National Champions

National Champions

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Archived Article: 10 Most Suprising Wins In Clemson Football History Part II

Archive: 10 Most Surprising Wins In Clemson Football History Part II
Originally Posted on On May 18th, 2004
By Scott Rhymer, Correspondent

#5 2001 Clemson 47 Georgia Tech 44
2001 was an unusual year in that the September 11th tragedies cancelled the Duke game, and the Tigers were upset during the following week in a controversial home game against Virginia. Consequently, the Tigers fell from the top 25 before heading to Atlanta to face the 9th ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets. In a game marked by incredible momentum swings, J.J. McKelvey answered the prayers of the Tiger faithful by catching a 63-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-13 give the Tigers a late 4th quarter lead.

Georgia Tech would answer with a quick field goal to send the game to overtime. The Yellow Jackets got the ball first in overtime and kicked a field goal to lead 44-41, but the dramatics were about to turn up again in Atlanta. Woodrow Dantzler took a quarterback draw and scampered to the endzone untouched to give the Tigers an improbable 47-44 victory. Dantzler rushed for 164 yards and passed for another 254 yards in arguably his finest moment as a Tiger. Later the next week, Woody would receive the National Player of the Week honor by

Georgia Tech was also the highest ranked team Clemson had ever beaten on the road in the history of the program.It also marked the sixth straight year the Georgia Tech-Clemson game was decided by exactly three points.

#4 1986 Clemson 31 Georgia 28
After finishing a disappointing 6-6 in 1985, expectations were high for the 1986 Tigers to return to national prominence. But a Week 1 loss to Virginia Tech in Death Valley had quickly soured the optimism of the Tiger faithful as Clemson headed to Athens to face the 14th ranked Bulldogs. In a game that went back and forth for 56 minutes, it still stood knotted at 28 when Clemson took over possession deep in its own territory. With less than four minutes to play, Rodney Williams marched the Tigers down the field through the air and on the ground. Several key runs by Terrance Flagler (who would finish with nearly 200 all purpose yards) positioned the Tigers at the Georgia 29 yard line when Coach Danny Ford marched David Treadwell onto the field with 3 seconds on the clock.

Treadwell, who had missed from 42 yards earlier in the game, drilled the 46 yard game winner as time expired off the clock.The ensuing celebration overflowed on the field and in the stands as Clemson fans celebrated a heart stopping victory. To this day, the 1986 win was the last time Clemson has won in Athens.

#3 1981 Clemson 13 Georgia 3
Clemson opened the 1981 season with two rather average wins against Wofford and Tulane. Meanwhile, the defending National Champion Georgia Bulldogs entered Death Valley with a #4 national ranking and Heisman Trophy winner Hershel Walker at running back.

Clemson broke out the orange pants for the 2nd time in history and then proceeded to force a mind boggling 9 Georgia turnovers en route to the 13-3 win. Hershel Walker was held out of the endzone by the Tiger defense and the loss was Walker’s only regular season defeat as a Bulldog. It was also the highest ranked win for the Tigers in Death Valley to that point; a stat that would stand for 23 years before Clemson’s 2003 win over #3 ranked Florida State removed it from the record books.In addition, this game also served as the spring board for national recognition for the Tigers, who entered the polls the week after the win.

Three months later, Clemson would defeat Nebraska 22-15 to complete a perfect 12-0 season to win the National Championship.

#2 1980 Clemson 27 South Carolina 6
Up until November 22nd, the 1980 football season had been unremarkable at best. Clemson entered the annual showdown with the Gamecocks at 5-5 on the year and the Tigers had only beaten one team that year that would end up with a winning record (Virginia Tech). Clemson also entered the game with its young coach, Danny Ford, squarely on the hot seat from fans that were disappointed in the season to that point.

South Carolina came to Clemson that day with the eventual Heisman Trophy winner (George Rogers), a #14 national ranking, and a Gator Bowl bid already in hand. In a precursor to the problems another Heisman Trophy winner (Hershel Walker) would have in Death Valley, Rogers was completely shutdown and never reached the endzone.Willie Underwood, who had played his entire career at Clemson without an interception, picked off two on this day and returned one of them for a touchdown as the Tigers cruised to a 27-6 win.

