Luring the Rat into a Trap: History is made in Littlejohn
There are few things more life-changing than witnessing "history being made" first-hand. Of course, almost anything can qualify as history because almost everything makes the "history books." When Brittney Spears shaving her head becomes a global media event, anything of any pseudo-relevance can be news and thus part of recorded history. Wednesday night was not irrelevant, insignificant, or forgettable by any stretch of the imagination.
By all accounts Wednesday February 4, 2009 should've been nothing out of the ordinary. The umpteenth meeting of Duke (19-1, 6-1) and Clemson (18-2, 5-2) at Littlejohn Coliseum in Clemson, SC should've ended just as a long string of others before it. A couple of things were different, but not worth considering: both Duke and Clemson were ranked in the top ten by ESPN/USA Today (3 and 10 respectively). But everybody knows that Clemson collapses. Already this year the Tigers had succumbed to higher-ranked perennial ACC powerhouses UNC (at Chapel Hill) and Wake Forest (in Winston Salem) as expected. Clemson is not ACC basketball royalty. Everybody knows it. Duke, on the other hand, is. This game, although not necessarily a cake walk, should've been another win for Duke. Business as usual.
The trip up to Clemson for a weekday game, especially one starting so late at night (9PM), was not necessarily something I'd usually even consider. I'd never been to Littlejohn for a basketball game. I graduated there, but that's it. I'd seen the Tigers play basketball before, just never in Clemson. My buddy got four tickets to this huge game and I did not even double-think taking the opportunity to see the Tigers play in person. I was going no matter how late I got home and how early I had to get up for work the next day.
Three of us left Atlanta at 4:30PM and headed to Tiger town. It was cold and was only going to get colder in the teens (about 40 degrees too cold for me). We got there around 6:15. I was starving. We ate some pizza and then headed to a local clothing and college paraphernalia shop (the only one open) where I got a winter hat. After my head had been adequately protected from the elements, we walked to a watering hole we frequent when we go to football games. After a couple of fermented beverages we walked from downtown to Littlejohn. It was cold breezy bitter. No matter. Spirits were high.
That's what was so interesting. This game was not a source of stress for me. I wanted to win and hoped that we would, but deep inside (to be perfectly honest) didn't believe we would. I had convinced myself that the experience itself and not the game's outcome would make the whole night worthwhile. Much like the previous game less than a week ago when Virginia Tech led the Tigers (in Blacksburg to an electrified "black-out" crowd) by 15 mid-second half, I convinced myself that I wouldn't let the loss sting too much. I was hooting and hollering as the ticker expired and we won the game by four points. Could my lower expectations yield another unexpected win?
It might be as good a time as any to mention I took my new SLR to the game to try to get some action shots to learn how to take them by taking them. So, for the better part of the night I'd been hauling around this camera with my 55-250mm lens (my big one) looking like some sort of tourist or dirt poor freelance photographer (because my big lens is only a couple of hundred dollars and not a couple thousand like those nice white ones pros have). I'd told my buddy I had a feeling we'd have a chance to see Coach Dabo Sweeney at the game. I had no doubt. If I'd even thought about the ridiculousness of my belief I would've convinced myself otherwise. The coliseum seats thousands and real probability of this chance encounter was ridiculously low especially considering that Wednesday was also National Signing Day and Coach Sweeney was likely to be busy or exhausted or just plain unavailable for the game.
We walked in the arena and began walking to our seats. It was almost 9PM. The players were already being introduced to the roars of the sold-out crowd. Not two entrances from our destination, who do I see on his way out? That's right; it was Clemson Head Football Coach Dabo Sweeney. As I noticed him, he stopped to say hello to a couple of people heading in. I waited until he finished and before he headed for the exit, approached him, shook his hand and asked for a picture. He obliged. Sweet.
Excited beyond words we got to our seats: midway up, on the isle, right side of the court, behind the TV announcers, TV view point excellent unobstructed view to both baskets. The crowd was wild. I got wild. And then the game started and things got even wilder.
