Editors Note: This is an edited reprint of a story that was originally pubished in the Dec. 16, 2003 issue of the Orange and White for the 25th anniversary of the 1978 Clemson-Ohio State Gator Bowl game.
There have been three offensive plays in the 100-year plus history of Clemson football that probably — with some debate — stand out above all others.
First, 1977 and The Catch. Fuller-to-Butler versus South Carolina.
The second, a few years later: Homer Jordan to Perry Tuttle in the Orange Bowl. Clemson beats Nebraska and wins the national championship.
The third, Rod Gardner's 'push' - catching a 50-yard pass from Woody Dantzler in the 2000 Clemson- South Carolina game in the waning seconds to set up Aaron Hunt's game winning field goal.
And there are three defensive plays that Tiger fans might include as the most important:
Sterling Smith tackling Miami's Frank Smith in the end zone for a safety at the 1951 Orange Bowl.
Another could be Jeff Bryant falling on a lateral pass in 1981 against UNC to savage a 10-8 Clemson win and keep the Tigers' hopes for an undefeated season intact.
But the most famous defensive play — or the most famous play, period — in Clemson history in a lot of fans' of occurred 25 years ago (now 35 years) this month.
December 29, 1978. A 10-1 Clemson team had been invited to play a 7-3-1 Ohio State team in the Gator Bowl. It was Clemson's second straight trip to Jacksonville and just the Tigers' second bowl game since 1959. Clemson had just won the ACC title for the first time since 1967 with a hard-fought 28-24 win over Maryland.
Head coach Charley Pell had just resigned to go to Florida, and a young assistant coach named Danny Ford was tapped to lead the Tigers in the bowl game. The Tigers' roster was loaded with talent that included the Bostic brothers, Joe and Jeff, on the offensive line; Steve Fuller at quarterback; Jerry Butler and Dwight Clark as receivers. A freshman named Perry Tuttle showed promise. Jim Stuckey, Bubba Brown, Rich Tuten, Jonathan Brooks and Wille Jordan starred on the defensive side for the Tigers.
But is was sophomore middle guard Charlie Bauman who made the play that made history.
Everybody has a story about where they were that night: At the game, not knowing what really happened at the end, but celebrating a 17-15 Clemson victory. Watching the game on TV somewhere and wondering... "Did I just see what I think I saw?"
Bauman has a story too.
A story about coming to Clemson University to play football from Runnemede, N.J. through Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia. About that night in Jacksonville: what happened before, during and after he intercepted Ohio State quarterback Art Schlichter's pass late in the game to preserve Clemson's win and change the future of both programs.
The nation saw legendary Ohio State coach Woody Hayes hitting Bauman after he was tackled in front of the Buckeyes' bench. And they heard of his firing the next day. Much has been written about that play and the chain of events that occurred afterward.
Charlie Bauman, who now lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, came back to Clemson for the first time since 1980 for a reunion of that 1978 Gator Bowl team. What follows is a conversation about his coming to Clemson, that season, the game, the play and his impressions of the area and campus today.
O&W: You're from new Jersey. What can you say about how you came to be at Clemson?
Bauman: My hometown through high school was Runnemede. Runnemede is located in the southern end of the state. I liken South Jersey as the more scenic part of the state (laughing).
All kidding aside. Growing up on the streets of New Jersey was a great experience. The area revered the Eagles, Phillies, 76ers and Flyers. I was fortunate to have been raised by two hard working and loving parents who afforded my two sisters and me a quality upbringing.
When I graduated from from Paul VI High School, I attended Fork Union Military Academy, which is located in Fork Union, Va. Fork Union was an exceptional one-year, post-graduate learning experience. The academics, athletic and the discipline of a military program were all top notch. I highly recommend Fork Union, which Vinny Testaverde and Eddie George also attended.
With no definite plans entering my senior year of high school, my thoughts were that my back was up against the wall. With my parents' guidance, I headed to Fork Union with a serious, take-no-prisoners attitude to further my desire for achievement. I bulked up the old fashion way, worked out religiously lifting free weights and jumping miles of rope all the while envisioning I was Rocky Balboa reincarnated (laughing).
Not having any idea what to expect when arriving at Fork Union, the first full contact practice everyone was trying to knock the other's lights out. That was great fun!
I think some of your readers will get a real charge out envisioning the following: At Fork Union, one of the drills was where two players started from the 50-yard line. At the sound of the whistle the two players would run as fast as possible in the opposite direction circling the goal posts then charging back as fast as possible towards the fifty yard line to a head on collision with the other player, to see who would remain standing.
I soon afterwards came to the conclusion this drill was to determine who had the physical presence, and more importantly mental toughness to, or some would say a hard head, to get to the next level. There were a lot of guys getting their lights knocked out that day. It was like a later-day version of the Bear Bryant movie 'Junction Boys'.