Underwood would receive the Sports Illustrated National Defensive Player of the Week for his performance against the Gamecocks.The story of the day, however, was Coach Ford’s decision to break out the orange pants that electrified the Clemson crowd when the Tigers came down the hill. Clemson, who warmed up in white pants, made the switch in the locker room before boarding the buses to the hill. Many regard the 1980 win over South Carolina the springboard to the National Championship run the Tigers would put together the next fall.

#1 2003 Clemson 26 Florida State 10
Granted, this game is still very fresh on all of our minds and therefore it has a little bias when talking about being the most surprising win in the modern Clemson history. However, If the lore of this game still rings true 20 years from now like the 1980 South Carolina game and the 1981 Georgia game, then we will then be able to truly encapsulate this win.

That being said, you would have to really dig deep in the Clemson football history books to find a more surprising win than this one. Clemson had sputtered at home against Georgia in the season opener and had dropped tough road games to Maryland and N.C. State. On the first Saturday in November, Clemson strolled up to Winston-Salem and returned home with tail tucked as Wake Forest embarrassed the Tigers.

Almost from the moment after the final ticks wound off the clock in Winston-Salem, you got the feeling that this would not be a normal week. Clemson fans, rightfully so, were fed up. The embarrassing losses from 2002 had continued into 2003. The 10,000 Clemson fans that traveled to the Wake Forest game smelled blood with head coach Tommy Bowden. To make matters worse, there was simply no light at the end of the rainbow because it was almost inconceivable that Clemson could win out and still go to a major bowl. As the week unfolded, a flood of fan rumors sparked by Athletic Director Terry Don Phillip’s non-comments fueled the fire that had festered inside of Tiger fans for the past year.

However, ever so quietly, Coach Bowden had a trick up his sleeve. Maybe seeking to find some niche with his players that he had yet been able to tap into, Bowden strolled into the locker room in Winston-Salem and told his team that he expected them to beat Florida State the next week.

As the week progressed, the entire focus of the game was on Tommy Bowden, not Florida State. The Seminoles were ranked 3rd in the country, and had just finished whipping Notre Dame in South Bend the week before. Looking back, it was almost a forgone conclusion that the Seminoles would win the game. Forgone, that is, with everybody except the Clemson football team.

The Tigers played inspired football and completely dominated the Seminoles from the first play from scrimmage through the last ticks of the clock. It was the highest ranked team Clemson had ever beaten in the history of the football program, not to mention the first time son had beaten father. While many diehard Clemson faithful kept the faith and thought the Tigers could win, this one caught the entire nation off guard.

Stay tuned for more archived articles from the past as we “pass” this time during the offseason with great memories.

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Monday, April 25, 2011

Archive: 10 Most Surprising Wins In Clemson Football History Part I

Archive: 10 Most Surprising Wins In Clemson Football History Part I
Originally Posted on On May 18th, 2004
By Scott Rhymer, Correspondent

"Surprising" is defined by a nature of something that strikes with wonder or amazement.

While there have been many minor surprises throughout the last 25 years, these 10 wins have caused the most shock for Clemson fans for various reasons. Some because they were unexpected, some because of the way they happened.

This is Part I of a two part series. The next segment will be posted later this week.

#10 1989 Clemson 30 N.C. State 10
Clemson crushed the Wolfpack on October 21st in front of a raucous crowd in Death Valley. The Tigers entered the game 5-2, but had lost two of the last three games, including at Duke and at home to Georgia Tech.

State entered the game ranked #12 in the country but the Wolfpack were no match for Clemson on this day. The game was shocking for the reasons that the Tigers had struggled the previous few weeks and State seemed to be peaking. The Wolfpack also had beaten Clemson the past three years, and it seemed as if Dick Sheridan and company simply had Coach Ford’s number.

The fact the Tigers won the game was not as shocking as the dominating fashion in which they it did.

#9 1999 Clemson 33 Virginia 14
This was Tommy Bowden and his newfound passing attack's coming out party. Bowden, in just his second game as Clemson coach, unleashed Brandon Streeter and the fast pace offense on a confused and befuddled George Welsh.

Clemson lost the first game of the Bowden era 13-10 to Marshall that year, and questions surrounded whether Bowden had the personnel to implement his fast paced attack. The Cavaliers entered the game ranked #19 and was a double digit favorite in the first ACC game for both teams. However, Clemson dominated the game from start to finish and officially ushered in the era of the passing game in Tiger Town.

