It was way back there in the state of Alabama, when ol' Frank Howard was coaching baseball at the insane asylum which was right next door to the university in Tuscaloosa, that one of the patients—it may have been his centerfielder—came galloping by on a broomstick. Giddyap. Giddyap. This guy said he was Jesus Christ his-self, but another ol' boy told Frank not to worry about it.
"That ol' boy is crazy," he said.
"How can you tell, buddy?" ol' Frank said.
"'Cause ever'body knows there's only but one Jesus," that other ol' boy said. "And I'm him."
October 22, 1989
The thing about it is, there isn't much difference between Alabama, where ol' Frank played even before his lifetime friend, ol' Bear Bryant, got to school there, and Clemson, where ol' Frank went on to be an honest-to-golleee coach in 1931 and stayed until...until....
Well, he's still there, by gawd, chewin' and spittin' and snarlin' nearly six decades later about how Bear wanted to come be his assistant coach back in the early '40s. "Smartest thing I ever did, buddy, not hirin' that sweet ol' Bear," says ol' Frank (referring to the sweet ol' Bear, understand, only by the first letters of that sobriquet). "He would have done grabbed my whiskey hisself, took my woman, cut my throat, drunk my blood and had us on probation for life, that's all."
Actually, the difference between Tuscaloosa and the foothills of South Carolina was this: At Alabama the coaches were always playing for the national championship. At Clemson they were trying to whip teams like Erskine and The Citadel and Wofford and Newberry. (That feisty little guitar player, Lee Atwater, would learn to be a feisty little Republican at feisty little Newberry.) When Clemson lost to Wofford 14-13 in 1933, ol' Frank, then an assistant to Jess Neely, had had just about enough. Along with Neely and some Clemson alumni, he started a fund-raising organization to build up the football program—even though nobody around Clemson had what you might call funds to be raised. All the same, when ol' Frank and his friends came up with their club called IPTAY—I Pay Ten A Year—the cotton farmer and the truck driver, the grocery clerk and the gas jockey, the preacher and the housewife all responded.
Well, who wouldn't? You can take the corn out of the country....
IPTAY had secret names: The president, vice-president and secretary of the club bore the titles of Bengal Tiger, Persian Tiger and Sumatra Tiger. IPTAY had mysterious acronyms: Circling the club crest were the letters GOCAMS (Giving Our Clemson All My Support) and WDWE (When Do We Eat). Moreover, the head coach—soon enough, in 1940, of Frank hisself—was to be known as the Exalted IRYAAS (I Received Yours and Acknowledge Same).
But you can't take the country....
One of IPTAY's founders was Dr. Rupert Fike (Clemson '08), otherwise known as Rube. In the Depression years some members paid their IPTAY dues with checks for $2.50, and some paid with milk, sweet potatoes and turnip greens they had raised on their farms. R.G. (Red) Horton, a fertilizer dealer in Loris, S.C., used to add $10—"for IPTAY"—onto all his customers' bills. "I like that new ingredient," said one farmer. "Give me a triple batch of IPTAY next time." More sophisticated schools in the basketball-crazy Atlantic Coast Conference still regard Clemson as some bib-overalled, brain-dead, dung-heaped barnyard football factory and claim the P in IPTAY stands not for pay but for plow.
But you better say that with a smile, buddy. A prominent member of IPTAY once wrestled a colleague to the floor in the U.S. Senate. Afterward the wrestler, Strom Thurmond (Clemson '23), who was 61 at the time, did not reveal whether IPTAY had come up in the conversation with his unfortunate opponent, but surely it could have.
It's likely that more people across the length and breadth of the land of football—if not the hallowed halls of Congress—have heard of IPTAY than know where Clemson is. It's "two hours from anywhere," in the words of Charlie Waters (Clemson '71), the former longtime Dallas Cowboy safety.
"I tell people Clemson is in northwestern South Carolina," says Clemson athletic director Bobby Robinson. "That seems to help." And another thing. When you're asking for directions, ask for Clim-zin. Locals will think you live right around the corner.
