WITH TWO MINUTES to play in the Gator Bowl last Friday night, Clemson middle guard Charlie Bauman intercepted a pass from Art Schlichter of Ohio State at the 27, and made it to mid-field before being pushed into the sidelines near the Ohio State bench. There the infamous OSU coach, Woody Hayes, grabbed him and punched him in the throat, which is where one punches a boy wearing a football helmet with a face-mask, if one doesn't wish to break one's hand. Of course, one isn't supposed to punch a boy wearing a football helmet; Woody Hayes could have told you that. Yet it was Woody who did it -- Woody the war horse; proud friend of Richard Nixon; idolater of Gens. Patton and Sherman; insistent patriot; military historian; military coach; at 65 still a ripsnorter, or sort of.

Mr. Hayes was fired for his shot to the throat. After 23 years at OSU, 238 wins, 72 losses, and 10 ties, he was bounced almost on the spot, and well he should have been. "I think he's a great man who pushed a little too hard and tried to hang on a little too long," observed Kelton Dansler, an OSU linebacker. A great man, probably not. But here can be no question that he tried to hang on a little too long, to the point of obscuring whatever it was he was trying to hang on to.

It was not the rules, that's for sure. Mr. Hayes claimed to be a stickler for rules, especially the rules of gentlemanly conduct. Yet in the past six years he frequently behaved like a mad bull on field, taking out his rage on cameramen and goal posts without distinguishing between them. One of the things that clearly bothered Mr. Hayes when he slugged Mr. Bauman, who was playing by the rules, was not that he was losing unfairly, but simply that he was losing; and he is hardly the first football coach to be so absorbed in the game as to be distorted by it. There is, however, a strong case that Mr. Hayes did more to distort football, than the other way around. The passionate winner-at-all-costs is only attractive in prose.

This said, one must feel a little sorry for Mr. Hayes. It's never a pretty sight to watch a man slip out of control -- any man -- not merely suddenly out of control, but gradually, inexorably down. on Friday night Mr. Hayes took a swing at the only enemy he could see, besides himself.