Perhaps Hootie Ingram's greatest contribution in his three losing seasons as the football coach at Clemson University was his insistence in 1970 that the school get rid of its tiger logo and replace it with The Paw. It's a symbol so primitive that any kindergartener could reproduce it with finger paint, and it seems as if every kindergartener—plus everyone else—in South Carolina has proved that. There are now paw prints on tree trunks and bridges and street signs, on bald men's pates and girls' cheeks, and on the pavement of every road leading into the town of Clemson. The fans who fill Clemson Memorial Stadium every fall wear white paw prints on orange overalls, orange paw prints on white T shirts and white paw prints on orange hats. During the South Carolina autumn, Halloween is a redundancy.
Some 4,500 Clemson fans took The Paw on the road last Saturday, blowing into Chapel Hill, which is appropriately located in Orange County, N.C. There the 9-0 Tigers ground down North Carolina's hobbled running game 10-8 before a record crowd of 53,611, including bowl scouts representing just about every food, fete and fiber extant.
The game was billed as the most exciting thing to hit North Carolina since tobacco price supports. These were the only two teams in the country besides Georgia and Penn State ranked in the Top 10 in both scoring and scoring defense, and this was the first time two ACC schools had met while both were in the Top 10 of the polls. Clemson was ranked second by AP and third by UPI and SI; North Carolina was sixth in SI's poll, eighth in AP's and ninth in UPI's. Clemson came to Chapel Hill averaging 32 points a game while yielding only 7.7, but if the emotional edge belonged to either team the rumors that injured Tailback Kelvin Bryant and Quarterback Rod Elkins had recovered sufficiently to play gave it to the Tar Heels. Said Clemson Coach Danny Ford, "We're preparing for Bryant, we're preparing for Elkins and we're preparing for Lawrence Taylor in case he comes back from the pros."
The Tar Heels didn't officially announce until Friday that Bryant would be fit to play, just five weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. On Monday it rained and there was no practice, and the next day Bryant worked out only lightly, with no contact. He apparently did the same on Wednesday, but North Carolina Coach Dick Crum had actually dispatched him to a secret practice at Kenan Stadium. There Bryant went through contact drills, running on nine plays against the scout team and taking pops on eight of them. Some swelling developed on the knee by the next day, but on Friday Bryant said, "It feels fine"—a startling statement from someone whose surgeon, Dr. Tim Taft, had said on Oct. 4 that it was unlikely Bryant would see action again this season.
November 16, 1981
On Saturday, however, Bryant carried 13 times for just 31 yards and was far from the fluid runner who scored 15 touchdowns before tearing cartilage and spraining a ligament against Georgia Tech in the fourth game of the season. But the Clemson defense had a lot to do with his meager yardage. The Tigers stopped Bryant and his understudy, Tyrone Anthony—31 yards on eight carries—just as they've stopped everyone else this year.
After giving up a touchdown in its opener against Wofford College, which was added to the Tigers' schedule when Villanova, originally set for the opener, dropped football last spring, Clemson went 18 straight quarters without allowing another TD. When the streak finally ended in the third quarter of a 38-10 drubbing of Duke, the Tiger defenders came back in the fourth quarter to stop the Blue Devils six times at the Clemson one. They didn't give up a touchdown rushing until the season's seventh game, a 17-7 defeat of North Carolina State. Meanwhile, the Tigers were forcing all sorts of errors. They intercepted four passes and recovered three fumbles in a 13-5 win over Tulane. Against Georgia, gussied up in rarely worn orange britches, they picked off five passes and recovered four fumbles in upsetting the Bulldogs 13-3. Three fumble recoveries and two interceptions helped beat Kentucky 21-3. The Tigers came to Chapel Hill leading the nation in turnover margin, with 14 recoveries and 21 interceptions, while the offense had coughed up the ball an average of twice a game.