Actually, the former Clemson military school—women were admitted in 1955 (now 46% of the 12,000 undergraduates are female), and the school gained university status in 1964—is easily the biggest thing in the town of Clemson, which is two hours northeast of Atlanta and two hours southwest of Charlotte, N.C., nestled along the rim of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the lapping shores of Lake Hartwell. O.K., O.K., so it's a man-made lake.
If ever a college, a town, an environment was set in time, made, stamped and fingerprinted by one man, it's Frank Howard's Clemson. The everyday population is about 8,000—approximately 7,000 of whom have been known to dress up in orange hats and orange suspenders or orange pantyhose and to paint orange Tiger paws on their noses. On autumn Wednesdays, however, the orange begins to spread; caravans of RVs and campers and pickups start trickling into town and parking in the vast fields and blacktop lots lining the highways to Clemson Memorial Stadium, otherwise known as Frank Howard Field, otherwise known as Death Valley. By Thursday night, traffic is backed up on all thoroughfares.
On Saturday, the Clemson football network's pregame show airs on, among other stations, WYKZ in Hilton Head, WDOG in Allendale, WGOG in Walhalla and, believe it or not, KICS in Hastings, Neb. Along about then the hill at the east end of the stadium is fully covered by folks who just plop right down on gawd's earth. This part of the field is actually ticket section GG—for green grass, buddy.
Suddenly this thimble of a rural burg, where 72 hours earlier there was barely a sign of life, has become a raging ocean of orange humanity, more than 80,000 people strong, that comes downright close to being the second-largest city in the state and, decibel-wise, one of the loudest in creation.
"Where al these people come from is still a mystery to me, buddy," says Danny Ford, 41, the current Clemson head coach. "We don't have but about 50,000 living alumni. I guess you could say the biggest thing IPTAY did was get a whole bunch of other folks involved with Clemson. But when we built that second upper deck on the stadium a few years ago, dang if I didn't just stand there countin' them seats and figurin' there'll be just that many more angry people if we start a-losin'."
Ford is much more than ol' Frank's successor (four times removed) and another former Alabama player who has carved out a remarkable record at Clemson (91-29-4 in 11 years, which makes him the fourth-winningest active coach in the land). Except for his lack of girth, his full head of hair and his collection of 172 baseball caps (ol' Frank preferred a snap-brim fedora). Ford could be ol' Frank's clone—especially in his alarming capacity for chewing and spitting tobacco and for devastating the English language. Ford actually says things like "a-lo-sin" and "dang" and "wasn't no fun," as in "that probation wasn't no fun."
In 1982—when, Ford says, he was "young and stupid"—Clemson got nailed for recruiting violations. The NCAA imposed sanctions on the Tigers for two years. "That got my attention. I've worked harder to get it right," says Ford.
How hard others in Ford's program have worked is apparently up for debate, because just before this season began the NCAA opened a preliminary inquiry into Clemson's recruiting of redshirted freshman quarterback Michael Carr from Amite. La. In August, Carr's high school coach, Gary Hendry, accused Clemson of cheating when it wooed Carr, specifically questioning how Carr, from humble environs, had obtained a Toyota Supra. Later, Carr's brother said the car was his. Carr left campus and went home briefly to Amite. When he returned to Clemson, he called Hendry a liar and said Hendry was merely bitter because the coach had wanted Carr to go to LSU. The furor has died down, but the NCAA is still investigating the program.
Controversy in Tigertown is as regular as the sunrise. While Clemson football has taken on the kind of "outlaw" tarnish that marks the University of Nevada at Las Vegas's basketball program, five of Ford's teams have won ACC championships, and six have been ranked in the final AP Top 20 poll; 19 of his players have made All-America, and eight have won Super Bowl rings. Even when the Tigers were on probation, they finished 9-1-1 and 7-4, surely a sign that Ford is a leader and motivator. So what if Clemson plays in a hoops league and doesn't care to roam too far beyond Virginia Tech on the nonconference ledger?