Brandon Streeter threw for a school record 343 yards and was named the National Player of the Week by USA Today. This game also marked the first win for Tommy Bowden at Clemson along with his first ACC win.

#8 1994 Clemson 28 North Carolina 17
Clemson had stumbled and bumbled to a 3-5 start to the season under first year head coach Tommy West before the Tigers traveled to Chapel Hill to face the #19 Tar Heels under Mack Brown.

Offensively, the Tigers were anemic; having averaged only 12 points a game against Division I opponents to that point in the year. To make matters worse, North Carolina was widely regarded as the 2nd best defense behind Florida State (whom Clemson was shut out against 2 weeks earlier) in the ACC.

But the Tiger offense, led by an all first year freshman backfield in Nealon Greene and Raymond Priester, pounded the Tar Heels 28-17 in front of a sold out crowd in Chapel Hill. Clemson’s defense also was dominant, holding the Tar Heels to 11 yards rushing on this day. North Carolina would eventually finish the season 8-4 and ranked 21st in the country.

#7 1996 Clemson 24 Virginia 16
Clemson started the 1996 season slowly, going 2-3 with embarrassing losses to North Carolina (45-0) and Florida State (34-3), but Tommy West’s Tigers quickly turned things around, winning the next 3 games over Duke, Georgia Tech, and Maryland.

But the Tigers headed to Charlottesville underdogs against the 15th ranked Cavaliers. To add to Clemson's difficulty, snow and sleet fell during the game, making the playing conditions downright brutal. Coach Tommy West turned to his running game to try and offset the bad weather, and he was rewarded by having two players rush for over 120 yards. Kelton Dunnican had a career high 123 yards rushing (including the game winning run) and Raymond Priester rushed for 122 yards to help pave the way for the upset.

It also marked the second time in three years that Clemson had defeated a ranked Virginia team in Charlottesville.

#6 1983 Clemson 52 Maryland 27
Clemson was officially on probation and not eligible for the ACC Championship they were about to earn on the field. Maryland came to Clemson ranked #11 behind the arm of Boomer Esiason.

3000 Clemson students arrived at Death Valley at the crack of dawn to blow up over 360,000 balloons in an attempt to break the Guinness Book of World Records. As the Tigers ran down the hill prior to kickoff, the balloons were released in one of the most majestic and inspiring moments in Death Valley history.

The football team backed up the emotion of the balloon launch, thoroughly whipping the Terrapins up and down the field. Mike Eppley threw three touchdown passes and Kevin Mack rushed for 186 yards as the Tigers “unofficially” wrapped up an ACC Championship.

Which game will rank #1? The answer just might surprise you!

Part II of this archived article will be posted right here later this week.

Scott Rhymer can be reached at
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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Archive: 10 Most Bizarre Moments In Clemson Football History Part II

Archive: The Most Bizarre Moments In Clemson Football History Part II

Originally Posted On Tigernet July 27, 2006
by Scott Rhymer -- Correspondent

Bizarre, admittedly, is a difficult term to accurately define in the sports world. Webster defines bizarre as “Strikingly unconventional and far-fetched in style or appearance.” Bizarre is certainly a relative term; what is bizarre to you may not be so bizarre to me.

Clemson’s recent football history, of which I will only devote this list to, consists of the post 1970 era. Certainly, there were some bizarre events that took place prior to 1970 in Clemson football. You could probably even say that the early years of Clemson football offer up things that today would seem improbable or impossible. But I’ll stick to what I have seen during my lifetime as a Clemson football fan in creating this list of ten most bizarre moments.

I’ll complete Part II of this article this week with the #5 most bizarre moment in recent Clemson football history and end today’s article at the #1 most bizarre moment. To read Part I, click here. And, as always, I would assume that there would be some debate about my rankings.

September 12, 1992
Lights On in Death Valley

Young folks won’t get this one at all. But, believe it or not, night games in Clemson were nonexistent prior to just 15 years ago. Well, actually it had happened before 1992. The Tigers played a night game in 1956 in Clemson, but few fans prior to 1992 had ever seen their team play under the lights at home.

In fact, until the start of the 1992 season, few believed that Clemson would ever have to succumb to the television demigods and have a night game.

But in early September, Clemson hosted the #5 ranked Seminoles for a prime time match up on ESPN. The game was the first under the lights in the modern era of Death Valley, and it was also significant in that it was the Seminoles first year in the ACC.