I can honestly say the game went by in a blur, a breeze, a fleeting moment. Unlike watching on TV, my eyes almost never looked up to see the scoreboard. I guess I was expecting a box in the bottom of my view with the running tally. It never came. After dunks and threes and a solid press defense, it was half-time. I look up and this is what I see:
No frigging way. We're up by twelve. I didn't even think twice about it. The memory of erasing Virginia Tech's 15 point lead reminded me that 12 points can be reversed in seconds. Momentum in basketball is so important in my opinion much more palpable and evident than in other sports.
And then the second half started. If the first half was crazy, the second half was asylum-worthy. The place was going to collapse. It was loud. The team was inspired. And somewhere in there no telling when because I continued to ignore the scoreboard the Clemson Tigers completely broke the spirit of third-ranked Duke. They were crushed. Was it the press? Forced turn-overs? Oliver Purnell's coaching? TO and his threes? Booker's power? KC Rivers' leadership? The bench? The crowd? It was all of it and all of them and all of us.
By the time the buzzer made its final sound, Clemson had dismantled a sound Duke squad 74-47. History had been made. Duke had not lost by that large a margin since 1990. Clemson had not beaten Duke at home since 1997. It is worth mentioning that the Tigers beat Duke in the semis of the ACC Championship last year and thus have now beaten them twice in a row, but had previously lost 22 straight against them. The list of other notable stats and history-making figures is long and not necessarily worth citing. Fact is: Clemson annihilated Duke and I was there to see it. And without repeating the things I said about rat-face and his parade of floppers, that beatdown couldn't have happened to a more deserving group of people.
Oh, what a night. Early February back in 2009 It was awesome - the best of time. I'll remember what a night.
20 down 11:21 to go - I'm down with OP
Basketball at Clemson has provided little more than a few stellar performances in the past ten years. Since the departure of Rick Barnes, the program has been under constant rebuilding. When I attended Clemson, the team enjoyed Barnes' success with three back-to-back NCAA appearances. I was spoiled. After he defected to Texas, things went back to the way they used to be. Sad times.
Playing in the ACC leaves very little room for error. Dynasties are hard to topple. Larry Shyatt could not move the team forward in five years. Mediocrity had temporarily set in when things changed. In 2003, a new chapter in Clemson Basketball began. Coach Oliver Purnell was hired.
With a track record of improving teams that spanned decades, Coach OP arrived at Clemson with a clear goal the NCAA tournament. The task wasn't easy and wouldn't come immediately. The first year was rough (10-18 overall and 3-13 in the ACC) worse than Shyatt's last year. Starts are never easy. In 2004/05 the team finished 16-16 overall and 5-11 in the ACC. This record resulted in the team making the NIT (First Round). In 2005/06 the team improved to 19-15 overall and 7-9 in the ACC, resulting in another NIT bid (this time making it to the Second Round). Last year (06/07), the Tigers were the last undefeated team in the nation (17-0) before hitting the rough ACC. They finished 25-11 overall and 7-9 in the ACC. This time, the team was said to have been one win away from making it into the NCAA tourney. Another NIT bid ensued this time the Tigers lost in the Finals against West Virginia. Sustained progress year after year, so what was to come in 2007/08?
The year started full of promise. The talent was in place. Basketball seasons are long well at least by football standards. The team was ranked. Some early wins against Purdue and Mississippi State were not much then, but would mean a whole lot later (RPI). Then, a loss to Ole Miss stopped the train - okay, so we won't be the last undefeated team this year. Two double-OT losses against year-long top five UNC proved hard to swallow. A loss against Duke and its floppers was also disheartening. Three were unfathomable Charlotte (hang-over from first UNC loss), Miami and Florida State. Given injuries and schedule unbalancing, anything could've been expected.
And then came Sunday night March the 2nd: Senior Night in Maryland. The Terrapins needed a win to improve their chances at an NCAA bid. Their team was loaded with talent. The air in the Comcast Center was electric. This was not going to be pretty for Clemson it couldn't be. The Tigers warmed up in orange, but showed up to play in purple uniforms for the first time in decades. A sign? It sure didn't look like it, for a while anyway.
Fast-forward to half time: the Tigers trail by eleven. The score could be much worse. If Maryland hadn't turned the ball over as many times as they did, they would've led by thirty. Clemson couldn't score. The crowd was loud. The crowd was having a ball.