"I always wondered what was so great about your so-called intersectional rivalries," says Ford. "Hey, buddy, I don't need to go across the country to get my butt whipped. There's teams on this here East Coast who can do that to you." North Carolina State, for example, is 3-0 against Clemson since 1986. "My idea of college football is your own folks within drivin' distance, 80,000 in the stands screamin' for you. Hey, buddy, if we're good enough, we'll see you in late December or on January 1."
Speaking of which, against Woody Hayes, Joe Paterno, Tom Osborne and Barry Switzer, Ford is 4-0. Clemson folks like to point out that after Ohio State and Oklahoma lost to the Tigers, Hayes was fired and Switzer quit. Under Ford, the Tigers are 5-2 in postseason play, beginning with their 17-15 Gator Bowl victory over the Buckeyes in 1978, in which Hayes punched Clemson lineman Charlie Bauman. Ford had been named the Tigers' coach only 20 days before, when Charley Pell resigned to go to Florida. In '81 Clemson upset Nebraska to finish 12-0 and win the national championship, making Ford, at 33, the youngest title-winning coach in history.
In the last two seasons Clemson finished 10-2, and beat Penn State and Oklahoma, respectively, in the '88 and '89 Florida Citrus Bowls. Over the last three seasons only one school has finished in the Top 20, won its conference and won a bowl game each year. That school, buddy, is Clim-zin. Of course, this season won't be one that Ford is likely to boast about, with a 21-17 loss to Duke on Sept. 30 and, even worse, last Saturday's 30-14 disgrace against Georgia Tech at Homecoming. Still, even if the Tigers lose again to N.C. State this week, they are likely to go to a bowl for the fifth year in a row.
Despite his success, Ford remains virtually unknown nationally—a faceless field hand laboring not only under one of those tacky ball caps but beneath the giant shadow of ol' Frank and insulated by the image of his laid-back, corn-pone college. "I'm not real sure where all the schools and universities are in America," says Ford. "But I dang well know hardly anybody in Los Angeles knows where Clemson is."
The charm of Clemson is that both town and gown and the country folk around know full well who and what they are. They're not only fightin' proud of their Southern sticks heritage; they can make fun of it as well as any ol' Yankee. A T-shirt prominent in Clemson these days shows the cartoon faces of the wizened ol' Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler codgers with the words: CLEM AND SON: THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT.
All Clemson humor, of course, traces back to that rotund, cow-pie-kickin', tractor-pedalin' clown-cum-sage, ol' Frank hisself, 80 years young last March and somehow getting younger. Wondrous stories, apocryphal or not, have grown up around him like moss. Football fans throughout the South refer to him simply as the Legend.
There's the one about ol' Frank preparing for the 1959 Bluebonnet Bowl in his Houston hotel room and being asked to come to another room because Nelson Rockefeller wanted to meet him. "How many games has that ol' boy won, buddy?" ol' Frank says. "Tell Rocky to come down here. He's the one who needs the votes." And Rocky came.
There's ol' Frank at the press conference after a loss at Duke. "Turning point?" he says. "Damn, buddy, the turning point was three years ago when I didn't get me no halfbacks."
There's ol' Frank on the practice field, kicking rears and taking (or giving) names. "Good God almighty, Dum-Dum! You're so dumb, you're dumb enough for two dumb names!"
There's ol' Frank holding a squad meeting in the late 1940s, announcing that the next player who gets married will lose his scholarship. Shortly afterward, Clemson's star tailback of that era, Bobby Gage, is betrothed. At the very next squad meeting, ol' Frank says, "Dammit, men. I really mean it this time."
There's ol' Frank at the Clemson Hall of Fame ceremony, seeing Wallace Roy, an old Tiger track man, for the first time in ages. "Hellfire, Wallace," ol' Frank bellows. "The last time I saw you, I thought you was dead."
