Excerpts from an article by Jeff Rabjohns:
Former Ohio State coach Woody Hayes is the accepted pioneer, devising the idea along with trainer Ernie Biggs in 1968. Helmet stickers, or pride stickers as they're called in some locales, were born.
"Those Buckeye leaves are tradition. That sums it up," said Ohio State product Ben Hartsock, an Ohio native and former Indianapolis Colts tight end who was picked up by Tennessee this week. "Every kid growing up, whatever era he came through, their idol had Buckeye leaves, if it was Archie Griffin, Eddie George or Craig Krenzel. As a child growing up, those Buckeye leaves meant success. "I remember getting my first one. They were always team-oriented. It was never a competitive thing, it was just kind of something that the team knew that if you're helmet was getting full, the team was doing well."
Today, Ohio State gives them out for key performances on special teams, offense or defense. Coach Jim Tressel's website — available for $49.95 per year — keeps a complete list of how many Buckeye leaves each player has won and the criteria for winning them. "I think it's something that has been stored here for quite some time," Tressel said. "The size of the leaf has changed. The criteria of how you get them has changed many, many times. "I think it's something our guys take pride in, not so much to display on their helmet but seeing how many they can accumulate."
And a little history:
The design of the Ohio State Buckeye leaf was originally drawn in 1950 by alumnus and comic strip artist Milton Caniff and was intended to represent the buckeye tree as a symbol for strength and sturdiness of all Ohio State students. The first Buckeye leaf decal appeared on the helmets of the 1967 OSU football team and are still given to players today for execution of an exceptional play on the field.