FSU won 24-20 on a Charlie Ward drive late in the game that was orchestrated by then-FSU offensive coordinator Brad Scott. It was a turning point game in two respects. First, the night game opened up the floodgates in terms of television dictating start times for Clemson. More and more games would be played at night in Death Valley as the years went by, to the point now where Clemson plays at night almost as much as any other team in the conference. In fact, I could argue that night games in Clemson don’t even seem that out of place to Tiger fans anymore.

This game also signified a changing of the guard. FSU won the game, ended up winning the conference championship that year, and began their nearly 10 year stranglehold on the conference and Clemson.

Who knows what would have happened to the fate of the two programs had Clemson won under the lights in Death Valley that night? Reality was not kind to the Tigers that evening, and Florida State quickly became the bully on the block in the bizarre world of football in the dark.

November 21, 1998
Fire Him, Then Pay Tribute

If you Google bizarre on the Internet, you may see a picture of a freshly fired football coach being carried off the field by adoring fans. Such was the ending of the Tommy West era at Clemson.

The 1998 season was, by all accounts, miserable. Heartbreaking losses to Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, NC State and Georgia Tech (all by 7 points or less) were part of the story. Equally as miserable was the blowout losses to Virginia Tech and Florida State. And losing to Wake Forest and Duke in the same year (two teams that combined for 7 wins in 1998) is never a good thing for a Clemson coach. And the fact that Clemson would now be 8 years removed from their last ACC conference title was a bubbling boiling point.

So the fact that Tommy West, with a program winning only three games in 1998 and perpetually stuck in underachieving roles the previous three years, was fired is no real shocker. Very few fans felt the program was heading in the right direction, or at least that the program was on the cusp of returning to greatness. What was bizarre, however, was how the fan base rooted for West to succeed at Clemson about as much as they did for their team to succeed.

So when West received his walking papers the week before the season finale with South Carolina, there was a sense of sadness amidst the uplifting hope of a new coaching staff coming in to turn the corner for our football-crazy school. The game week was a blur, a distraction, and left Clemson fans wondering what team would show up on Saturday night against the Gamecocks.

The answer was resounding. Clemson soundly whipped South Carolina 28-19 for the first win in Death Valley against the Gamecocks since 1990.

Maybe to show appreciation for beating the Gamecocks under such a trying week, or maybe to show appreciation for the hard work he gave to Clemson, or maybe because they really had wished he would produce a winner at Clemson; the fans did something rather extraordinary.

For only the second time in school history, the fans tore down the goal posts in Death Valley. For the first time in school history, the fans carried a recently fired football coach off the field on their shoulders. And also for the first time in history, the fans at Clemson carried off the wife and child of their football coach.

Tommy West, his wife Lindsey, and son Turner must have felt like they were in a dream as they left the field on the shoulders of fans and players that evening. The Orange and White magazine photographer, who caught the last image of Tommy West inside of Death Valley with his feet 5 feet off the ground, captured the moment brilliantly.

Bizarre? You bet. A great story that shows human character and empathy by our fans that truly wanted to win and to win with Tommy West at the helm? Absolutely.

November 3rd, 2003
Bowden, Quivering Lips, and an Upset

There are few (if any) reading this article that were not around just three short years ago in the aftermath of the loss in Winston Salem and the subsequent week that revived a coach and a program.

For a moment that is so fresh on the mind, it is a moment that is fraught with bizarre moments and forgotten truths. If the networks wanted to create a soap opera out of a football program, that month of November would have plots and sub plots that even the greatest writers could not dream up.

It started in Winston Salem, but the seeds were planted from the frustrating losses in the previous two years. Patience with Coach Bowden was worn razor thin, and the last shreds of support seemed to fizzle away at the end of a 45-17 loss to a bad Deacon football team.

What happened the Monday after the Wake game was a mix of rumor, truth, sarcasm, treachery, wit, stupidity, insightfulness, ignorance, and craziness. Which of those feelings were yours all depends on how you saw it and perceived it.

Bowden was in trouble, whether at that moment he was only in trouble with some disgruntled fans or whether he was in trouble with his athletic director depends on how you saw things unfold. Very few, if any, of the fans that left Winston Salem that Saturday really believed the program was heading in the right direction. The rumor of Bowden teetering between hired and fired was joyous news to some while frustrating to others who wanted the season to play itself out before coming to judgment.

