By Will Vandervort
All Danny Ford saw in the closing moments of the 1978 Gator Bowl was that a fight break out amongst his Clemson players and Ohio State players following Charlie Bauman’s interception of an Art Schlichter’s pass to seal the Tigers’ 17-15 victory.
“I ran out there and did like we were taught to do and break it up,” Ford said. “I went out there and tried to break it up and one of their boys thought I was a manager or something so he grabbed me and threw me down. I got my hat and ran back to the sideline. (Laughs throughout the press conference). Let somebody else break it up.”
Ford, who spoke with the media earlier this week after it was learned Clemson and Ohio State were to meet in the 80th Discover Orange Bowl for the first time since their meeting 35 years ago in Jacksonville, Fla., had no idea at the time that the fight that broke out by the Ohio State sideline with 1:59 remaining in the game began because Buckeyes’ head coach Woody Hayes threw a right punch to Bauman’s throat after picking the Tigers’ middle guard up off the ground following the interception.
It was a moment that stunned the sports world and led to Hayes’ dismal the next morning after 28 years as the Buckeyes’ head coach.
“Why can’t people let this rest,” Bauman asked in an article written in The Florida Times Union (Jacksonville) on December 29, 2008.
“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, through Clemson spokesman Tim Bourret, declined interview requests for this story.
As for Ford, though he still did not know at the time who threw the punch and which one of his players were struck, he found out on the sideline once both teams were separated that an Ohio State coach hit one of his players. Upon learning that news, Ford got angry and he wanted the officials to do more than what he thought they were doing.
Ford had sought out Butch Lambert, an SEC official from Mississippi that was working the game on the Clemson sideline.
“We had a couple of problems before that during warm ups and a couple of other things,” Ford said. “They went on the field about ten minutes early and I was gripping about that. They exercised on our side of the field and I was gripping about that.
“So when it came down to the end, I asked him what had happened and he said, ‘One of their coaches hit one of your players.’ I said, ‘Dang, I don’t even do that (more laughs). What are you going to do? He said, ‘We’re going to give them an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.’ I said, ‘I didn’t think that’s correct. I think you ought to do more than that and he said, ‘No, we are going to do all we are going to do.’”
So Ford decided to show Mr. Lambert he was the head coach just in case he did not know, telling the official he was going to make history and take his team off the field and just quit.
“He looked at me and said, ‘Son, do you want to some good advice?’ I said, ‘Yes sir.’ He said, ‘If you don’t do something stupid, ya’ll are going to win the ball game.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir, Mr. Lambert. Carry on sir! Let’s go!’”
Once the officials got the game started back, Hayes was penalized again for another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, which allowed Clemson to run out the rest of the clock.
“He helped us again which helped us seal the win,” Ford said. “I really don’t know if our defense had to go out there again with (Jim) Stuckey and the crowd that we had with Bauman—the linebacker—(Randy) Scott and Bubba Brown and all of those guys if we could stop them. They were give out. They played a whole long game.”
Ford was tired, too. In those days, coaches did not meet with the press after a bowl game until the next morning so he and his wife, Deborah, took a walk down the beach where they found a restaurant that was open and had a meatball sandwich.
“I was starving to death because I could not eat anything all day,” he recalled. “I was sick. I was afraid we would get the stew beat out of us like we did against Pittsburgh the year before. We got out of the hotel, took a walk down the beach and got a meatball sandwich somewhere at two o’clock at night.
“By the time we got back, there was a bunch of people (from the media) waiting in the lobby.”
Later on that morning, Ford, only 30-years old at the time, was expecting to bask in the glow of his first victory as a head coach—a bowl victory nonetheless against one of the best programs and coaches in the country— in his first post-game press conference. He was the first coach in the history of college football to make his debut as a coach in a bowl game, and to top it off his team won the game.
But 30 minutes before he was supposed to hit the stage, Ohio State announced it had fired Hayes as its head coach, making Ford’s historical victory as a young head coach yesterday’s news.
“I really would not have wanted (the punch) to be a part of the ’78 bowl game if I could have helped it,” Ford said. “I could not have helped it. Our players could not have helped it. They were involved in it, but we certainly did not want to see a legend like (Hayes) go out and we certainly did not want to see Clemson not remembered for beating a good Ohio State team with Coach Hayes as the head coach.”
Instead, Clemson is remembered as the team that had the player that Woody Hayes punched. A punch that has been seen all over the world and will always be remembered as the last thing Hayes did instead of what Clemson accomplished.