Fast-forward to the second half with 11:21 to go Maryland leads by twenty points. Twenty, 20 points, that's right. And then, just like all the great comebacks written in lore, something happened. Momentum swung drastically. The Tigers got hot. Mays got hot. Booker got hot. Oglesby got hot. The defense stepped up. Full court press yielded turnovers. Misses yielded rebounds. Fouls yielded baskets. For Clemson, everything that could go right did. For Maryland, well not so much.
There was less than a minute to play when, trailing by two, James Mays stole the ball in an ill-conceived pass and finished with a dunk. Tied game. Maryland got the ball back with a bit more than forty seconds. After going down the court, a previously-hot Vasquez could not capitalize. The Tigers caught the rebound and took a time out. The clock showed 14.8 seconds. Inbound pass. The play was supposed to go inside to Booker. Instead, it went to Oglesby, who, with just over two seconds on the clock, lobbed a three-point shot with a guy right on his face. The shot: good. Maryland gets the ball and can barely make it past half-court when they take a desperation shot that misses the back-board on the buzzer. Ball Game: Tigers win 73-70 (to date, 21-7 overall and 9-5 in the ACC). Crowd: stunned.
They call it their worse home loss ever. I can see it. How does a fundamentally sound team coached by a legend squander a twenty point lead with only eleven minutes to go? Hard to fathom. Hard to explain. A joy to watch.
So what does this mean? Clemson sits alone in the ACC's third place behind #1 UNC and #5 Duke. No ACC team with at least nine conference wins or has missed the NCAA tournament, ever. The case has been made. The chips must fall. All things considered, Clemson is now playing for seeding. There are two more games before the ACC tournament at Georgia Tech and at home vs. Virginia Tech. The team can win both games. They can also lose both. Anything can certainly happen. What is known for sure is that this team has played with unmatched resolve. The heart is there. The coaching is certainly there. The talent is there. The Maryland game showed us that this team can fight back and is in it until the buzzer.
So after three years of improving in the NIT, Clemson might yet find the pattern taking them dancing. How much of this can be attributed to Coach Purnell? A lot. A whole lot. The man has come to Clemson and has been able to recruit players the caliber of Mays, Stitt, and Oglesby. He has coached teams with improving yearly records and post-season play. And now, we await a very likely NCAA bid. Things are good, but there's still some basketball to play.
Where it has been easy to waiver my confidence in Coach Tommy Bowden in the past, I have never second-guessed Coach Purnell. The man knows his stuff. He's a class act individual that loves Clemson and is a heck of a basketball coach to boot. All things said, I can certainly belt out with full confidence, "I'm down with OP. Yeah, you know me."
I'm sure they'd gotten sick of hearing from me at the Admissions Office by the time I finally got the news I was longing to receive. After hanging up I began jumping up and down in jubilation. It was a sunny morning. Either I was ditching class or I didn't have any scheduled that day. I remember being in my pajamas. It couldn't have been later than eleven. Although some details are fuzzy, what I do remember quite fondly are the feelings rushing through me once I found out that I had been accepted into Clemson. "I'm out of here," was all my excited mind could string together.
My dad was a very early adopter to the whole Internet thing. He was probably one of the first private users in our country. I remember he had a Compuserve account. These were the days of the non-graphical Internet where all browsing was done in DOS-like screens. I used this archaic method of research (how far we've come) to request information from some colleges in the southeast that offered my major. Amongst the list were Georgia Tech, NC State, Florida State, Wake Forest, UNC, and Clemson (these are the only ones that come to mind). As a side note: Was I ACC-bound or what? ACC-biased? By the way, at the time I didn't know or care about the ACC or even college sports. How times have changed.
I started the search late. Furthermore, documents took forever to get to South America. To make things worse, even once they made it in, I took my good ole time to apply. I don't know what it was. I really wanted out, but procrastination trumped that urgency. When I got serious about transferring, all but one of the application deadlines had not passed. That's when I set sights on Clemson.
The telling of the story usually jumps from here onto the moment when I got accepted. That's not particularly accurate. I don't omit this piece of history because I'm particularly ashamed of it, but because it's not necessarily relevant to how I ended in Clemson. It is, though, an interesting series of events worth disclosing.