Twice last Saturday, once in the second period and again in the third, the Tar Heels had first-and-goal inside the Clemson seven and both times had to settle for Brooks Barwick field goals. And when Carolina had a first down at its own 40 with a minute left and was seemingly headed for a game-winning three-pointer, Tiger Tackle Jeff Bryant alertly scooped up an incomplete swing pass that had been ruled a lateral. The only other Tar Heel points came against the Clemson offense, when Carolina's Danny Barlow blocked a second-period Dale Hatcher punt and the ball rolled out of the end zone for a safety.
Crum had said before the game that he'd only use Elkins, who had sprained his left ankle two weeks earlier in a loss to South Carolina, if the Tar Heel offense needed "settling down." On Carolina's first two possessions, its offense was thoroughly shook up. Starting Quarterback Scott Stankavage suffered a stumble, two fumbles and a sack. In came Elkins, and on his second series, he threw a strike to Flanker Larry Griffin at the Clemson seven. But on the next play, a bootleg roll-out pass, Elkins failed to see that Tight End Doug Sickels was all alone in the end zone, and Nose Guard William Devane nailed him for a seven-yard loss. Barwick's field goal was all North Carolina could get. On the next series Elkins re-injured his ankle and didn't play again.
Clemson took the kickoff following the field goal and put together a 14-play scoring drive in which Fullback Jeff McCall rushed for 30 of his 84 yards, including a seven-yard burst over the right side for the touchdown.
But the drive's biggest play was Quarterback Homer Jordan's third-and-five pass over the middle to Perry Tuttle at the North Carolina 23. The 16-yard gain marked the 29th straight game in which Tuttle has caught a pass. Tuttle plays each game carrying a piece of paper that reads GOD CAN DO ANYTHING. "My mother gave it to me on a card a long time ago," he says. "I lost it in a game during my sophomore year. I really believe it, so I always write it down and put it in my sock." The Tigers would muster nothing more than a 39-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike—his name means "unity is strength" in the Ibo dialect he speaks in his native Nigeria—the rest of the way, but theirs was a defense that needed nothing more to bring 33-year-old Ford within a game of the ACC title in only his third year as Clemson's coach.
A former player for and assistant to Bear Bryant, Ford had been thrust into the job just before the Tigers' 17-15 Gator Bowl upset of Ohio State in 1978 when Charley Pell quit and went to Florida after the bowl bid was announced. "If you've never done something before, you don't know what to do," Ford recalls of that Gator Bowl game. "I was unconscious that game." An official must have suspected as much. Sensing that Ford might take his team off the field after Buckeye Coach Woody Hayes punched Tiger Linebacker Charlie Bauman in the waning moments, the official sidled up to Ford and said, "Son, now I wouldn't do anything stupid."
"When he was first made head coach," says Tiger Split End Jerry Gaillard, a senior, "you could see that he'd been around it but never really done it. He's improved 100 percent. And the transition he made from the crazy assistant who was kidding us all the time—it's been great."
Jeff Davis, a 6-foot, 223-pound linebacker who had a team-high eight tackles against North Carolina, including a crucial stop of Bryant on the Clemson nine in the third quarter, provides senior leadership much like what he remembers so well from his own freshman season. Clemson picks captains for each game, but Davis and Tuttle are the de facto leaders of the defense and offense. The four-year roommates have symbolized the unity that has replaced the divisiveness—between senior and junior and offense and defense—that nearly tore the Tigers apart in 1980. "Last year there were 13 seniors on the team and only six really played," says Ford. "This year we have lots of senior starters, and they'll do things like calling team meetings without the coaches." Davis takes charge of most of those meetings.
"We lost early last year, and when you're losing, everybody looks for problems," says Gaillard. "It's just a totally different atmosphere now."
One reason for that change is the presence of Tom Harper, who was hired away from Virginia Tech last winter to coach the Tiger defense. Harper, 49, introduced a wrinkle in Clemson's 5-2 alignment that had been successful at Tech. A 6'5", 230-pound converted quarterback named Andy Headen lines up at one end of the line of scrimmage. He's called the "bandit" back.
