Team manager Mark George was charting plays and maintains the call was Y-77 Cross. Offensive guard Ernie Andria, who carried the play into the huddle, believes it was 37 Streak. And quarterback Art Schlichter, who threw the pass, believes the call was 24 Tuba.
Of course, no one argues what happens next.
Schlichter moved right in the pocket, pump-faked and fired to running back Ron Springs, instead hitting Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman – who had dropped into coverage after not getting to the quarterback – right in the hands. Schlichter ran toward the sideline to track down Bauman and made the tackle, corralling Bauman’s No. 58 jersey and slinging the Tigers lineman to the ground. Bauman stood up and appeared to start jawing with the Ohio State bench; suddenly, head coach Woody Hayes grabbed the back of Bauman’s jersey with his left hand, wound up with his right and delivered a forearm right across the front of Bauman’s orange jersey.
Suddenly, it was the end of an era.
And it all happened 35 years ago today.
With Ohio State mere days away from facing Clemson for the just the second time ever and the first since that fateful 1978 Gator Bowl that ended the career of Hayes, that meeting between the Buckeyes and Tigers – a game Clemson won by a 17-15 score – has naturally become a point of discussion leading up to Friday’s Orange Bowl.
Most Ohio State fans know the story at this point, but “The Die-Hard Fan’s Guide to Buckeye Football,” the book written by BSB managing editor emeritus Mark Rea on Buckeye history, includes a number of stories related to that game 35 years ago in Jacksonville that many fans might not know.
For example, there’s the confusion on the exact play call mentioned above, something that seems lost to history at this point considering three people who were involved can’t seem to agree on.
But there’s one that that is for sure – Schlichter, then just a freshman directing a team to what seemed like a potential last-minute game-tying drive in his first postseason game, was given specific instructions before he returned to the field on third-and-5 from the 25-yard line.
“I told Art exactly what Coach Gibbs told me,” Andria told Rea. “I said, ‘No interceptions. If it’s not there, throw it away and we’ll kick the field goal.’ I think it’s pretty obvious that I jinxed him right there.”
“Oh, yeah, I remember that pretty well,” Schlichter said. “Those words were ringing in my ears: ‘Whatever you do, don’t throw an interception.’ And of course, I did. I was drifting a little bit to the right and just made a bad play.”
The interception ended what had been a surprisingly competitive game between the Buckeyes and No. 7-ranked Tigers, one that included a pair of touchdown runs by Schlichter but a missed PAT and a failed two-point conversion attempt that doomed the Buckeyes to a loss.
Of course, the end of the game didn’t mean the end of the story. After Hayes swung at Bauman, he continued to stay attached to the Clemson defensive lineman, finally getting pulled away by OSU lineman Ken Fritz. The benches emptied as mini-skirmishes broke out. ABC never acknowledged what happened on the national broadcast, but Hayes continued to lash at Fritz until the skirmish dissipated.
“He had no idea what he was doing,” Fritz said of the 65-year-old coach. “He was just kind of like in a daze.”
Clemson ran out the clock, then Hayes returned to the locker room. We let Rea’s book take over from here:
The 65-year-old Hayes remained in a secluded portion of the OSU locker room for more than an hour following the game. He had only two visitors – first Hindman and then Columbus Dispatch sportswriter and longtime friend Paul Hornung.
Hindman entered the locker room grim-faced and related later, “I told him, ‘Coach, we’ve got a problem. I’m in a position where I’ve got to go to the president. You need to expect the worst possible decision.’ ”
Hindman exited and then Hayes summoned Hornung, who later wrote that his meeting with the coach was “a soliloquy of anger and frustration.” He added, “Woody punctuated his monologue by hurling a metal folding chair at a covey of lockers with a resounding clatter.”
Hindman met with president Harold Enarson, but the decision seemed preordained. The only question was whether the coach would resign or be fired. The story most told indicates that Hayes suggested he would resign, then told Hindman he’d have to fire him, pepping in some of the salty language the coach was known for.
It was the end to a rough year for the Buckeyes, who lost each of the last two bowls and the last three Michigan games that Hayes coached. Schlichter, a hyped recruit whose passing abilities seemingly clashed with the head coach’s more conservative reputation, took over from first-team All-Big Ten choice Rod Gerald as the starting quarterback in his first career game but threw five interceptions in a home shutout loss to Penn State.
The Buckeyes started 2-2-1 before a five-game winning streak that ended with the losses to Michigan and Clemson. The team voted that it didn’t want to go to the Gator Bowl but had to go anyway thanks to university policy and the money at stake.
One final bit of irony? Hayes was presented with boxing gloves as a gag gift at a pre-bowl luncheon by ABC sportscaster Keith Jackson, retired Clemson head coach Frank Howard’s attempt at a joke regarding Hayes’ combative nature.
Hayes was replaced by former assistant and OSU player Earle Bruce but still remained popular in and around Columbus, maintaining an office on campus, making numerous speaking engagements, dotting the “i” in Script Ohio, visiting with hospital patients, delivering a commencement address, and stopping by practice as well.
He finally passed away in his sleep on March 12, 1987, drawing praise from just about every corner of Buckeye Nation.
“We at Ohio State were privileged to know him,” said OSU president Edward Jennings at a memorial for Hayes after his death. “A warm and giving human being. Great charm. Rare generosity of character that radiated from within him. ‘Tis a remarkable person we remember here today. All of us who knew Woody loves him dearly. He was an example of dedication and achievement to us all.”
“His passing was something I thought I would be prepared for, but it still hit me pretty hard,” Archie Griffin said in the April 1987 issue of BSB. “He was a father figure to me. I loved the man. He meant everything to me. He was a man who cared about people like nobody else did.”
“He kept going (after his career), sometimes when he didn’t feel like it,” Hornung told BSB in 1987. “He was in his office in the Military Science Building every weekday morning, greeting an almost constant stream of visitors, signing autographs, answering many letters, doing endorsements, working on his book. … We were first associated by professions; the friendship continued – actually became closer – after he left coaching and I later retired from the Dispatch. I miss him, but I console myself by appreciating how greatly my own little world has been enriched by the good fortune of having had Woody Hayes as a friend.”
“He was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known, and one of the greatest humanitarians,” Jack Nicklaus said. “They do not come any better. He was a great friend to me.”
Then there was the man who was the victim of Hayes’ punch, someone who claimed he didn’t even feel the right arm of Hayes strike him across the shoulder pads on that fateful night on Florida’s First Coast. For the rest of his life, Bauman has been associated with the end of Hayes’ career, a role he to this day seems to regret.
“It brought tears to my eyes,” Bauman said in 1987 of Hayes’ death. “There’s a lot of feelings I still have inside about what happened. … He was such a competitive man. I don’t know, if I was in his shoes, maybe I would have done the same thing.”