Unlike when it happened 35 years ago, this time everyone sees The Punch coming. Yet, still there is no way to avoid getting hit by it, as a barrage of TV replays, tired jokes and national stories will focus on the left hook that Woody Hayes threw during the 1978 Gator Bowl against Clemson.
The Roundhouse Heard ’Round the World will be shown on ESPN; Charlie Bauman’s name will resurface; #woodysfist could trend on Twitter in the days leading to Ohio State’s Orange Bowl matchup against Clemson on Jan. 3.
The Buckeyes and Tigers have not met since that fateful late-December day in ’78, when Hayes slugged Bauman after the Clemson nose guard intercepted a pass late in a 17-15 victory against Ohio State. The ugly incident led to Hayes’ firing the next day.
The national narrative will be predictable, fixating on Hayes’ volatility. Certainly, the “Old Man,” as many of Hayes’ players called him — though never to his face — could be tyrannical, but to focus only on Woody’s anger is to miss the humanitarian hiding behind the brawler.
None of us is exactly one thing. We are saints one minute and sinners the next. We leave the office humming Silent Night and later scream indecencies at the driver who cut us off in traffic.
Hayes’ positives and negatives were more extreme. His temper was toxic, but his tenderness touched lives. Unfortunately, over the next few weeks, his public warts will win the day. As counterweight to the portrayal of Hayes as amateur heavyweight, however, it is only fair to present the other side.
• Ten years after leaving Ohio State in 1970, former right guard Alan Jack was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that attacks the central nervous system.
When Hayes heard about Jack’s condition, he immediately contacted the Mayo Clinic in
Minnesota and got his former lineman an appointment with the head of neurology.
“The doctor said to me, ‘Who is this Woody Hayes?’ Jack said. “He was kidding, of course. You’d have to live in a tunnel not to have heard of Woody.”
Hayes did not pull strings. He yanked them.
• Billy Joe Armstrong was an OSU freshman in 1959, still one year away from starting at center, when Hayes noticed the player and his mother standing in line at the annual spring-game banquet.
“I was a nobody, one of the guys who still had tape on the helmet with my name on it, and Woody walks up to my mom and says, ‘Dot, have you had a doctor look at those legs?’ My mom had picked cotton in Mississippi before we moved (to Huron, Ohio) and had varicose veins that were just horrible. Woody says, ‘They can do things about those now, uh-huh, uh-huh.’ ”
Dot Armstrong arrived at OSU on a Tuesday, had surgery on Wednesday and returned home on Friday.
“And nobody ever sent her a bill,” Armstrong said.
• Bill Pollitt was a graduate assistant under Hayes in 1971 — a “clipboard holder,” as he put it — when he decided to apply to law school.
One problem: “I scored in the lower 20 percent of the LSAT; a rhesus monkey probably could have beat me,” Pollitt said.
Capital University Law School initially rejected him, the interviewer telling Pollitt he was wasting their time and suggesting he might want to become a plumber instead.
Hayes heard what happened and was outraged. Four days later, Pollitt received a letter of acceptance from Capital.
“And I did really well there, which shows that good things happen when you get a shot, and Woody was the one who gave me one,” Pollitt said, sharing his theory that Hayes helped get him into Capital by calling John McCormac, dean of the law school, who also officiated Ohio State football practices.
Pollitt has been a Franklin County Municipal Court judge since 1996. “If not for Woody Hayes, I never attend law school and never have an opportunity to be a judge. He changed my life,” Pollitt said.
Many other stories exist of Hayes working behind the scenes to help coaches and players, including accepting an offer to speak at the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association seven months after the Clemson game.
Then there was this: Hayes offered Earle Bruce an assistant job after knee injuries ended the player’s career in 1951. Bruce turned that offer into a career in coaching, eventually replacing the man who first hired him.
“Without Woody calling me with the job offer after I hurt my knee, I don’t know where I’d be,” Bruce said.
That was Woody. The harmful fist always opening into a helping hand.
Rob Oller is a sports reporter for The Dispatch.