"He's a defensive end who can drop on coverage," Harper says. "But he also becomes the equivalent of a strong safety when we go with a four-man front. And he must be able to blitz. He needs the size to be an outside linebacker, and the range and knowledge to be a defensive back, and the strength and speed to blitz. Andy's a super athlete who met the job description. Of course, if you wrote a job description for nose guards, William Perry would fit it."
Actually, if you wrote the specs for a refrigerator, Perry would fit those too, which is why his teammates variously call the 6'3", 285-pound freshman GE, The Refrigerator and Fridge. He had five unassisted tackles while playing just half the game against North Carolina. One came in the fourth quarter when the Tar Heels had moved to the Clemson 33, nearly within field-goal range. Perry sacked Stankavage for a 10-yard loss on third-and-six, and after a penalty, Carolina was forced to punt.
Perry runs a 4.9 40, can dunk a basketball and has lost 20 pounds this season. He figures he can drop a few more, even though his body fat is less than 15%. "He's not fat fat," says Ford. "He's just hungry."
He splits time with Devane, a 6'2", 250-pound sophomore, at nose guard, the pressure point of the Tigers' pressure defense. Until one of them develops the endurance to carry his formidable young frame for more than 40 plays a game, Ford will continue to alternate them.
"I expect to be double-teamed," says The Refrigerator. "If they send the center at me one-on-one, I'm gonna beat him naturally. Get two people, that's the key." To complicate North Carolina's problems, Tar Heel Starting Center Steve McGrew was out with a sprained left ankle, so Devane and Fridge went against a freshman most of the afternoon.
But Clemson had a neophyte of its own playing on Saturday, and he merely won the game. Igwebuike is on loan from the soccer team, and immediately after the game at Chapel Hill, he flew up to Maryland, where, on Sunday, he started at midfield as the Tiger soccer team—ranked third in the nation—defeated the Terps 4-0 to win the ACC title. Igwebuike had a rocky spring football practice, partly because of the pressure of replacing countryman Obed Ariri, who set seven and tied two NCAA kicking records last season, and partly because he simply didn't understand the rules. He knew he was supposed to kick the ball far, but thought that, on kickoffs, the ball couldn't cross the end line.
He has it straight now, though, and boots all long field goals—he's 7 for 11 this year—and kickoffs. Crowds don't faze him. "When my club was engaged in continental soccer matches in Lagos, we would play in front of 80,000 or 90,000 people," he says. "When I first came to Clemson two years ago, someone showed me the football field. I didn't know they meant American football. The goalposts looked strange." But, like everyone else, he was enchanted by Clemson's logo. "I saw these paws on the road," he says, "and I liked them."
Unlike other ACC schools, Clemson has always wanted to make its mark in football more than in basketball, so it has a measure of tradition in the sport. But there is also a touch of the arriviste. Davis holds many of the strength records in the five-year-old, $250,000 weight room equipped with 26 Nautilus machines. The IPTAY Club, the private athletic scholarship fund-raising organization, is the largest of its kind; a record 15,000 belong even though inflation has changed the acronym from standing for I Pay Ten a Year to I Pay Thirty a Year. And, perhaps inevitably, the NCAA enforcement people have been on campus recently, looking into allegations of improprieties brought against Clemson by a couple of would-be recruits.
Clemson would love a national championship before any bad news gets handed down, but first the Tigers must remain unbeaten and win a bowl game. A Greenville radio station's poll revealed the fans' favorite bowl to be, like everything else, Orange. Miami is relatively nearby, and the game has the prestige of being played on New Year's Day.
But so is the Fiesta Bowl, which the athletic department is leaning toward. It pays well and, being 1,800 miles away in Tempe, Ariz., would alleviate some of the inevitable ticket problems. Even the fans would accept it if, say, an undefeated Pitt was the opponent.
"Our seniors are going to decide where we go, and they won't vote until after the Maryland [this Saturday] and South Carolina [Nov. 21] games," says Ford. "If there were five other undefeated football teams in the country, we wouldn't have this attention. But until someone proves otherwise, we hold the future in our own hands." Or paws, as the case may be.