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10 Interesting Facts About the 1978 Gator Bowl

10 Interesting Facts About the 1978 Gator Bowl

10 Interesting Facts About the 1978 Gator Bowl

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This year's Fiesta Bowl on Dec. 28 marks the fourth time Clemson and Ohio State have played each other. As we ponder the matchups in this upcoming College Football Playoff semifinal, it is hard not to think back to the programs' first meeting, the 1978 Gator Bowl.

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You know, that game where Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punched Clemson nose guard Charlie Bauman.

However, one game is not defined by one moment (or at least it should not be) so if we’re going to take a look back, let’s look at the whole game. Here are 10 interesting facts about the 1978 Gator Bowl to help us do so.

1. Woody Hayes’ Career

Paul Brown, Jim Tressel, and Urban Meyer all won national championships in Columbus, but none were as successful as Wayne Woodrow Hayes. After being hired in 1951, Hayes won the national championship just three years later. During his 28-year career, he won five national titles and 13 Big Ten championships. He also coached 56 All-Americans and trained a who’s who of successful coaches. including Lou Holtz, Bo Schembechler, and Ara Parseghian. Hayes also emphasized the importance of academics, actually teaching English and Vocabulary courses. One of his students was future Indiana basketball coach Bob Knight.

2. Woody Hayes’ Temper

Like Knight, Hayes’ temper was legendary. During the 1971 Michigan game, Hayes exploded over what he thought should have been a pass interference call, storming the field and cursing at the referees. After drawing two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, Hayes was pulled off the field, where he proceeded to tear up a sideline marker. His acts of aggression were not just limited to game gear either. Hayes threw blows at journalists during his career and the overwhelming majority of his players. Former Ohio State guard Jim Savoca told ESPN in 2013, "Everybody who played for Ohio State probably got slugged in the stomach or slapped by Coach Hayes. It was the era. We would joke about it and say, 'Circle right to get away from that left hook.’"

3. Preseason Rankings

The 1977 Clemson Tigers, led by first-year head coach Charlie Pell, put together an 8-3-1 season that ended with a 34-3 loss to Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl. The 1978 team entered the season ranked No. 18 in the preseason. Ohio State finished the 1977 season 9-3 and closed with a 35-6 loss to Alabama in the Sugar Bowl (the only meeting between Hayes and Bear Bryant), but entered ‘78 ranked No. 7.

4. The 1978 Season

Clemson suffered a 12-0 loss to Georgia early in the season but did not lose again. The Tigers beat all of their ACC foes, including No. 11 Maryland in College Park, to finish the regular season 10-1 (the best season in school history at the time) and ranked seventh. Meanwhile, Ohio State started the season with a 19-0 loss to Penn State and proceeded to lose to Purdue and Michigan and tie SMU. As his 7-3-1 Buckeyes accepted a bid to Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl, Hayes was the subject of national criticism for his temper, his refusal to adjust his run-oriented offense for more passing, and the program’s decline. Ohio State had not won a game on national television since the 1976 Orange Bowl and had lost five of its last seven bowl games. On the bright side, Hayes would be facing a brand-new and very young head coach.

5. Danny Ford’s First Game

Pell left Clemson for Florida at the end of the 1978 regular season and 30-year-old offensive line coach Danny Ford was named interim head coach. At a luncheon where he and Hayes were featured speakers prior to the game, Ford said, “I felt like asking for his autograph.” Once the jokes died down, Hayes and the college football world would learn that Ford was a great coach.

6. The Game

A crowd of 72,011 – the majority being Clemson fans – packed into Jacksonville’s Gator Bowl to watch the game. Ohio State got on the board first with a 27-yard field goal by Vlade Janakievski. Clemson then put together a 15-play, 80-yard drive that was punctuated by a four-yard run by quarterback Steve Fuller.

Ohio State responded with a drive of its own that also ended with a four-yard run by quarterback Art Schlichter, but Steve Gibbs blocked the extra point and the Buckeyes led 9-7 with 1:21 left in the half. Clemson quickly drove into a field goal range and Obed Ariri nailed a 47-yarder to put Clemson up 10-9 at the half.

In the third quarter, Clemson moved 84 yards on 19 plays and running back Cliff Austin smashed in from the one-yard line to put the Tigers up 17-9. A 37-yard pass from Schlichter to Chuck Hunter was the key play in an 87-yard drive and with 8:11 left in the fourth quarter, Schlichter ran the option and found the end zone. On the two-point try, Schlichter ran option left again, but Clemson defensive end Jim Stuckey stopped him short of the goal line as the Tigers’ lead stood at 17-15.

7. The Fateful Drive

Clemson was on the verge of putting the game out of reach when Fuller fumbled the pitchout on Ohio State’s 36-yard line. The Buckeyes recovered the ball and started their drive at the Clemson 44 with 4:23 left. A few plays later Schlichter kept the ball and ran to the 24. He lined up on the next play, took the snap, scrambled and threw a pass that was picked off by nose guard Charlie Bauman.

8. The Punch

Bauman ran to the sidelines and was tackled by Schlichter. Hayes ran to him and reportedly said, “You SOB, I just lost my job!” and then threw a punch at Bauman’s throat. Bauman asked, “What did you do that for?” but by that point, the Clemson players had seen what happened and a fight broke out between both teams. After it was stopped, Ohio State was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. Hayes then walked onto the field and yelled at one of the officials after the next play and was given another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. After stalling on offense, Fuller got a first down by making a clutch throw and Clemson was able to run out the clock. Ford was carried off the field and Hayes walked off with a look on his face that appeared to know that his coaching career was over.

9. The Aftermath

If this had happened today, Hayes would have been ejected and the social media explosion would have been as big as anything we have seen in modern sports. However, things were a bit different in 1978 and there were fewer camera angles and instant replay was used less frequently. The Hayes punch was only shown during the game as it happened and the one replay was used at an angle where it could not be seen. The ABC broadcasting team of Keith Jackson and Ara Parseghian (a protege of Hayes) did not acknowledge the punch and Bauman’s postgame comments showed that he was clearly uncomfortable discussing it (He still is and rarely does interviews on the subject.).

Ohio State officials, however, had clearly seen enough and Hayes was quickly fired as the team’s head coach. The program announced it publically as the team was on a plane back from Jacksonville to Columbus. When it landed Hayes told the players to be careful and be back at school on Monday before finally saying, “I'm no longer the head football coach at Ohio State.” He also called Bauman, and while Hayes did not apologize, the former Clemson player said it was a respectful conversation.

While Hayes was no longer the head coach, he remained revered in Columbus and was even given an honorary doctorate and invited to give the commencement speech at Ohio State in 1986. When he passed away in 1987, former President Richard Nixon gave the eulogy.

10. The Programs Today

Clemson went on to win the 1981 national title and five conference championships under Ford, who left in 1990. Ohio State replaced Hayes with Iowa State coach Earle Bruce and went to the Rose Bowl the next season and has won national championships under Jim Tressel and Urban Meyer. Clemson likewise has recently won national titles in 2016 and '18 under Dabo Swinney. Both programs are now as strong as they ever have been and it is safe to say that the 1978 Gator Bowl was a watershed moment for each.

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports’ Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.