When I mentioned the moment when "I got serious about transferring," I failed to disclaim I was still not serious enough to do any significant amount of work to accomplish that goal. When I look back at that time and frame of mind, I cannot understand my lack of motivation something had lulled me into a state of comfortable misery. A friend who was also thinking about transferring abroad hooked me up with a service that specialized in getting folks like me into American colleges.
And so, my dad unloaded a few hundred dollars and this company gathered all my information and started shooting off applications to schools in their "network of influence." While they were busy trying to get me into places I was not necessarily wanting to go to, I took the information they had gathered for the other applications to complete the one for Clemson.
I remember it as if it were yesterday. The company (the owner mostly) had a really good relationship with people at the University of Oklahoma. They were very positive about getting me in there. I watched an information tape about the place. At the time Norman might as well been the moon as far as I was concerned. There was nothing particularly close and a trip home from there was going to be a multi-legged mess. Still, my options dwindling, I figured if I had to be a Sooner, I would. After all, the goal was to transfer into a respectable American university and that they were.
The wheels fell off that wagon around the time of the Oklahoma City bombings. I found out in the vicinity of that date that things with OU were not going to work out for me. They did not accept my transfer into their Engineering School, but did offer an entry into their Business Management program. I was advised that in time I could transfer into Engineering. That, I wasn't going to do: take one step forward to take two steps back. This was not good news although I really didn't want to go to Oklahoma (no offense to anyone who happens to be a Sooner). I just knew this place wasn't for me. Still, my options were limited.
Suddenly, good news well, some news at least. A small Lutheran college in Iowa, Wartburg College, had sent me their acceptance letter. "Is this what it has come to?" I asked myself. My dad was starting to waiver. It was going to be tough to sell him on a switch of majors to go to OU, but selling him on Wartburg was going to be absolutely impossible. I studied up on it, and learned Wartburg was a really good three-year Liberal Arts college that fed students into places like the University of Illinois. Still, if Norman, Oklahoma might as well been the moon, then Waverly, Iowa was certainly Pluto (once recognized as the farthest planet in out Solar System for those not old enough to know so). Did I mention I also got a $2000 soccer scholarship? I used to play a lot of soccer, but that didn't necessarily translate into scholarship-worthy talent. I guess they figured anyone from South America would be better at the sport than your run-of-the-mill Wartburg student. Perhaps they were right. I doubt it.
So there I was staring down at the two colleges that had agreed to take me. I didn't want to go to either of them. My dad was certainly going to put up a fight to pay for me to go to either of them. The company I had hired to help was out of options and the owner was already talking about applying to some other places for the following semester or year. As far as they were concerned, they had delivered to me two acceptance letters and I was being picky (considering my less than stellar college transcript at the time).
And then there was Clemson my last hope. The one application those people had not touched. This was the one school of those left I had actually pre-selected (mostly due to geographic location and the offering of my major). All other alternatives exhausted, I began hassling their admissions office. I called very frequently once every couple of days. I just wanted to know if they had made a decision on my application. I needed to know ASAP because time was running out. I needed to know if there was going to be a place for me in the fall or if I was bound to stay another year at home and at Andes.
The end of the story has already been documented. I got in and in a few months was well on my way to that wonderful place nestled between Lake Hartwell and the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. I never visited. I never even saw a picture. All I knew I'd read from one of those phonebook-sized college guides. I also knew that the campus was relatively close to Atlanta (a city I had once before visited). Mostly, I believed this to be my main opportunity to jump-start a stagnant life, to start anew even. That was all I needed to know I guess. And that's why I "chose" Clemson.
Later that summer I found out a classmate from my high school (girlfriend of one of my best friends at that time) was attending the University of South Carolina. She and her roommate (a South Carolinian) were down on break and we hung out a good bit. We got close during that time. It was a comforting feeling to know that at least I had a few friends in the state.
Like so many other things in my life, it all came together as if it were meant to be. I believe it was part of my life plan to end up in Clemson. Too many things fell into place just right for this to happen. I am a different person, a much better person, because of this experience. It's amazing to realize how close I was from not ever having that opportunity. Clemson will forever hold a very special place in my heart for many reasons, but none more important than being a gateway to a new life. And that's why I will always feel indebted to Clemson for choosing me.