There's ol' Frank asking Clemson tennis coach Chuck Kriese how a match is going. Kriese says, "Great. We're still playing, but we've already won." Ol' Frank doesn't skip a beat. "Damn," he says, "all those years I was coaching the wrong sport."
And there's ol' Frank driving comedian Bob Hope through Clemson.
"Frank, I thought you were going to show me the town," says Hope.
"Buddy, you want me to back up and show you again?" says Howard.
Did Rockne or Wilkinson or Parseghian or Schembechler ever make a straight man out of Bob Hope?
At least ol' Ski Nose managed to find Clemson. And in the last couple of years, so have some other celebrities, such as Beverly Sills, William F. Buckley Jr. and the two most recent vice-presidents of the United States, George Bush and Dan Quayle, not to mention Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs, who were invited to play beach music atop 120 tons of sand trucked into an abandoned filling station during the Life Is a Beach spring weekend at Clemson's famous Esso Club.
The Life Is a Beach blowout was a mere bookend to the Esso's fall blast, Spittoono (name derived from Charleston, S.C.'s renowned arts festival, Spoleto), at which Clemson students match strength, wits and dexterity in tobacco spitting contests. The winner earns a gorgeous spittoon autographed, of course, by both Howard and Ford.
You might remember the Esso if you were watching the Clemson-Florida State game on television last fall. On that momentous occasion, a 1980 Buick was sledgehammered to death in the parking lot in front of the bar. The Esso has the oldest continuous beer license in South Carolina; it might be the only bar in any state with kudzu growing through the ceiling. The joint is a five-minute walk down the hill from Frank Howard Field. During halftime at home games there are six bartenders to handle the crush. Most of the Esso's clientele never get back up the hill for the final two quarters.
One weekend—nobody is sure which; weekends at the Esso tend to blur into oblivion—Brent Musburger and Pat Haden of CBS were photographed in the Esso wearing shirts that fairly screamed on the front: CONNOISSEURS OF MANURE. Musburger is a Northwestern guy, transplanted to Connecticut. Haden was a Rhodes Scholar at Southern Cal. Seldom has either fellow exhibited the slightest bit of red anywhere near his neck. Yet the Esso happens to be their favorite place on earth. And they don't even pay ten a year.
In 1977, IPTAY topped $1 million in annual donations (dues are now an inflationary 100 bucks per annum), and it has been the first collegiate athletic fund-raising organization to reach two, three, four and five million. Last year IPTAY's 22,000-plus members plowed in 5.3 mil, setting national records for both membership and revenues in a university sports booster club. Because of this, representatives from Ohio State, LSU, Baylor and Alabama (boiiiing!), among other schools, have made their way to Clemson to study its system.
TPTAY now publishes its own newspaper and boasts of several different levels of memberships, only the costlier of which will get you a prime space in the parking lot. Last year Tom Lynch, a pharmacist in Clemson, supplemented his annual gifts to the school by buying lifetime TPTAY memberships as Christmas presents for his three grown children. They cost him $60,000.
"I've got a friend whose job is to solicit money for the university," a Clemson English professor, Bill Koon, told the Chicago Sun-Times in 1977, when IPTAY' contributions totaled $1,071,628. "He says it's not difficult at all to get money. The problem is to get people to give it to something other than the athletic department."
More than a decade of academic enlightenment later, Clemson's various fund-raising drives for 1988 brought in $12.5 million for the school's academic programs, compared to IPTAY's $5.3 million—though it wasn't until 1984 that academic fund-raising finally surpassed IPTAY. While groundbreaking for a new state-of-the-art learning center for athletes is scheduled for next fall, not everybody is overjoyed with the new priorities.
"This is one of my unhappy moments at Clemson," Ford told several hundred boosters last May at the annual ball of the Greater Columbia (S.C.) Clemson Club. "They're going to spend 2½ million on a learning center, and you could put all of that into an athletic dorm." (Ford has been lobbying for several years to replace Mauldin Hall, the Tigers' athletic dormitory, which is 27 years old and was once a women's dorm.)
