Associated Press file
This photo, shot from a monitor at the ABC studios in Washington, shows Ohio State coach Woody Hayes slugging Clemson’s Charlie Bauman (58) on the sideline at the Gator Bowl in 1978.
After all this time, Charlie Bauman still doesn’t like his persistent, if not haunting, connection with perhaps the most famous outburst in college football history.
He sighed deeply when asked last week about getting slugged by Woody Hayes, a punch that cost the Ohio State coach his job – and solidified him as one of the most poignant casualties of self-control in sports history.
“Why can’t people let this rest? After all, it’s been 20-something years,” Bauman said last week in a telephone interview.
Thirty years today.
“Has it been that long?” he said. “Wow, it doesn’t seem that long.”
Hayes, who won three national championships, 13 Big Ten titles and had four undefeated seasons, will be remembered by most as the fiery coach who finally snapped with 1 minute, 59 seconds remaining in the 1978 Gator Bowl between Ohio State and Clemson. His legacy is etched in graphic detail, a 65-year-old madman slamming his right forearm under the Clemson player’s chin after the nose guard made a game-saving interception to preserve a 17-15 Tigers victory.
Hayes also turned his rage toward one of his own players, Ken Fritz, after he tried to keep his coach from inflicting further damage. That earned the Buckeyes a second unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
The next morning, Hayes resigned before leaving Jacksonville. He told his players on the flight home and was given a police escort for the drive between the Columbus, Ohio, airport and his house.
ABC didn’t show the confrontation during its broadcast, and announcers Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian never mentioned it, claiming they didn’t see it happen.
“People thought we were purposely ignoring the whole thing to protect Woody,” Parseghian, the former Notre Dame coach, said later. “We had no reason to do that.”
To this day, Bauman, who lives in Ohio and works in design development and sales/marketing for a manufacturing company, doesn’t believe that.
“I believe they saw it,” he said. “They covered it up.”
For Hayes, who died in 1987, his memory still is mixed with pity and reverence. Historians point to his 205-61-10 record with the Buckeyes; some fans bemoan his lack of control; others remember a passionate man who cared deeply for his players and their success long after football.
For Bauman, who stepped in front of an Art Schlichter pass on a third-and-5, it proved to be his only college interception. He ran out of bounds along the Ohio State sideline, where he was met – at full force – by Hayes.
Now, 30 years later, Clemson is back in the Gator Bowl. And Bauman still wishes all the attention would go away.
“If nothing else happened after the interception, nobody would have ever remembered it,” he said. “It’s really no big deal. It wasn’t a big deal for me then; it’s not a big deal now.”
Bauman, whose football career ended after college, now lives north of Cincinnati. Around there, Hayes is still a legend. College football fans still recognize Bauman’s name and point him out as the guy who got Hayes fired. Time has done little to soothe the resolve of zealous Ohio State fans who want to see Hayes remembered for his entire body of work, not an indiscriminate lapse of control.
“First of all, he didn’t punch Charlie,” linebacker Tom Cousineau told the Times-Union in 1998. “He pushes him and gives him a forearm. Clearly wrong. Nobody is ducking that. Whether that rises to the level of an impeachable offense … If what happened at the Gator Bowl is the worst thing he ever did, then he lived a pretty good life.
“There is so much more about him than that final incident. While he never ducked, he never made an excuse, and he was eventually held accountable for that action. I think it could have been held a little differently. For us, that was an extremely sad outcome.”
Cousineau, an All-American in 1978, is like so many former Ohio State players: He remembers Hayes as a student of history who worshiped Gen. George Patton, a coach who had one of the highest graduation rates in the country and a man who never made, or accepted, excuses.
Hayes often turned down pay raises to pass the money to his assistant coaches. He was a frequent visitor to local hospitals. He also put President Nixon on hold to finish a locker-room speech with his players.
“It’s sad that Woody finished the way he did because he was a great man,” former nose guard Jim Stillwagon said. “A lot of people remember him for that one thing. They never saw all the great things he did for people.”
Even Bauman understands Hayes’ legacy, saying: “Around here, he’s still God.”
Hayes never apologized for striking Bauman, and Bauman never asked for one. The coach did call Bauman in his dorm room about two months after the incident, but Hayes never mentioned throwing a punch.
“I don’t apologize for anything,” Hayes said after being fired. “When I make a mistake, I take the blame and go on from there. I don’t like nice people. I like tough, honest people.”
“I don’t have anything bad to say about coach Hayes,” Bauman said. “He made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I mean, he didn’t hurt me or anything.”
Hayes was elected to the Football Hall of Fame in 1983. Ohio State honored its imperfect hero by having him dot the “i” in their marching band tradition, Script Ohio. Three years later, the same school that banished Hayes into disgrace gave him an honorary doctorate. A year later, in 1987, he died after suffering a second heart attack. His legendary status still lives. So do the pitiful memories of a punch thrown at an unsuspecting defensive lineman from Clemson.
“Maybe someday, this will all go away,” Bauman said. “I hope so.”