Working Hard on Labor Day
A spicy stew of enthusiasm, nervousness, and hope cooking for months had long boiled over by the time the clock struck 8PM and the Tigers kicked off the 2007 season. Labor Day. Prime Time. Bowden Bowl. Eighteenth-ranked FSU. (I'm starting to rehash a previous cube, I know)
By noon the wheels of my car were wildly spinning northward, up I-85, on my way to Clemson. Arriving early to a big game is key if one doesn't want to sit in bumper to bumper traffic. We made it in without much trouble by 1:30PM. First, Nick's for a couple of cold ones. Then, Judge Keller's for some supplies. I have somehow misplaced my old car flags so I repurchased a couple. I also got two T-shirts and a couple of car magnets (stolen during the GA Tech game last year). Downtown Clemson was orange, busy, alive - brightened by a scorching sun.
By 3PM my friend and I went to his parent-in-law's tailgate spot where we hung out eating, chatting, and drinking until 7PM. I will never forget the electricity in the air that I sensed at the 2006 GA Tech game. This time I didn't feel the same "goose-bumping" sensation, but there was something that calmed my nerves. By game time I was confident (not overconfident) that we'd walk away victors.
We made the trek to our seats though untamed currents of orange masses flowing in all directions. On the way we crossed the band, marching around the stadium, playing Tiger Rag Clemson's fight song. I couldn't believe that time was upon us once again. Hearing that song playing live a few feet away from me made it real. As I stood there, the sun still hanging on to the horizon above Lake Hartwell, the crowd pumping fists and chanting ("C-L-E-M-S-O [swirl]-N! Fight Tigers! Fight Tigers! Fight, fight, fight!!"), it finally sunk in. Our season had begun.
The stadium was packed. Considering it was a night game before a work day, I couldn't believe 80,000 would be there. They were. A patch of FSU maroon tarnished an orange sea that flooded the stands. Pomp and ceremony opened the event the convocation, Pledge of Allegiance, National Anthem, announcements. And then madness
By the time the players got out of the bus and onto the top of the Hill, Death Valley was a madhouse releasing waves and waves of penned up energy. Then, the "Most exciting 25 seconds in college football, as the tigers touched Howard's Rock and ran down the Hill. I have a cube on the works that talks about this tradition one of the most storied and known in college football.
For a recap of the game go here. All I want to say is our offense played inspired in the first half. Our defense played great all game long. After leading 24-3 at the half, the game got pretty dicey towards the end. Some key injuries hampered a dominating offense especially during the third quarter. Even when things seemed to look real bad, something within kept me positive. Even having witnessed first hand last minute (even second) defeats in the past, I still believed our defense would prevail. And it did. The game was a true labor of love even for the fans. But once it was over, all was good. Final Score: Clemson 24 - FSU 18
The season is young and I have lived through enough ups and downs in the past to foolishly make any blanket statements or bold predictions. The team looked good, but there's always room for improvement. It's nice to start with a division win. Ugly or not, a win over a previously indomitable FSU is always welcome, even if we've won four if the last five. And even as this victory finds us ranked between 25th and 26th in all polls, we must take one game at a time. Go Tigers! Beat Lousiana-Monroe. Remember Michigan. Even the seemingly small ones count.
Created: 9/5/2007 Last Edited: 9/7/2007
History once again upon us
History tends to put us at similar crossroads from time to time. As I pondered today about our recent past, two opening games come to mind. After a disappointing end to a season, the long months from January to September stretch even longer. A stew of dissent, opinion, and expectation simmer month after month, only to boil over right as a handful of leaves begin to think about turning into those orange shades we bleed. Anticipation is as high as spirits before the first snap. Energy is palpable and the atmosphere is electric. The birth of a season brings the promise of possibilities; the unblemished enthusiasm of a team that has not suffered its first setback, a team that has not shown its first weakness. The first game after a bad preceding season carries extra emotional baggage. It brings with it the hope for things to be better. More than hope, it brings with it the demand for improvement. "There is no way but up. The team can't do any worse. Et al."