"I'm not trying to tell you what to do, but it's your money," Ford told the IPTAYers. "Like I tell people all over the state, you don't know how strong you could be at IPTAY, because they can't function without you. You should have a big voice in what happens at Clemson."
Back in the early 1930s, Neely figured the Tiger football program needed $10,000 a year to be competitive. The first season Clemson received that much, it went 9-1 and beat Boston College in the 1940 Cotton Bowl. Immediately thereafter, Neely left for Rice. When the athletics board met to choose a new coach and ol' Frank's name was presented, a gravelly voice from the back of the room thundered, "I second the nomination." Sure if it wasn't ol' Frank hisself.
It took ol' Frank another nine years to get Clemson back to a bowl, the 1949 Gator, where the Tigers beat Missouri 24-23. "Humiliated 'em," he says. By '59, when Clemson played No. 1 LSU in the Sugar Bowl and held the soon-to-be national champions to a standstill before losing 7-0, he was a storied figure. Eventually, ol' Frank would lead the Tigers to every major bowl except the Rose and the Cotton. At different times ol' Frank was also Clemson's track coach, baseball coach, ticket manager and athletic director. In that last capacity he once turned down a student group's request to have crew instituted as a varsity sport. "We ain't gonna have no sport at Clemson where you sit on your butt and go backwards to win," he said.
Over his 30 years as head football coach, ol' Frank led the Tigers to 165 victories. The Bashful Baron of Barlow Bend, as ol' Frank was christened by Anthon Foy, a Greenville sports-writer, liked to say he left his little hamlet of Barlow Bend, Ala.—"three wagon greasin's" from Mobile—"walkin' barefoot on a barbed-wire fence with a wildcat under each arm." When he retired from football after the 1969 season, he went out the same way.
"My daddy resigned due to illness; the alumni got sick of him," says Jimmy Howard, 47, a Clemson halfback/fullback of the early 1960s who, after earning his master's degree in horticulture, spent almost 25 years as South Carolina's official bee inspector. Jimmy now runs a bar in downtown Clemson, the Sloan Street Tap Room, which makes the Esso look like La Cote Basque, and he spends his workdays as a tree, uh, surgeon. "Naw," says Jimmy, "make that a tree mortician."
Ol' Frank and his wife Anna's other offspring, Alice (Mrs. Bobby) McClure of Gastonia, N.C., confirms that the family humor has survived not only a generation but a divorce. "After Jimmy and his wife Angie split, she remarried but kept the Howard name," says Alice. "No wonder. Now she's Angie Howard-Johnson, and on her Christmas card she wrote that she's the only Howard-Johnson in Atlanta without an orange roof and 37 flavors."
Today, the elder Howard is a monarch among plebeians, a coach emeritus, an eminence grease—especially when he eats the french fries and apple cobbler his doctor strictly forbids. He maintains an office in the Clemson athletic complex, at which he arrives daily to answer reams of mail before anybody else gets to work. Moreover, ol' Frank drives all over the South giving speeches. But he's always back on football-Saturday mornings to sit, Buddha-like, behind his desk and receive subjects who range from octogenarian women in orange coveralls to former fourth-string tackles in orange boots and vests to babies in orange diapers.
Since he dispenses almost as much wisdom as he does tobacco slime (luckily, he keeps a bottle of Scope in the same desk drawer where he stashes his Red Man chaw), he was forced long ago to acknowledge his own academic background—even in the face of his consistently fractured bumpkin English.
Howard was the valedictorian of his high school class. He went to Alabama on an academic scholarship. He majored in business administration and was elected to Phi Beta Kappa. "However," he says, spitting out another wad, "since coming to this institution I've changed."
