner. The Stars and Stripes newspaper provided scores and some stats of major games. When stationed stateside I was able to see live TV broadcasts of the Rose Bowl or other Bowl games.”
All that lack of connectivity culminated in a big surprise for Tom. When he attended an intelligence community conference at Wright-Patterson AFB, near Dayton, he says, “I happened to mention that I had been Brutus during lunch and by the end of the day people (many Buckeye alumni and fans) from all over the local facilities were gathering, swamping me with questions. In the snap, I had become the most popular person in the conference. I was overwhelmed by such unexpected notoriety. It truly raised the emotions.”
After military retirement, Tom earned a B.S. in computer information systems and worked for the Department of Defense in Maryland as an intelligence analyst for the National Security Agency. Both a Terrapin and a Buckeye, Tom stayed connected to his Ohio roots “by subscribing to WBNS Radio via the internet.” Tom retired from civil service in 2012. He and his wife Son Cha moved to the house where he grew up in Ohio. Since then, he says, “I have enjoyed ‘watching the grass grow.’”
Tom, now you have been discovered by a wider audience! Welcome to the “society” of Brutus Alumni!
Photo Permissions: OSU Archives, Tom Sherer.