At FUMA we played mostly Division I Junior Varsity college teams with the likes of Richmond, Maryland, Naval Academy, etc. All the post graduate cadets were in the same boat, seeking to impress some university coaches with hopes and expectation of being offered a full ride. There were many guys missing home and their girl friends, and some weren't able to hack the experience...Dwight Adams, Clemson's '77 and '78 defensive end coach, in addition to soon-to-be-named head coach Charley Pell, recruited me at Fork Union. Respectfully, I could sense that both coaches were 'do it or get off the pot type of guys'.
Dwight Adams was an ex-marine and Charley Pell... well Charlie was a student from the Bear Bryant school of football, as was Mickey Andrews. Now Mickey Andrews, that's another story in of itself.
On my official visit to Clemson, the Tigers ended up on the wrong end of the coin against the North Carolina Tar Heels. But I sensed that Clemson University was a very special place when observing the intense excitement from the Clemson loyals.
I committed to Clemson when Charley Pell asked in his gruff undertones, 'Do you think you can play here?' I looked the man square in the eyes and answered, 'I have no doubt I can play at Clemson.' That's all she wrote.
The summer after graduation from Fork Union, I went home to continue that Rocky workout regime (laughing)... Throughout the summer I worked out and prepared physically and mentally for once again I wasn't aware of what to expect when I arrived at Clemson. Unlike the players of today, I wasn't worried about how many returning defensive linemen there were. There are no guarantees in life. In my mind, the only thought was that I was going to play.
When Charley Pell and his staff were implementing the two platoon system, I had it in my mind I wasn't going to sit on the bench. During a scrimmage on one of those tortuous hot and humid days in the Valley I yelled across the field to our defensive line coach, Mike Bugar, to put me in the game. He did. I fared well that day and never wore a yellow practice jersey from that day on.
Late summer, I flew from Philadelphia to Spartanburg, where an ex-Fork Union teammate of mine from Anderson (Brian Spell) picked me up. That day we were minutes late for Charley Pell's first freshmen meeting. Needless to say, we were never going to be late for any meeting ever again. Coach Pell was notorious for locking the doors of the meeting room on his time. I can go on and on. Great experiences, great memories.
O&W: The Tigers went 10-1 during the regular season in 1978. You had two fumbles recoveries. What are your most memorable moments of that year?
Bauman: Since playing for Clemson, I've not experienced anywhere near the kind of intensity and feeling of being part of a very successful team. We all know who the marquee names were during the late seventies. Having played on the same team with these players was to say, in the least, an incredible experience.
What is more important about the late seventies teams is how the coaches and all the players respected one another for the participatory role each of us executed in our assignments. All coaches and players played with one heartbeat. Winning was contagious.
O&W: That team won Clemson's first ACC title since 1967, going 6-0 in the conference. What did that mean to you?
Bauman: A great and significant ending for Clemson University to a hard-fought year was an invitation to the Gator Bowl. The excitement inside the locker room after the game when we were officially invited to the Gator Bowl was deafening. I was very pleased to have family and friends at the game.
O&W: What are your recollections of getting ready to play in the Gator Bowl against Ohio State?
Bauman: During warm-ups, catching a glimpse of Danny Ford and the coach from up north (Hayes) greeting each other at mid-field. For a split second my mind wandered back to my youth, watching big games on the tube between Ohio State versus Michigan.
I will treasure forever the experiences of having been fortunate to participate in the Gator Bowl and having my family at the game to experience the excitement of a big win.
O&W: What is most memorable during the game prior your interception?
Bauman: Just being of able body, mind and ability to have earned a position to be part of a highly successful organization.
O&W: Can you describe what was going through your mind as the play developed?
Bauman: It was very similar to any other play - seek out the guy with the ball and keep him from advancing. My penetration upfield was hampered by the center, then the guard. Always keeping my eyes on Schlichter. From the left I recognized OSU's Ron Springs releasing out from the backfield around Jonathan Brooks' side.
The ball was thrown perfectly. A real tight spiral, chest high and softly thrown. The center attempted to chop block me, but instinctively I used my hand to ward him off. My strides back towards the left were in perfect unison with the ball path. Fortunately I caught the ball, and after that I saw Jonathan Brooks look at me in disbelief like, 'What are YOU doing with the ball?' and Jonathan raising his arms with excitement. The rest is history.
I will say this, the big slap on my butt by Jeff Bryant was simultaneous to the, well you know, to the chin (laughing). Neither one did I feel.
O&W: And after the play was over?
Bauman: The play was over. No big deal.
O&W: You talked to Coach Hayes later on. What was that like?
Bauman: He called me at my dorm room. No apology. Merely brief respectful conversation.
O&W: You were a sophomore in 1978. What were your next two years like playing football?
Bauman: Memorable! What a big win South Bend against Notre Dame, which was another team that I grew up following. Being able to walk through the stadium, I walked up to the top of the north end of the stands to see Touchdown Jesus. What a sight. To beat Notre Dame with family and friends was significant for me, as I am certain for them as well.
(Bauman later confessed that as a resident of Cincinnati, Ohio, he quietly attends Ohio State home football games).