Who's calling what an institution? And change? Spiritually, in its heart of pigskin hearts and to the depths of its gridiron soul, Clemson has never really changed. You want a cow college? Name any of your traditional Boola Boola A & M States, any udderly bovine beauty of a Moo U, and it still won't be as farmy as Clim-zin. Why, Clemson happens to be a land-grant school, just like its hated enemy institution down yonder in Columbia, the University of South Carolina. Why, ol' Frank hisself grew up wishing to be a chicken farmer. Why, ol' Danny Ford is a farmer, buddy, the proud owner of a 134-acre dairy spread on which he cuts his own hay and has 50 cows. Ford insists he is now halfway through his coaching career, after which he plans to go back to the farm permanently with his wife and four children and "make milk and butter and live a normal life." Ford actually arrived late for a day of the Tigers' spring practice the year before last to tend to the birth of a calf.
"I remember when I first saw Clemson," Ford says. "We were riding in from Anderson, South Carolina, on the Alabama team bus one Saturday morning. Nothing was there as we came off the highway. Then all of a sudden out of nowhere came the stadium. We pulled in from the red light, and right over there next to the gates and dressing rooms was—dang!—a bunch of cows! The school's old dairy barn was right smack there! I said to myself, 'Well now, I'll never see anything like this again.' Dang if I don't end up living a few blocks away."
Is Clemson truly America or what? Thomas Green Clemson, the 6'6" onetime U.S. chargè d'affaires in Belgium who donated his Fort Hill, S.C., estate to establish Clemson Agricultural College in 1889, had a sister who married a grandnephew of George Washington.
Is Clemson truly Southern Gothic or what? Thomas Clemson's wife, Anna Maria Calhoun, was the daughter of U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun, the ardent voice of states' rights and secessionism and an architect of the Confederacy.
Is Clemson truly ultrafarm or what? Thomas Clemson was the nation's first superintendent of Agricultural Affairs, the predecessor to the Department of Agriculture. Senator Pitchfork Ben Tillman, a fiery farmer from Edgefield, S.C., who may have been the nation's first full-fledged redneck, led the fight to approve the school's charter. (It passed by one vote.)
Moreover, it was Pitchfork Ben who once called the Clemson student body "the horny-handed sons of toil"—a description long since evolved into a boisterous chant at Georgia Tech-Clemson games in Atlanta. The chant begins, "Big....fat...farm...boys." Since Pitchfork Ben's time the Clemson agricultural-experiment station has made incredible breakthroughs, developing the Clemson spineless okra, the Colossos Southern pea, the Edisto 47 cantaloupe—we are not making this up—Clemfine turf grass and the Clemson nonshatter (CNS) soybean.
Bottom line, however, what really has mattered at Clemson? Soybeans or sideline markers? Clemson natives say you can tell if a third-grader has attended the local school system by how he answers the math question: What's two plus two? Clemson answer: third-and-six.
But the school's obsession with football can be ugly, too. In the early 1980s, Clemson president Bill Atchley, who wanted to clean up the program in the wake of the Tigers' NCAA probation, was embroiled in a power struggle with athletic director Bill McLellan. As a result, both men resigned.
Clemson's first football coach, Walter Riggs, became the school's sixth president. A later Clemson president, R.C. Edwards, was a student manager under ol' Frank. Edwards, an agronomist, was also a former president of IPTAY, which explains why he occasionally saw fit as Clemson's president to lead the football team when it ran onto the field. Even today the 75-year-old Edwards, 10 years retired, goes down to the athletic dorm to wave goodbye to the Tigers each time they board the bus for an away game.
Riggs once tried to hire Ty Cobb to coach baseball at Clem-son. He did hire John Heisman—yes, that Heisman—to coach football. The human trophy-to-be wound up winning 19 games in four seasons (1900-03) while establishing a philosophy that seems to epitomize Clemson 90 years later. (By the way. Heisman honorees Herschel Walker of Georgia and George Rogers of South Carolina played a combined six games against Clemson and never scored a single touchdown.)
