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Simple Fist of Fate

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.

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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

Alan Natali grew up in Pittsburgh yet was drawn to Hayes like a moth to light.

Years later, he would write the book, “Woody’s Boys,” but on Dec. 29, 1978, he witnessed Ohio State-Clemson in his apartment in California, Pa.

“My wife at the time had just gotten sick and tired of football being on the television,” Natali recalled. “She said, ‘That’s it, I can’t stand it anymore, if you want to watch football, go into the back bedroom.’ So I went into the back bedroom, and there was a little five-inch, black-and-white television. I had to sit on the edge of the bed with my nose pressed nearly to the screen to even make out what was happening.”

And when he saw the punch?

“I wasn’t sure I had seen what I thought I had seen,” he said.

At the point of impact, Natali remembers thinking, “Here is the moment at which, however you feel about him, it’s going to coalesce. If you love him, you’re going to say, ‘That poor guy, they goaded him into this moment.’ If you hated him, you’re going to say, ‘It’s finally going to happen to that SOB.’ ”

Natali became fascinated with Hayes and started researching his life while preparing a magazine obituary on the coach.

Natali said of Hayes’ various personalities, “In the same man they should not have been present.”

Hayes won 238 college games at Denison, Miami of Ohio and Ohio State, and his share of detractors.

He had no hobbies beyond football. He saw the game as the embodiment of American values. “Without winners there would be no civilization,” he said.

Before Charlie Bauman, Hayes would dress down sportswriters, elbow hecklers and hurl haymakers at a Times photographer and an ABC cameraman.

“You ask, why are we talking about him now, why is he still interesting?” Natali said. “One reason was because he was so deeply and publicly flawed. I think it was the mistakes he made that made him that much more compelling and interesting.”

Natali thinks Hayes’ end was almost preordained.

Hayes’ career had been on the down slope since a shocking loss to UCLA in the 1976 Rose Bowl, which cost Ohio State a national title.

The Buckeyes failed to finish in the top 10 in 1976 and 1977 and were 7-3-1 entering the 1978 Gator Bowl.

“Let’s face it, it was a second-rate bowl,” Natali said. “It had been a long time since he had been back to the big show. I’m willing to wager that within the university itself there were those who were not heartbroken that he had provided them with an excuse to move on.”

The Linebacker

Randy Gradishar watched the 1978 Gator Bowl in a Pittsburgh hotel room with Denver Bronco teammate Tom Jackson.

Gradishar was an All-American at Ohio State in the 1970s and one of Hayes’ favorite players.

When Hayes lunged at Bauman, Gradishar looked at Jackson.

“I said to Tommy, ‘Woody’s gone, Woody’s done, that’s the last straw,’ ” Gradishar said. “I felt real bad, not for me, but for Woody and the legacy he built, to go out that way....”

Gradishar knew, as Natali did, that the Bauman incident would forever color Hayes’ legacy.

Gradishar says the public had Hayes all wrong.

“What you see on the news is what you remember, even though you don’t know him,” said Gradishar, now an auto dealership executive in Denver. “We all go off the deep end sometimes. Woody just happened to do it in front of millions of people.”

Gradishar regrets that few people remember the Hayes he knew, a coach dedicated to his program and his players; a coach who demanded excellence on the field and in the classroom.

“Every time you talked to him, it was, ‘How are you doing in school, when are you going to graduate, are you going to be a doctor or a lawyer?’ ” Gradishar said.

Years after Hayes’ firing, Gradishar visited him in Columbus.

Over dinner, Gradishar said, Hayes apologized to him for the way he left the program.

“He was very sorry for what he had done,” Gradishar said. “He felt bad about his actions, and for Woody, that was big. I saw a humble man. There was always a spirit of humility with Woody. Out in public, you didn’t sense that.

“He said to me, ‘I’ve hurt a lot of people, players and coaches, the alumni, the university.’ He said, ‘I screwed up and wish I wouldn’t have done that.’ He also said, ‘I did a lot for college football.’ ”

The Announcer

Keith Jackson did not report Hayes’ punch because he was trying to protect a friendship?

Whoa, Nellie.

“The simple truth was, Woody Hayes was a very difficult man for the television crews to work with,” Jackson said. “We did not have many rosy moments with him.”

Jackson did not relay Hayes’ punch in the Gator Bowl because he did not see it.

The night, Jackson said, was a production nightmare.

For one, the Gator Bowl was blacked out locally in Jacksonville, and the producer gave up one of his tape machines.

“The only recording of it was in the bowels of West 66th Street in New York City,” Jackson said.

