Charlie Bauman was a backup nose guard who made exactly one interception in his four years at Clemson; but that play in the waning minutes of the 1978 Gator Bowl, and the ensuing punch he took from legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes, live on in college football lore. The confrontation is the reason the Clemson and Ohio State football programs will forever be linked.
As the seventh-ranked Buckeyes and 12th-ranked Tigers prepare to face each other in the Orange Bowl on Friday night, their first meeting since that game 35 years ago, media and fans have dredged up the ignominious outburst that ended Hayes’ career.
The legendary coach, who had won 200-plus games and three national titles over 28 years, lost his temper and lost his job that afternoon in Jacksonville.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Tigers were leading the Buckeyes 17-15. Ohio State freshman quarterback Art Schlichter faced third-and-5 at the Clemson 24-yard line with 2:30 left. Hayes called for a pass.
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Schlichter, under pressure, threw the ball right into the hands of Bauman, who returned it toward the Buckeyes’ sideline and was run out of bounds. As soon as Bauman got up, the hot-headed, 65-year-old Hayes grabbed his jersey and sucker-punched Bauman in the throat with his right forearm. The shocking blow launched a benches-clearing brawl.
Hayes ran onto the field, yelled at the referee, and when Buckeyes offensive lineman Ken Fritz tried to restrain the coach, Hayes turned on him and had to be held back by one of his assistant coaches. The Buckeyes were slapped with two 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties and wound up losing the game.
It came to be known as The Punch Seen ’Round the World, even though that day, ABC did not replay the confrontation during its game broadcast. In fact, announcers Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian never mentioned Hayes’ punch. The network had not paid for replay feeds, and Jackson and Parseghian said the camera angles and crowded sideline obscured their view so they never saw Hayes’ outburst.
“I never saw Hayes hit him until the next day,” Jackson later told Sports Illustrated. “Nobody actually told me Hayes hit him. I heard somebody say, ‘He hit him.’ I said, ‘Who?’ and then we were live. I still feel I can’t report what I don't see.”
After the game, OSU athletic director Hugh Hindman met with Hayes in the locker room and told him his days at the school were likely done. He was fired the next morning.
Hayes’ punch was thrown 12 years before current Clemson linebacker Spencer Shuey was born, but he is well aware of the story, as were several Tigers players interviewed this week. They were familiar with Bauman’s name, so they got the joke when some Ohio State fans last week went on the Clemson campus and put a sign on the Thomas Green Clemson statue that read: “Charlie Bauman had it coming.”
Shuey laughed when he saw it. He also chuckled upon hearing some Clemson fans had decorated the Ohio State campus with a few posters mocking Hayes’ punch.
“I’ve heard a lot about that,” he said. “I’ve seen the YouTube videos of it happening and the jokes Ohio fans and Clemson fans have been pulling on each other, putting signs up on the campuses. It’s not vandalism. It’s just fun. It definitely brings a fun aspect to the game, extra energy. It’s funny to me how the tradition goes that far back, that something that happened 30-some years ago is still such a big deal.”
Defensive tackle Grady Jarrett said he, too, knew the legend, though he didn’t recall all the details.
“All I know is, they say Charlie Bauman got an interception, went on the sideline, Coach Hayes knocked him out or something and he got fired, right? I think that’s how the story goes,” Jarrett said. “We’re not allowed on Twitter during the season, but someone showed me that there were tweets going back and forth about that and it was funny that this thing stuck around so long.”
Bauman has shied away from interviews about the incident, and has rarely talked about it in public. He lives in the Cincinnati area now, and, as it happens, frequently attends Ohio State football games. He declined all interviews this month through the Clemson sports information department.
The last time he was quoted was in a 2008 story in the Florida Times-Union commemorating the 30th anniversary of that Gator Bowl.
“Why can’t people let this rest?” he said. “If nothing else happened after the interception, nobody would have ever remembered it. It’s really no big deal. It wasn’t a big deal for me then; it’s not a big deal now.”
He said he never got an apology from Hayes, though the coach did call him in his dorm room a few months after the punch and they spoke about the incident.
“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.”