Terry Don Phillips, deciding to play his cards close to his vest, inadvertently threw flames on the fire by not defending his coach publicly. Instead of quieting the rumors, it only fed them.

All the while the team was preparing to play the #3 team in the country. Given the opportunity to lie down and feel sorry for themselves, the team instead was picking itself off the mat it was dumped on in Winston Salem.

Bowden, with a stroke of genius or out of pure desperation, told his team in the locker room after the Wake game that they were going to beat FSU the next week. Instead of giving up on their embattled coach, they responded to him.

While everyone was talking about Bowden that week, the team simmered to a crescendo. By Saturday night, Clemson was spanking the Seminoles as if the Tigers were the #3 team and FSU had a coach on the hot seat.

The incredible win against Florida State was not the end of the Bowden saga, as no contract extension was waiting on the desk the following Monday.

Even after a 40-7 whipping of Duke, Bowden's future remained up in the air. At his weekly press conference, the media held to Bowden’s every single breath. His long pause after a question was asked about his future at Clemson, coupled with a quivering lip, sent the fan base into sheer pandemonium trying to determine the significance (or lack thereof). The media members tried every conceivable way to prod Bowden into saying something significant, all to no avail. Fans listened to the press conference live on the net and on radio stations hoping something, anything, would bring to light what was really going on.

The Tigers went on to complete an incredible run by beating South Carolina (63-17), and Tennessee (27-14) and was arguably the most improbable and satisfying four game stretch in 20 years.

Whether through fate or divine intervention, Bowden rightfully received his due. It was a bizarre month on all fronts; but the outcome of the FSU game, considering all of the hoopla, was maybe the most bizarre moment and the starting point for a season-ending stretch run for the history books.

December 28, 1978
Woody Hayes Wallops Charlie Bauman

The recently departed Charley Pell assisted with the game plan of the new Tiger staff the week before the Gator Bowl match up with Ohio State. Considering Pell’s status as villain of the century for jilting the Tigers for the Florida Gators, the mere fact that Pell was helping newly hired Danny Ford seems improbable.

But it was not nearly as improbable as what happened in the waning moments of the game.

The play started simple enough. Ohio State freshman quarterback Art Schlichter took the snap, looked to his right, and lofted a pass with the intent of connecting with a Buckeye receiver over the middle of the field. Charlie Bauman, an anonymous sophomore defensive player for a little school from South Carolina that many in the televised game had never heard of, stepped in front of the pass and ran towards the Ohio State sideline before being pushed out of bounds. Bauman’s interception sealed Clemson’s improbable win over the perennial power Buckeyes. But the interception, and for that matter the game itself, would quickly become a footnote.

The next five seconds after Bauman is pushed out of bounds is going to become the most watched Clemson football moment in the history of the program. And it was about to become the end of a career for one of college football’s greatest coaches.

Simply put, Woody Hayes lost control and punched Bauman with his right hand while holding Bauman’s facemask with his left. Very few fans inside of the Gator Bowl that evening saw the swing. But the television audience, stretching from coast to coast, got an almost completely unobstructed view of the boxing moment.

The morning after the 17-15 defeat, Hayes was fired. He never coached again and there are conflicting reports as to whether or not he ever personally apologized to Bauman.

Keith Jackson, ABC's legendary play-by-play announcer, claims he did not see the play as he was broadcasting the game. Jackson was openly criticized for not calling the play on television, citing the theory that he and color analyst Ara Parseghian were covering for the legendary Hayes. "The media decided to hang my butt," Jackson told the Cincinnati Post several years later. To this day he claims that he did not see the punch or he would have verbalized it at the time.

Regardless of Jackson’s controversy, the play itself became superhuman. Considering the large television audience that saw the game live, plus the countless number of times the replay was shown in the days, weeks, and even years after the incident, the Charlie Bauman interception and subsequent Hayes punch is easily the most watched football clip in Clemson football history.

Not to mention a bizarre ending to a coaching legend.

January 21, 1990
Anarchy In The Aftermath of Ford

There are only a small handful of times in my lifetime that I have truly been dumbfounded (thanks Pawless in Seattle®) by what I was seeing at Clemson. Late January of 1990 was one of them.

The facts are pretty simple. Danny Ford was out as Clemson coach. Ken Hatfield was hired. And hardly anybody was happy about it.

