It's remembered for one reason, and one reason alone. The last time that Ohio State faced Clemson in a bowl game -- the only time Ohio State has faced Clemson in program history -- it cost Woody Hayes his job.
The Buckeyes finished the 1978 season with a record of 7-4-1, including losses to Penn State, Purdue and That Team Up North. They earned a Gator Bowl bid, and faced the Clemson Tigers on December 29th, 1978. Clemson had suffered one loss all season, a 12-0 defeat at the hands (or paws) of the Georgia Bulldogs. Clemson came into the Gator Bowl ranked sixth in the nation, and favored to win.
Regardless, Ohio State kept the game close throughout. After a first quarter in which both teams were held scoreless, the Buckeyes would strike first, with a 27-yard Bob Atha field goal. Clemson quarterback Steve Fuller got the Tigers on the board with a four-yard rushing touchdown, and Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter, a freshman at the time, answered with a four-yard rushing touchdown of his own. Ohio State's PAT attempt failed, and then Clemson tacked on a field goal, making the score 10-9 in favor of the Tigers going into the half.
Clemson shut out the Buckeyes in the third quarter, and added a touchdown to their score, extending their lead to 17-9 going into the fourth quarter. Schlichter pulled the Buckeyes within two points of Clemson in the fourth quarter with a one-yard rushing touchdown, although the two point conversion attempt, another Schlichter rush, was not successful. The Buckeyes weren't out of it, by any stretch. With just over two minutes remaining in the game, Schlichter had led the team into field goal range. With a two-point deficit, a field goal, and a subsequent defensive stop, would have been sufficient to win.
Schlichter would finish the game completing 16 of 20 attempts for 205 yards and just one interception. That interception, however, was the catalyst for what most people remember about this game.
Woody Hayes' actions, while inexcusable, should be taken in context of the type of man, and coach, he was. Football was everything to Hayes, and his temper and intensity were legendary. Woody used to say that as soon as he felt that his temper was beginning to mellow with age he was going to quit coaching.
Hayes once flew into a rage and tore up the sideline markers during a game against That Team Up North. He took swings at a photographer from the Los Angeles Times during the 1973 Rose Bowl, and a cameraman from ABC in 1977 when the Buckeyes were facing That Team Up North.
Hayes was wildly competitive. The first time Hayes' Buckeyes faced legendary Penn State coach Joe Paterno, Paterno complimented Hayes, saying, "Woody, you look great." The innocuous comment set Hayes off, because he assumed that Paterno was trying to play mind games and get in Hayes' head, as opposed to just being polite. Before storming off, Hayes responded, "Well, what did you think I would look like?"
You couldn't find someone more committed to winning than Hayes. He refused pay raises at times throughout his career, fearing that an increase in pay would distract him from winning. Hayes insisted that he would have traded anything, save his wife and family, to have beaten Michigan State to preserve an undefeated season in 1974.
Hayes didn't trust the pass, either. His quarterbacks were proficient runners.
These words would prove to be prescient in the 1978 Gator Bowl. With just under two minutes remaining in the game, Clemson's Charlie Bauman intercepted Art Schlichter's pass. Bauman was pushed out of bounds on the Buckeyes sideline, where he was grabbed by Hayes. Hayes threw a punch. There was a brief melee, which took officials a few minutes to break up. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was assessed against Hayes. Clemson retained their two point lead, and defeated the Buckeyes 17-15.
The next day, Hayes was fired after 28 years, three national championships, and an overall record of 206-68-10 at Ohio State. Hayes' intensity and passion for the team and the game were fundamentally responsible for his success, and also ended his career. The impressive performance by freshman quarterback Art Schlichter, and the fact that the Buckeyes very nearly beat Clemson are forgotten.
Even the broader view of Hayes, his competitive spirit and his legendary impact on Ohio State football, are brushed aside as recollections of the 1978 Gator Bowl focus more specifically on the unraveling of Hayes' career. It was a fateful game, with an unfortunate ending. Here's to making some better memories against Clemson on Saturday evening.