Home Course: Steve Fuller

By:Bob Gillespie

Date:9/5/2014

When he first learned about the recent Orange Bowl match-up between Clemson and Ohio State, Steve Fuller says he experienced a number of flashbacks from 35 years ago. And no wonder: In 1978, when the Tigers and Buckeyes clashed in the Gator Bowl – their only previous meeting before this season – Fuller was Clemson’s All-American quarterback.

Some might remember that, but as the Hilton Head real estate developer and high school assistant coach says with a laugh, most people remember just one thing from that game: Ohio State coach Woody Hayes punching Clemson player Charlie Bauman.

“I told (former teammate) Billy Hudson, ‘Charlie’s going to be a popular guy the next three weeks,’” Fuller says. “It has been a while – time flies.”

Few former players, though, have crammed as much into the past 35 years as Fuller, who turned 57 on Jan. 5. He played seven seasons in the NFL, notably with the 1985 Super Bowl-winning Chicago Bears; was named a charter member of Clemson’s Ring of Honor, reserved for the school’s greatest student-athletes, coaches and administrators; and helped develop several golf courses in the Hilton Head area, where he’s lived the past 25 years.

Most recently, Fuller was elected vice president of the South Carolina Golf Association for 2014-15 and is on track to become president of the organization in two years. For many Clemson fans, though, he remains the tall, blond quarterback who led the Tigers to an 11-1 record in 1978 and the 17-15 victory over Ohio State and its legendary coach.

The game was decided when Bauman, a backup nose guard, picked off an OSU pass in the final two minutes, and – after running out of bounds – was slugged by an outraged Hayes. “I was most disappointed for us that, to this day, most people don’t know the score of the game,” he says. “It’ll always be (Hayes’ punch).”

For Fuller and teammates, though, the game was more about redemption for a lopsided bowl loss the season before. “The thing I most remember about the week is that it was coach (Danny) Ford’s first game,” after Charley Pell quit at season’s end to take the Florida job. “The contrast between (Ford) and coach Hayes was interesting. In press conferences, Hayes’ answers would be 30 minutes long and mention (OSU graduates) Jack Nicklaus and John Havlicek. Then (Ford) would say, ‘We’re happy to be here and we’ll do the best we can.’

If the Gator Bowl was Bauman’s moment, Fuller’s came seven years later when, as backup quarterback, he took part in the Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle,” a video in which players danced and rapped about Chicago’s amazing season. Fuller credits receiver Willie Gault for the idea, and for knowing a studio owner who made it happen.

“Some (players) didn’t want anything to do with it,” Fuller says, laughing. “We recorded it at 8 a.m. on the Tuesday after our only loss, and it was so close to being the worst decision ever. But by winning that Super Bowl so dominantly, it turned out to be something special. It’s hung around since. It won’t die, for better or worse.”

These days, Fuller splits time between the real estate business and Hilton Head High School, where he been offensive coordinator the past four seasons. He began playing golf in junior high and picked it back up after college. “When I was in the NFL, we had opportunities to play some fine courses,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed playing ever since.” Most of his rounds are at Bluffton’s Colleton River, where he sold property starting in 1989, and Secession Club in Beaufort.

His SCGA board membership has been “a great thing for me and our business,” Fuller says. Though, he admits, not as well known as The Punch and The Shuffle.

Hometown: Spartanburg (born in Enid, Okla.)

Bio: Played quarterback at Spartanburg High and Clemson, where he led the Tigers to back-to-back bowls in 1977-78 and an 11-1 season in 1978. Chosen by the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs in the first round in 1979; played seven seasons in the NFL. Was backup quarterback for the Chicago Bears in 1985, when they won Super Bowl XX; lives at Hilton Head; serves as offensive coordinator for Hilton Head High football team; family includes wife, Anna, son Stephen, daughter Alexandra.

Highlights: Charter member of Clemson’s Ring of Honor (1994); two-time, first-team academic All-American and third-team Associated Press All-American in 1978; two-time ACC Player of the Year; won a gold record and platinum video award for his role in the Bears’ “Super Bowl Shuffle” in 1985; named one of NFL’s Top 15 backup quarterbacks of all time.

Where I play: “We live in a real (golf) hotbed, and there’s some really good ones. I like everything (architect) Pete Dye does, so my favorite is (Colleton River’s) Dye course. I also love Harbour Town, Long Cove and Heron Point; Pete did a great re-do there. In the Upstate, Chanticleer is my favorite. Myrtle Beach, I like Tidewater and The Dunes Club, and in Charleston, the Ocean Course is the most picturesque landscape I’ve ever seen for a golf course. It wows me every time around.”

Where I eat: “We’ve made a transition in eating out; we’ve gone from fine dining to more causal places. Here in Bluffton we eat at May River Grill and The Cottage. In Spartanburg, I still like Wade’s. I don’t get over to the island (Hilton Head) much, but I like Kenny B’s – the sons of the owners, the Ballards, Logan and Zach, played offensive line for me. The Sage Room at the south end has the best steak on the island. And I’ve got to mention Downtown Deli in Bluffton; I eat there 3-4 days a week.”

What I do for fun: “We’re living on the river now, so we like to get out on the water, mostly cruising; the kids and their friends do skiing, wave-boarding, and the water here is so special. I take the dogs for walking and cycling on the island’s beaches. Of course, I’m involved with football half the year, so I’ve seen every nook and cranny of South Carolina, and I like to see the small-town enthusiasm for high school football. But playing golf when I can – that’s my (main) vice.”

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