The in-between of it all is what makes this the most bizarre moment in Clemson football history. To put it mildly, the system failed at every single level to create a black eye that all but sunk a top 15 program down to a middle of the pack ACC program in less than four years.

Coach Ford certainly failed his program because he felt he had become bigger than Clemson University and for openly criticizing his superiors. The President (Max Lennon) and other university officials failed the program by railroading a coach that had become legendary. The athletic administration failed the program by not buffering Ford and university officials and for ultimately not standing behind a coach that meant everything to the program. The fans failed the program by acting as a mob in the aftermath, staining the program and Clemson University with actions that doomed Ford’s predecessor before he set foot in the press area to be introduced.

Ironically enough, it was Clemson’s other legend, Frank Howard, that doused the fiery emotions of the fans long enough to cool the anger. Protests by fans at the President’s House eventually moved to the press entrance of the South Upper Deck. Realizing that Hatfield and his wife were sitting ducks for the verbal jousts coming from the protesting mob, Howard stepped out of the press area and calmed the fans long enough to allow them to cordially (if not happily) welcome their new coach.

The enduring moment in the whole week for me, however, was not the protests and Howard’s comments or even Hatfield’s press conference. The moment blazed in my head all these years later is that of then WYFF sports anchor Stan Olenik. Olenik, desperate to get a quote from Athletic Director Bobby Robinson, chased down the Clemson AD with cameraman in tote to get a statement. Olenik, weighing in at around 250 pounds, dwarfed the 150 pound Robinson. Olenik caught Robinson, wedged himself in-between two cars that Robinson was walking between, and basically created a roadblock. Olenik asked Robinson repeatedly for a quote before finally saying, “Don’t you think you owe the Clemson fans a reason for Ford’s departure?”

The look on Robinson’s face told the story. He knew as well as anybody that the system had failed on all fronts. As insensitive as the Clemson fans may have been in the aftermath, Robinson knew that the fans were let down because of petty bickering and short sightedness from the people that were supposed to be bigger than all of that. Those people included Robinson, although his status as the King Villain of the time does not represent the reality that went on behind the scenes. Robinson was a simple pawn, or so it seems in hindsight. But nothing Robinson could say to Olenik or to Clemson fans on the air that day was going to make things any better at that point.

It would take 15 years for Clemson to fully recover, if you consider the program recovered at this point under Bowden. It is bizarre moments like 1990 that, upon reflection, make me appreciate where we are at now. We have a President that supports the athletic program (unlike 1990). We have an athletic department that thinks outside the box while working within the confines of Clemson University’s vision (unlike 1990). And we have a coach that honorably plays within the rules at all costs while humbly admitting that there are pieces to the puzzle that are bigger than him and the football program (unlike 1990).

As bizarre of a time as it was in 1990, we are all better for it. Although the painstaking rebuilding process was longer than any of us would have ever believed.

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Thursday, April 21, 2011

Archive: 10 Most Bizarre Moments In Clemson Football History (Part I)

The Most Bizarre Moments in Clemson Football History - Part I
Originally Posted On Tigernet July 6, 2006

by Scott Rhymer

Bizarre, admittedly, is a difficult term to accurately define in the sports world. Webster defines bizarre as “Strikingly unconventional and far-fetched in style or appearance.” Bizarre is certainly a relative term; what is bizarre to you may not be so bizarre to me.

Clemson’s recent football history, of which I will only devote this list to, consists of the post 1970 era. Certainly, there were some bizarre events that took place prior to 1970 in Clemson football. You could probably even say that the early years of Clemson football offer up things that today would seem improbable or impossible. But I’ll stick to what I have seen during my lifetime as a Clemson football fan in creating this list of ten most bizarre moments.

I’ll start this week with the #10 most bizarre moments in recent Clemson football history and end today’s article at the #6 most bizarre moment. I’ll lay out my top five next week in a separate article. And, as always, I would assume that there would be some debate about my rankings.

#10 November 12, 1983 Balloons, Balloons, Everywhere Balloons
To be honest, this one is a little out of place on the list once you read the other nine. But this game, and this event, was truly one of those unique moments in Clemson football history.
In the 1980’s, Central Spirit would specify a game where they would do something out of the ordinary. This particular year, Central Spirit decided they were going to attempt to break the largest balloon launch record by blowing up and distributing over 300,000 balloons. It was a highly publicized affair, and a sold out crowd descended to Clemson for this late November game against Maryland and their quarterback Boomer Esiason.