"At Clemson we have a style of football play radically different from anything on earth," wrote Heisman, no Humble Johnny, he, in 1903. "All colleges should have fixed athletic traditions and should be loyal to them as to the institution itself.... The complete unity and harmony of athletic opinion and sentiment existing at Clemson is due in no small part of credit to her glorious athletic record."
Thus were born, years later:
•Running Down the Hill. After their last warmup before each home game, the Tigers retreat to the dressing room and then board buses that deposit the Tigers at the top of the hill at the east end. A cannon sounds. Tiger Rag begins to play. The Tigers charge down to the field on an orange carpet. It's great stuff—unless you're Florida State's Deion Sanders, who last fall stood at the base of the hill, mocking the Tigers and beckoning them to "come and get it." Unfortunately for the home team, they didn't get Sanders, who ran back a punt for a touchdown and a 24-21 Seminole win.
•Howard's Rock. Just before the Tigers gather to run down the hill, they take turns rubbing a rock that supposedly grants mystical powers. The rock, mounted on a pedestal, was taken out of the real Death Valley in California and brought to Death Valley in Clemson by a friend of ol' Frank's.
•Orange Pants. These are reserved for special occasions and are as revolting to the eye as you might imagine. Since 1980 the Tigers are 14-2 wearing their big-game trousers, losing only last year's Florida State game, and, in '84, by a point, to their archrivals, the South Carolina Gamecocks—or, as the Clim-zin faithful know them, the Chickens. Nothing in this 94-year-old rivalry, by the way, has been deemed unseemly since Clemson's military students marched on the South Carolina campus before the 1902 game with their bayonets fixed.
On the eve of the 1987 Tigers-Gamecocks game, then South Carolina coach Joe Morrison was in a nasty court battle. He was being sued in a child-support case by a woman who had borne his daughter while he was married to someone else. A Clemson spokesman was asked how he thought the Tigers would do against Penn State in the Florida Citrus Bowl. "Before we worry about Joe Paterno," said the wag, "we got to worry about Paternity Joe." Last season, after Morrison died and his pallbearers included the Gamecocks' somewhat inconsistent quarterback Todd Ellis, the same fellow said, "Guess ol' Ellis had to let down ol Joe one more time."
•Crowd Noise. Joe Montana once said Clemson was the toughest place his Notre Dame team ever played. "Montana should call the signals in Italian," then Wake Forest coach Chuck Mills warned. "The Clemson kids' signals are so slow because of their drawls. They'll never catch up."
At least Montana's team won (21-17, in 1977). Mills's woeful Wake outfits were 0-3 in Death Valley. "It's my secret ambition to go down there and never snap the ball," Mills said. "They'd make us forfeit eventually, but I'd take a 1-0 loss, which would help our defensive average a lot." Clemson's following is so fanatical that in a road game, at North Carolina State in 1978, the referee stopped the clock because the supporters of the visiting Tigers were drowning out the Wolf-pack's offensive signals.
•Attendance. In 1987, when Clemson had eight home games, the Tigers drew 602,526 fans, more than all but two NFL franchises drew last season in their eight-game home stands. Clemson's attendance has ranked in the top 10 nationally for six straight years; last season the Tigers averaged 81,750 at home, fifth best in the land.
•Skyboxes. Clemson has more private suites in its stadium than any school in America. The 108 suites—the largest of which comes equipped with 22 theater seats, TV, stereo, kitchenette, maid service, meals and temperature controls—cost an average of $18,000 a year and raised $1.2 million in 1988.
•Spirit Blitz. Six years ago the Clemson student body released 363,729 balloons before the Maryland game to set a standard in the Guinness Book of World Records. In 1986 Clemson students unveiled an 80-yard Tiger-paw flag. In '88, at Tigerama, the annual celebration the night before the homecoming game, more than 40,000 people turned out in Memorial Stadium for a combination pep rally, skit presentation and beauty pageant. This is more than the average home football attendance at most of the other schools in the ACC. Of course, with the likes of Clemson coeds Shawn Weatherly (Miss Universe, 1980) and Sheri Thrift (Miss America runner-up, 1985) setting precedents, what else would you do in Clemson on a weekend night?
