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Simple Fist of Fate

Twenty-five years ago, Hayes punched a player and stained his own legacy

December 29, 2003|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

Charlie Bauman invaded the enemy sideline, a punch was thrown and, sure as there was going to be a sunrise, there was going to be a firing.

It was as simple as that.

Twenty-five years ago tonight, Dec. 29, 1978, during the final seconds of a second-rate Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., legendary Ohio State Coach Woody Hayes lost his head and lost his job.

"Who could you compare him to now?" Hayes biographer Alan Natali wondered recently. "There's no one left."

The final act in Hayes' brilliant, yet contradictory, college football career came with an ironic twist.

Ohio State trailed Clemson in that Gator Bowl, 17-15, in the final minutes when, on third and five at the Clemson 24, Buckeye quarterback Art Schlichter let go a forward pass.

A pass!

The play Hayes hated more than Michigan.

A pass!

Hayes held so religiously to the ground that running plays at Ohio State were named after George S. Patton.

Woody's philosophy was, "I will pound you and pound you until you quit."

He said three things happened when you passed, and two of them were bad.

Imagine the internal combustion building in this 65-year-old behemoth, after three straight losses to Michigan, playing a bowl game on the Atlantic coast instead of the Pacific -- and having this Gator Bowl come down to a pass!

Schlichter misled Ron Springs across the middle, and Clemson sophomore Bauman, a middle guard, stepped in for the interception and rambled toward trivia-answer history.

In a blink and one bam, that was it, the twilight years of increasing frustration released into the end of a fist. Hayes sucker-punched Bauman and, the next day, after 28 years and 205 Ohio State victories, he was gone.

Keith Jackson, ABC's legendary play-by-play announcer, didn't see the play, didn't have a replay of it, didn't make mention of it on the air and, 25 years later, has still not heard the end of it.

"The media decided to hang my butt," Jackson said.

For those with deep connections to the Scarlet and Gray, that Gator Bowl memory is etched like the moon landing.

Bo Schembechler, then Michigan's coach and a former Ohio State assistant, was attending the Big Ten dinner of champions in Southern California.

"I was in the Rose Bowl that year," he said Sunday. "I was sitting at the head table and [Big Ten Commissioner] Wayne Duke came up and said Woody had just hit a Clemson player. And I knew then, I said, 'Geez, it's over.'

"... It was never the same without the old man, without fighting him."

Randy Gradishar, whom Hayes called the greatest linebacker in Ohio State history, shrieked from a Pittsburgh hotel room.

Steve Snapp, Ohio State's assistant sports information director at the time, remembers the air leaving him in the Gator Bowl press box and hearing himself mutter, "Oh no."

Natali, who would later become an English professor and author of a critically acclaimed book on Hayes, described watching Hayes' career end on national television as "an almost hallucinatory experience. It was bizarre, it was unnerving. You knew it was just one of those epochal moments where, really, college football was not going to be the same after that."

Bauman, the innocent Clemson bystander, wondered how a reporter had found him, living quietly these days, in Ohio of all places.

"Google search?" he asked.

Yep.

Bauman did not want to rehash the details. He said his role in the play is a historical footnote.

"That's all it is," Bauman said. "He made a mistake. He made other mistakes, and so have I. Everybody makes mistakes."

It is a testament to the power of Hayes' personality that, 25 years later, he is a man still worthy of a discourse.

His legend in Columbus has only grown; you'd be surprised how many of the middle-aged men attending Ohio State games look like Hayes. It is a common practice for people in Columbus to dress up as Woody Hayes for Halloween.

To outsiders, Hayes morphed into a bobbleheaded cartoon figure, a man remembered for his clandestine Rose Bowl practices and Yosemite Sam fits of temper.

Natali says people on the West Coast got the "Jim Murray version of Woody Hayes," a literary lampooning by the late Times columnist.

To Ohioans, however, Hayes was blood. He was born in Ohio and died there. He coached at Ohio State from 1951 through 1978, won or shared 13 Big Ten titles and helped push Ohio from an agrarian to a modern mind-set.

Hayes could be complicated, complex, nice, savage, bombastic and benevolent ... all before lunch.

He was a military historian. "He knew more about [Adm.] Bull Halsey than Bull did," Jackson said.

Hayes was dismissive of the media, yet his home phone number was listed.

He was, for 28 years, a fixture you could not take your eyes off and a man judged in your own prism.

He was egocentric but not materialistic. When he died on March 12, 1987, relatives found thousands of dollars' worth of uncashed checks in his coat pockets.

That punch Woody Hayes put on Charlie Bauman, 25 years ago tonight?

Well, it connected with a lot of people.

The Biographer

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