As the balloons were distributed prior to kickoff, pleas from the public address announcer urged fans to not let the balloons go until the Tigers came down the hill for fear that the record could be in jeopardy. As the bus carrying the Tigers rounded the corner and the team stepped off the bus, a literal sea of orange balloons encompassed Death Valley.

As the cannon sounded and the balloons were released, the perfectly blue and sunny sky that day was completely blocked out by the 300,000 or so balloons ascending into the sky. A huge shadow, almost like a solar eclipse, engulfed the stadium and field. Players reported having trouble making it down the hill that day because they were all looking up at the balloons rising above Frank Howard Field.

In the days and weeks following the balloon release, people reported finding the downed balloons all over the upstate. While many landed in the Anderson area, balloons were reportedly found as far away as Greenwood. Animal activists also were in the news, saying the release was harmful and possibly fatal to animals.

Unfortunately, that type of record-breaking attempt will more than likely never be tried again in Clemson. But for one November afternoon, it was a truly spectacular show.

#9 November 27, 1982 and November 30, 1991 Tigers Speak Japanese
Even the idea of a Clemson football playing in Japan is bizarre, but actually pulling it off not once, but twice, certainly makes it a valid member of this list.

Clemson played Wake Forest in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo at the end of the 1982 season. The Tigers beat the Deacons 21-17 and wrapped up the ACC Championship. Almost ten years later, Clemson again traveled to Tokyo and defeated Duke 33-21, scoring 26 points in the 4th quarter to get the win.

Jim and Julie Prater, longtime Clemson fans from Columbia, relayed to me their experience in Japan watching the Tigers. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A Japanese rock band played at halftime and right after the game. I think the largest Japanese crowd was actually at the end of the game when the musicians came back out on the field.”

The Praters also had an interesting experience one evening trying to order food, but were saved by the “ingenuity” of the late Bob Bradley. “One of our funniest experiences was a night in Kyoto when a group of about six of us went to dinner in a steak house off the tourist path where no one spoke English,” Julia says.

“The group included Bob Bradley. We had the Japanese version of ribs, communicating with a lot of pointing and gesturing. When it came time to pay our bill, we had a communication problem at the checkout and Bob was furiously pointing out his ribs on his own torso trying to make the guy at the checkout understand what we had eaten for dinner!”

The Japanese, while mostly interested in the rock band, were also fascinated with the size and girth of Clemson defensive lineman William Perry. At the press outing prior to the 1982 game, many of the Japanese media thought Perry was a Sumo wrestler, not a Clemson football player.
Consider that the United States, less than 40 years earlier, was embroiled in war with Japan which resulted in dropping two atomic bombs makes it even harder to imagine the fact that Clemson was playing football on that soil. When Clemson played Texas A&M in College Station two years ago, it was strange to the see the Tigers outside of the Atlantic region. But seeing Clemson play in Japan makes the trip to College Station seem like a walk across the street. And it makes for a very bizarre experience to say the least.

#8 November 15, 1986 Press Box Coaches
Danny Ford and Bobby Ross coached a decisive ACC game from the Press Box in Baltimore as punishment for openly criticizing officials at the end of separate games. Both coaches were suspended from coaching the game from the sideline, thus banished to the Press Box to lead their teams from several hundreds of feet in the air.

Coach Ford’s suspension was due to an ugly incident at the end of the 1985 game in Death Valley against Maryland. The play clock had expired before the snap of the ball on a play the Terrapins were running late in the game. Coach Ford, to put it mildly, went crazy. CBS, who was broadcasting the game nationally, picked up every word coming from Ford’s mouth as he berated the nearest official. Moments later, Clemson players scuffled with Maryland players after a kickoff that also made headline news.

Coach Ross, having chased the officials off the field following a Maryland game with N.C. State earlier in 1986, would also serve a suspension by the ACC.

As a joke, cruel irony, or happenstance, the two coaches would serve their suspensions during the 1986 Clemson game against Maryland in Baltimore. As it turned out, this was a critical game for both teams as Clemson needed a win or a tie to win the ACC Championship. If there was any doubt as to whether Coach Ford was still running the team from the press box, all questions were dismissed while watching the very conservative approach to the game for the Tigers. The game would end in a 17-17 tie (Clemson forcing the tie), thus giving Clemson the ACC title.
The image of Coach Ford up above the playing surface, coupled with not seeing him pull grass on the sidelines while chewing tobacco, is an image that is truly bizarre in Clemson football history.