The year was 2003. Previous season record: 7-6; conference: 4-4. The last thing in memory: a drubbing (55-15) at the hands of Texas Tech in the Tangerine Bowl. Opening Day: home in Death Valley against archrival UGA (team that barely beat the Tigers between the hedges 21-28 the previous year). Noon game. Expectations before the game were as high as the mercury that day.
The year was 2005. Previous season record: 6-5; conference: 4-4. The last thing in memory: a brawl with our in state "rival" (a record of 63-37-4 hardly makes for a rivalry though) broadcast throughout the nation for all to see. Despite being bowl-eligible, the University backed out of post-season play as punishment for the altercation. Opening Day: home in Death Valley against out-of-conference ranked opponent Texas A&M (team that had beaten the Tigers the previous year 27-6 in College Station). Saturday night game. Prime time. National audience. Expectations as deafening as the three fighter jets that buzzed the stadium that dusk during the pre-game ceremory honoring our military.
Two different outcomes set up two seasons that were in essence quite similar by the time they were done. Georgia creamed Clemson that scorching August day (30-0). In last minute heroics after a perfect game, our kicker punched a last second winning field goal to beat Texas A&M (25-24). The energy after both of those games was polar opposite. Doom and gloom versus high hopes of greatness. Ironically, 2003 yielded the best year for the Tigers in recent memory (9-4, Peach Bowl Champions); 2005 comes second in that list (8-4, Champ Sports Bowl Champions).
The similarities between those years and this one about to start are quite striking. Though most of the major characters are different, the same feeling is there, hovering above the valley. There is a sense of urgency, of a desperate need for things to improve. There is incredible promise in the legs of two of the most electrifying running backs ever to share a backfield. There's unbound optimism in the talent of a young quarterback that may or may not get to play a significant role in the team's offense. There is much speculation about an inexperienced offensive line. There's incredible faith in a defense full of potential stars. But beyond all that, there is the memory of a team that, when all cylinders fired at the same time, showed us, showed the nation how good it could be; there's the hope that this year the talent on the squad can be tapped and harnessed and used effectively. Because in recent years the problem has not been the lack of talent, it has been either the lack of a good plan or the inability to execute on it.
So here we are in 2007. Previous season record: 8-5; conference record: 5-3. The last thing in memory: a loss to Kentucky (28-20) in a mid-tier bowl (Music City) capping off the collapse of a season that showed incredible promise up until the eigth game. Opening Day: home in Death Valley against Florida State. Monday night game. Prime time. National audience. Bowden Bowl IX. Clemson has won the last three of four matches against the once-invincible Seminoles. The expectations are as vast as the cosmos above a clear summer Clemson night.
What will it be Tigers? What will happen that night, when eight full months of withdrawal come to an end? What will happen when those padded warriors, those children we pin our hopes on rub the rock and run down the hill to the screams of 80,000 frenzied fans? What will it be by the time the band strikes Tiger Rag as we pump our fists and scream out letters? What will it be by the time 80,000 of my closest friends, my sisters and my brothers, sing the Alma Mater? Will we be riding high by the strike of midnight? Will we be demanding a new coach as we line bumper to bumper on our way out of town? When it's all said and done will we leave it all on the field? What will it be? Will it be UGA? Will it be Texas A&M? Will it be a new beginning with a new outcome? Will it be more of the same? Will this be the year? Will this be the year?
Time will answer all these things. Not many days to go. And despite that one result, time in turn will also answer all other questions the really important ones - by the time December shows its wintery face. Patience is virtue. Sitting on almost eight full months of accrued virtue, I'm ready. Are you? It's time for Clemson football. It's time to make history. Are our Tigers ready?
Ding-dong the academic year is dead. If consistency is the key to sports, then Clemson deserves some sort of award. Through all high-profile men's sports, the Tiger teams performed as if reading from the same script. Each season started with great promise. The teams performed well overall and looked poised to go places. Then, just barely, didn't get to capitalize on previous success. I can refer to this (academic year 2006-2007), as the year of could've been, but never was for Clemson sports. The short and sweet recap:
Football promising, powerful, strong start, peak against Georgia Tech, one victory short of ACC Championship, loss to South Carolina after comfortable lead, sucky bowl bid and a loss there to finish it all.