Jackson also noted that “the people who make the money decisions” decided not to dispatch a sideline reporter for the Gator Bowl.

Neither Jackson nor his color analyst, Ara Parseghian, saw the punch, and no replay of it was available.

“All we saw was the momentary flash out of the corner of the eye,” Jackson said. “There were 143 people on the sideline, you couldn’t see a lot.”

In 1977, Hayes took a swipe at ABC cameraman Mike Freedman.

“Mike Freedman was tougher than a doorknob and would have kicked Woody’s [rear end] into the middle of next month if he hadn’t had better control,” Jackson said.

Jackson, like many of us, saw Hayes as a multifaceted figure.

“He carried his values in such a grip, and presented them in such a compelling and convincing way, that in that city, at that time, it was a very easy sale,” Jackson said. “He was a compelling person when he wanted to be ... and very good in the kitchen with momma when it came to recruiting.”

Jackson did a lot of fight coverage for ABC in those days. At the Gator Bowl pregame news conference, he presented Hayes with a pair of souvenir boxing gloves.

“I didn’t realize they were something he was going to use,” Jackson said.

Was Woody Hayes a great man?

“I don’t know,” Jackson said. “But when you want to know how good a person or how good a coach someone is, I think you ask his former players. If you never hear anyone say anything bad about him, he must have been pretty good.

“I never heard anyone knock him.”

The PR Man

Steve Snapp had a sick feeling when he left the Gator Bowl press box for the locker room.

“I guess I thought I knew it was over,” said Snapp, who is now assistant athletic director at Ohio State. “I didn’t think it would happen that quickly, but he had been told that one more incident of that type and they’d have to let him go.”

He remembers Ohio State athletic director Hugh Hindman’s pulling Hayes aside and the two having a private conversation.

Snapp received official word of Hayes’ firing at 7:30 the next morning.

Hayes sometimes made Snapp’s job as liaison to the media difficult. But Snapp came to love Woody, even if the coach did ask him once to take one for the team.

Ohio State used to travel in two planes. The first unit and the coaches flew on one plane (known as Red One) while reserve players and the assistant sports information director flew on another (Red Two).

Once, on approach to Penn State, the pilot told Hayes he might have to divert to Harrisburg because of fog.

Hayes would have none of it.

“Send in Red Two,” Hayes said. “If they make, it we’ll go in.”

Snapp said there will never be another Hayes and, in Columbus, you’d swear sometimes he’s never left.

“He was an enormously powerful personality,” Snapp said. “Woody is still the measuring stick. There is a guy in town who makes a living as a Woody look-alike.... He dresses up like him. It’s like an Elvis impersonator.”

The Footnote

Bauman did not want to be interviewed on the telephone. He agreed to answer a few questions, in brief, by e-mail.

He said he has lived in the Cincinnati area for the last 11 years but did not wish to reveal what he did for a living.

His vague recollections of the Gator Bowl include Clemson Coach Danny Ford and Hayes “greeting each other at midfield before the game, and for a split second my mind digressed back to my youth, envisioning watching big games on the tube between Ohio State and Michigan in Rose Bowls.”

Did he think Hayes should have been fired for punching him?

“No comment,” Bauman wrote.

Bauman grew up in Runnemede, N.J., dreaming for a chance to play Division I-A football. He played in 47 straight games for Clemson.

He was remembered for one play.

“I enjoyed every minute of the Clemson experience,” he wrote, “even the big win in the 1978 Gator Bowl.”

Bauman said he has no animosity toward Hayes or Ohio State and appreciates that people, for the most part, have respected his privacy.

Bauman thinks people remain captivated by Hayes because “he was one of the most successful and highly revered people and coaches in American history.”

A few days after the 1978 Gator Bowl, Bauman was in his dormitory when he received a surprise phone call from Hayes.

He said he and the ex-coach chatted amicably and briefly.

Hayes, however, fell short of clearing the air or, perhaps, his conscience.

“I was not expecting an apology from Coach Hayes,” Bauman wrote. “Nor did he give one.”

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

*

Hayes Facts

* BORN: Feb. 14, 1913.

* DIED: March 12, 1987.

* MILITARY SERVICE: Navy, 1941 to 1946.

* PRE-OHIO STATE: Coached Miami of Ohio, 1949 to 1950.

* OHIO STATE: Coached Buckeyes from 1951 to 1978.

* OHIO STATE RECORD: 205-68-10.

* BIG TEN TITLES: 13.

* NATIONAL TITLES: Three.

* LIFETIME RECORD: 238-72-10.

* DOCTORATE: Awarded an honorary doctor of humanities degree by Ohio State in 1986.


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