#7 December 31, 1993 West Wins Without Knowing Names
Try to imagine a situation where you come to coach a football team on four weeks notice that consists of no players you have recruited, signed, coached, or even knew. That is exactly what you had on the last day of 1993 when Tommy West coached the Tigers in the Peach Bowl against Kentucky. West, taking over from the recently fired Ken Hatfield, was charged with coaching a team he hardly knew in a bowl game with the equivalent practice time of 10 days.

This was a bizarre moment for Coach West, I’m sure. But it was also an almost unprecedented event in college football history. West was only the 6th coach (at the time) to make his head coaching debut for a school in a bowl game and only the 2nd coach to ever become head coach for a bowl game after not serving as an assistant at that school during the regular season.

During the initial practices at Clemson, West had all the player names taped onto their helmets so he could refer to them during drills. As the practices moved to Atlanta, the names remained on the helmets and Coach West did his best to remember as much as he could during interviews with the media. To their credit, the assistant coaches under Hatfield (many of them still hoping for a spot on West’s staff) hung around to continue coaching for the bowl game. To West’s credit, he allowed the assistant coaches to take control of game planning and play calling. The game would have been a debacle had either of the two above scenarios not taken place.

On the sideline during the game, West served as part cheerleader and part fifth wheel. His excitement as Clemson’s new coach was evident, even when things looked dim for the prospects of winning the game late against the Wildcats. West and the Hatfield staff were rewarded for handling things with class, as Clemson scored with 20 seconds left in the game to defeat the Wildcats. It was the latest touchdown to win a game ever in Clemson football history.
Although I’m sure Coach West could not tell you to this day what the play call was, mainly because he did not know the vocabulary of Hatfield’s play book!

#6 December 4th, 1978 Do Tell, Mr. Pell
Charley Pell certainly did his part in putting Clemson football on the map. The Tigers were fresh off an ACC Championship and had won 10 games for the first time since 1948 when rumors started to rumble that Pell was talking with Florida about their head coaching vacancy.
At the time, Pell was as well liked as any Clemson football coach had ever been (minus Frank Howard). His cigar purchase after the win in Athens was the stuff of legends, and Pell seemed poised to take Clemson to the elite level of college football, which was great news for the IPTAY loyalists.

So you can imagine the relief of Clemson fans on the evening of December 3rd when Pell put the rumors of moving to Florida to rest in an exclusive interview with the late Jim Phillips. In Phillips’ book, Still Roaring, Jim relays the conversation he had with Coach Pell on the evening of December 3rd. Jim called Pell and directly asked him if he was going to leave Clemson for Florida. Pell said no, and Jim followed up by asking if he could come over to Pell’s house and get him to say it on tape. Pell agreed and told Jim to come over.

Phillips took his camera directly to Pell’s house and they set it up in the living room in a cozy spot. Jim started rolling the tape and asked Pell point blank, “Charley, rumor has it that you’re headed to the University of Florida. What is your response to that?”
Pell calmly looked into the camera and said, “Tiger fans, this is your old buddy, Charley Pell. I wouldn’t lie to you. Charley Pell is here to stay. I’m a Clemson Tiger.”

Less than 24 hours later, Pell was boarding a University of Florida plane at Greenville/Spartanburg Airport as the new coach of the Gators. Clemson fans were stunned at first, then angered. The vile directed at Pell (rightfully so) was so bad you would have thought Pell was the leader of Iran or Russia. In Still Roaring, Jim’s book with Ken Tysiac, Phillips reveals conversations he had with Pell in 2001, which explained exactly what was going on during that fateful day. The book is a must read for all Clemson fans, so I’ll leave the rest of the story on Pell for you to read in the book.

The late Charley Pell, to his credit, regretted the entire situation and came back to Clemson to repent late in his life before he passed away. To our fan’s credit, they received Pell warmly as time healed the wounds and Pell is now remembered (rightfully so) as an integral early cog to the 1981 National Championship team. And, of course, Pell leaving Clemson gave us Danny Ford. And that turned out pretty well, even if Ford’s starting point came days after one of Clemson football’s most bizarre moments.

#5-#1 Will Be Posted Later This Week

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