Basketball last undefeated team in the country, great team chemistry, good wins, strong play, horrible at making free-throws, terrible finish, barely missing the NCAA invite, got to the finals of the NIT, lost to West Virginia.
Baseball preseason number one, good wins, dumb losses, back and forth, got strong towards the end, injured players came back, good showing in the ACC Championship, breezed through Regionals, failed to advance at the Super Regionals, no Omaha.
Golf contended in the ACC Championship, played hard in NCAA qualifiers, but lost in a playoff and didn't make it into the tourney. Individually, freshman Kyle Stanley, one of our players, was posed to win it all, but fell back one stroke in the final holes and finished second.
Soccer reached the Final Four good, but not good enough to win it all.
Now it's time to move along. The year finished as it started, but it's over now. It is time to turn the page. Will 2007-2008 bode better? Gosh I hope so (and pray it does).
A Great Rivalry Yields the Greatest Highs and Lows
I find it interesting that both my best and worst gameday experiences have come in Clemson when the Tigers have faced Georgia Tech. There's something about games with Tech whether it's bragging rights for a year at home or how close they have been in late history (except a few lopsided wins in our favor) that makes them extra special. I think it also has to do with Tech being just like Clemson, year in and year out. As we do, they win some they weren't supposed to win and then they lose some they weren't supposed to lose. Heck, they lost to Duke in 2003 (to everyone's ridicule) and we followed it up the next year by repeating their feat (also to everyone's ridicule). There's something about these two teams that makes them similar and their matchups close and exciting. There's a lot about them that makes their games particularly special to me.
The worst game I have ever been to is easy to single out Clemson - Tech, 9/11/2004. It was a beautiful day for a mid-afternoon. We'd gotten tickets from a season ticket holder that need to unload them at the eleventh hour. These were the best seats I've ever had (other than my one trip to the West End Zone although these had a much better view) 45 yard line, half-way up the bottom deck, north stands. Everything was set for a perfect day.
The game is a blur to me. It was a close back and forth until the bitter end, with Clemson finding a way to get on top every time. Then, in the last 30 seconds of play, the impossible happened. Reach for inches not reached, a bad snap, bad coverage, friggin' Calvin Johnson - who the heck wants to remember accurately anyway. You want a recap? Go here. The debacle of all debacles happened and in the last seconds of that game. It's almost like the clock stopped and an unlikely string of events, some that all had to fall in place in that one unique sequence, happened. A game of football has never made me feel sick to my stomach that is until that day. I wanted to throw up. It was a disaster. Final Score: Tech 28- 24
The walk to my car, which was as far away as humanly possible from the stadium, was pure misery. The drive home, late at night, was mental torture. I didn't speak a single word. More than once it crossed my mind to swerve into a ditch (dramatically speaking of course). Boy, I was pissed. I'm going to move on before I start getting upset about it again.
Fast-forward two years: October the 21st, my birthday, 2006; Homecoming; the ESPN Gameday crew on site for the first time in Clemson history. Arrived around noon for a 8:30PM game. Arrived to a long day ahead of sitting back, talking, drinking (some), eating tailgating with friends. As we walked through downtown, the TV trio picked Clemson to win the game the roar of the crowd, gathered in Bowman Field, was impossible to ignore. The atmosphere was electric that crisp October day. There was something in the air that I can't explain, something powerful. The anticipation was like none I've ever felt there before. The week before there'd been a whole online chat room frenzy about students wanting a "Purple Out" going against the school "Solid Orange" campaign. After much heated debate, Clemson was as orange as could be it was beautiful.
The sun began setting and we began walking to the stadium. On the way I received a couple of birthday calls my dad was watching the game on TV (a bad omen, but could this be the one to break the curse?). On the way in, the people around us shared a beer with us we slammed it and made our way up to our seats. Then, to my pleasure (because God knows I think they look sharp from time to time), the team comes out in all purple. That was the last thing I needed to see to know that it was going to be a game to remember. A national audience in prime time, a Death Valley packed to the brim, all-purple uniforms what more could I ask for?
