Ask your average college football fan in Louisiana about Clemson, and you’re likely to get a response that goes something like this:
A poor man’s LSU.
Both schools have the same nickname for both their teams and their football stadium, belt out the same fight song, both had their beginnings as military schools and this year both sport identical 10-2 records.
An LSU fan would take in all those similarities and say his team does it better. A Clemson fan would argue the opposite just as passionately.
One thing Clemson can’t say: In two previous tries, it has never beaten LSU in a bowl game. LSU beat Clemson 7-0 in the 1959 Sugar Bowl and 10-7 in the 1996 Peach Bowl.
New Year’s Eve in Atlanta, the Tigers and Tigers will meet again in this year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl (6:30 p.m., ESPN).
To start you down that road to Atlanta, here are 10 things to know about Clemson football.
Before he left in 1939 to begin a legendary career at Rice, Jess Neely advised Clemson officials against funding a big football stadium. “Put about 10,000 seats behind the YMCA,” Neely said. “That’s all you’ll ever need.” Neely’s words were ignored, and in 1942 20,000-seat Clemson Memorial Stadium was built in a valley on the west side of the campus. Over the years, capacity has increased to 80,301 after the most recent addition in 2006. According to Clemson, the stadium has been referred to as Death Valley since 1948, so named by Presbyterian coach Lonnie McMillan, whose team was the Tigers’ first victim there.
Back in the early 1960s a man named Samuel C. Jones, a friend of then Clemson coach Frank Howard, picked up a 21/2-pound white flint rock in Death Valley, Calif., and gave it to Howard upon his return. At first, Howard is said to have used the rock as a doorstop, then advised Clemson booster Gene Willimon to “throw it over the fence or out in the ditch.” Instead, Willimon had the rock put on display for a Sept. 24, 1966 game with Virginia, which the Tigers won 40-35 after rallying from an 18-point deficit. Clemson players began the tradition of rubbing the rock for good luck Sept. 23, 1967, a 23-6 win over Wake Forest, prompting Howard to eventually tell his players: “Give me 110 percent or keep your filthy hands off my rock.” Because South Carolina fans have reportedly tried to steal or deface the rock over the years, members of the Clemson ROTC now guard the rock for the 24 hours leading up to every South Carolina game played at Clemson.
Run down The Hill
It is described as “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.” As they have done since the 1940s, before every home game Clemson players leave their locker room at the west end of the stadium and, fully suited up, bus to the open east end of Death Valley along Williamson Road. There they mass under the stadium’s main scoreboard waiting for a small cannon to be fired, their signal to touch Howard’s Rock as they run down the hill over a long orange carpet onto Frank Howard Field. Before the stadium contained locker rooms, players ran down Williamson from nearby Fike Field House and then down the hill.
Tigers of a different stripe
Clemson’s original colors were red and blue, but they changed in 1896 thanks to the school’s first football coach, Walter Merritt Riggs. Riggs was an Auburn grad and as such transplanted his school’s colors — then orange and purple — as well as Auburn’s tiger nickname to Clemson. Many Clemson students, faculty and staff are known to wear solid orange every Friday during football season as a symbol of pride and unity.
Few schools have produced more enduring football personalities than nose tackle William “The Refrigerator” Perry, Clemson’s first three-time All-American. A member of the 1981 championship team, Perry and his brother Michael Dean played together on the Tigers’ 1984 team before William was drafted in the first round of the 1985 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears. Perry became an instant sensation in Chicago, where coach Mike Ditka called on him to run the ball in short-yardage situations. Perry even scored a rushing touchdown in the Bears’ Super Bowl XX victory over the New England Patriots at the Louisiana Superdome in January 1986.
Fans attending the Chick-fil-A Bowl may think they’re hearing an echo when the LSU and Clemson bands play. That’s because they may be playing the same song at the same time. Both schools consider “Tiger Rag” their fight song, though Clemson’s is played a little faster with a high tempo segment near the end as compared to the LSU version, whose drawn out first four notes always signal the start of every home game. Clemson’s band is the Clemson University Tiger Band, while LSU’s is officially the LSU Tiger Marching Band. Another similarity between the schools: LSU’s band holds an annual concert called Tigerama, while at Clemson Tigerama is a student pep rally held during homecoming week.
Just like LSU’s 1958 national championship team, Clemson started the 1981 season unranked. But the Tigers plowed through their schedule 12-0, including a grind-it-out 13-5 win over Tulane on Sept. 12 in the Superdome, capping their season with a 22-15 win over No. 4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl. Along the way Clemson squeaked by two other ranked teams, No. 4 Georgia 13-3 on Sept. 19 and No. 9 North Carolina 10-8 on Nov. 7. Clemson’s team featured Homer Jordan at quarterback, All-American Perry Tuttle at wide receiver and Terry Kinard at free safety. Kinard became the first unanimous All-American in Clemson history.
What’s in a name?
Clemson has had a student suit up in a tiger costume at games since 1954, but unlike LSU’s Mike the Tiger (real and costumed versions), Clemson’s tiger is simply referred to as the Clemson Tiger.
Clemson also does not keep a live tiger mascot on its campus. But unlike LSU’s version, the Clemson Tiger does pushups after every score equal to Clemson’s score in the game, performing atop a large orange board held up near the student section. Considering the heat of some games and the fact the tiger costume weighs about 45 pounds, those wearing the mascot costume have been known to lose 10-to-12 pounds during a game.
Started in 1934, Clemson’s IPTAY fund is considered the forerunner of athletic fundraising. IPTAY stands for “I Pay Ten (dollars) A Year.” While it started in the depths of the great depression the organization managed to bring in $1,600 that first year to help pay for athletic scholarships, though some bartered donations of milk, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and other agricultural products were accepted. Dues have gone up a bit since then. For the 2013 football season, IPTAY donors must pay $750 for seats at midfield and a minimum of $120 for seats near the end zones.
Aside from The Fridge, famous Clemson football alumni include San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Dwight Clark, Dallas Cowboys defensive back Charlie Waters, Washington Redskins offensive lineman Jeff Bostic, current Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller and current Seattle Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill. Shawn Weatherly, the 1980 Miss Universe and an actress on “Baywatch,” attended Clemson, as did “Deliverance” author James Dickey, Houston Texans president Jamey Rootes, James F. Byrnes (U.S. Senate, Secretary of State, Supreme Court justice), U.S. Sen. Strom Thurmond, Toronto Blue Jays pitcher Jimmy Key, tennis star Gigi Fernandez and 2009 U.S. Open golf champion Lucas Glover.