The truth is, Clemson's isolation is partly responsible for the community's passionate adherence to old values, new heroes and those 100 yards of Bermuda grass over at Frank Howard Field. "Clemson's a make-your-own-fun kind of place," says Tiger defensive tackle Vance Hammond. "O.K., things are pretty dead around here most of the time, but what's amazing is how everything changes on a football weekend. I swear, a game here is like the state fair coming to your backyard six and seven and eight times a year."
Lynch, the pharmacist and three-time president of the Clemson Chamber of Commerce, recalls trying to interest fast-food chains in coming to the town. "In the 1960s I wanted a local franchise from Kentucky Fried Chicken and one from 7-Eleven," says Lynch. "They wouldn't even talk to me. In the '70s I tried Wendy's. Nothing. Nobody was interested. Now they're all here because football brought 'em." There were two movie theaters in Clemson until the Tigers' soccer coach, Ibrahim Ibrahim, bought one and turned it into another Tiger souvenir shop. (Ibrahim, by the way, aside from providing the football Tigers with two All-America placekickers, has coached his teams to two national titles.) These souvenir establishments are kept humming by the incessant craving for that Clemson badge of recognition, which was recently spotted as far away as Cape Cod: the fabulous Tiger paw.
When ol' Frank bowed out as coach, Clemson's marketing people greeted the new age with a more benign look in Tiger paraphernalia, namely cute, cuddly footprints that would appeal to children of all ages. Ol' Frank, cursing progress, referred to them as Men-o-paws. But the Greek element at Clemson responded as if the school administration had ordered up free love, and soon fraternities and sororities made it one of the pledges' annual duties to paint huge orange Tiger paws on every roadway and parking lot in five counties.
In retrospect, the paw was—and is—the perfect embodiment of the total Clemson experience, which has always been rich in what a certain resident of the White House might call "the family thing." Athletic director Robinson recalls going to IPTAY meetings with his parents in his hometown of Columbia when he was five years old. He remembers "riding on the train to Jacksonville to see the Tigers upset Florida when I was seven. Families came to Clemson together. We'd tailgate and picnic. Then the parents would go to their seats, and the kids would pay a dime and go up to GG and watch the game."
Nowadays, the families are sometimes even closer. Hammond's daddy, John, is a South Carolina state trooper from Spartanburg who has worked the Clemson highway for almost 20 years. Until they actually enrolled at the university, Vance and his older brother, Mark, got out of bed on home-game Saturdays at six a.m., were on the road by seven, arrived in Clemson at eight, ate some biscuits with their dad and then hung around the campus till game time. Two seasons ago, with Vance playing in nine games for Clemson, Mark working as a Clemson graduate assistant coach and John patrolling the sidelines and talking to his sons whenever he got a chance, "it felt like a church league Softball game," says Vance.
Hazel Modica, 28, works in the Clemson sports information office. She's orange through and through: Clemson clothes, Clemson purse, paws on the cheeks. The entire Tiger package—"Except orange hair. I draw the line at orange hair," she says. Modica knows that even if she wanted to work in the press box on Clemson game days, she couldn't. She gets too excited, too nervous. She would cheer too loud. Act too obnoxious. And anyway, her former boss, Bob Bradley, Clemson's sports information director, who retired on Sept. 30, had the good taste never to let anybody get away with wearing orange in his press box. "I learned to drive our car on the back roads, coming to Clemson football games," Modica says. "Oh yeah, and my mom says when she was pregnant, she almost had me at the Wake Forest game."
In the compellingly soft yet often shrill foothills of Mr. Clemson's agricultural paradise, football has kept its hold on everybody. In 1980 the Tigers' longtime trainer, Herman McGee, died and was borne to his grave by several football players. The flowers were serviceably white. The deceased was dressed in traditional black. It was only McGee's coffin that was orange. Dang, buddy. At Clim-zin, they get you coming...and going."