At half time things were still close, keeping it interesting. Then, as the second half unfolded, it became the James Davis CJ Spiller show (read more here). This has to be the most electric duo of running backs in the country Thunder and Lightning. They absolutely dismantled a seasoned Georgia Tech defense. Some of the runs, specially the 5 yard reception that Spiller took 45 yards to the end zone, were just mind-boggling. The defense stepped up. Calvin Johnson, a future first-round pick (along with Clemson's own Gaines Adams), was shut down. He touched the ball once in a running play for not much yardage. Reggie Ball looked like the zero he is and always was. It's hard to verbally explain the happiness that evening recalls. Final Score: Clemson 31 7
That day marked the peak for our 2006 season. Unfortunately, after that victory, the wheels came right off and we finished the season in embarrassing fashion. We couldn't help but wonder what had happened and where the team that had pinnacled that night had gone. Regardless, I still cherish that memory of that day when we could do no wrong; where I got to see in person, and live in flesh a Tiger Nation united and proud. This certainly eclipsed the other Tech-Clemson memory lived first-hand: 9/29/2001 - Woody Danzler single-handedly beating a powerful, 9th ranked Georgia Tech in Atlanta in overtime (47-44).
Created: 6/15/2007 Last Edited: 9/7/2007
There's Something in these Hills
Times when so many things seem to be coming unglued are disquieting times. These are disquieting times.
It always intrigues me how nearly any specific condition of nearly any specific time can find some application in a book that, essentially, was handed down to us by word of mouth through century.
I believe it says somewhere, "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills from whence cometh my help."
My thoughts often wander through these upper South Carolina hills that shelter the University that forms a common bond for many thousands of people who have studied here, or taught here or worked here.
There's something in these hills that has touched every one of them, something that has rubbed off on them in varying degrees, something that has built within the breasts of all Clemson men and women an enduring spark akin to an eternal pride.
There's something in these hills. It was here when a handful of fledgling faculty members greeted a relatively small band of 446 students more than 80 years ago. That was shortly after convict labor had completed an administration building and clock tower that still dominate these Blue Ridge foothills with a timelessness and serenity that impart inspiration and strength anew each time they are looked upon.
There's something in these hills that has endeared itself to an endless procession of administrators, teachers, students, secretaries and workmen. Hundreds of names pass through my consciousness, names of people who gave selflessly of themselves to build the institution nestled here and who at one and the same time mined the priceless something the hills contain and returned to them still more of it.
I have my names and I see once more the faces and feel again the beloved personalities that go with them. If you will but close your eyes and drift awhile you too will recall the names and faces and personalities of those who meant the most to you while the privilege of being among them was yours.
There's something in these hills and from them we have drawn the power to transcend the stresses and strains that tug away to make things come unglued in these disquieting times, the power to cut through such modern concepts - and such modern facts - as generation gaps, communication gaps and ideological gaps.
Where is the generation gap when an alumnus who spent four years in these hills before the turn of the century says, "Next to my church and my home, I love Clemson University beyond all other institutions this side of heaven" and when a graduate-to-be says, "Excepting only my parents, Clemson has meant more to me and done more for me than anything that has touched my life."
There's something in these hills that has bound together a man of over ninety and a boy under twenty, something that has given them a common ground on which to stand and a start toward bridging, and eliminating, any gap or any stress or any strain that might try to make unglued whatever they seek for themselves as they move out of these hills into the mountains, the plains, the oceans, the forests, the skies and the storms of life.
We have all drawn from these hills something to suggest to youth that those over thirty can be trusted and to indicate to those over thirty that the qualities of youth are as sound today as they ever were.
There is something in these hills that brings together and binds together and holds together men and women of all persuasions, of all heights, sizes, weights, and cultural backgrounds - something that cuts across every difference, spans every gap, penetrates every wall - something that makes a man or a woman stand taller, feel better and say with a high pride to all within earshot, "I went to Clemson."
There is something in these hills that you and I can't define and others can't understand. A wave of warmth always surges through me when "outsiders" say, "I don't know what it is about you Clemson people, but your undying love for Clemson is admired by everyone I know."
There's something in these hills and I suspect that's what it is - the ability of an institution through the unending dedication and greatness of its people - its administration, its faculty, its staff, its students and alumni - to impart to all it touches a respect, an admiration, an affection that stands firm in disquieting times when things around it give impressions of coming unglued.
Yes, there's something in these hills where the Blue Ridge yawns its greatness.