It’s a sad day when if you can remember when Clemson was good in football, you are showing your age.
When I was a kid Clemson was dominant. Just by showing up they won most of their games. Danny Ford walked the sideline, spitting chewing tobacco, kicking ass and taking names. National title in 1981, top ten finishes, ACC titles, the Tigers were a force to be reckoned with- and I hated them.
One of the things I inherited from my father is a sick condition that causes me to root against our hometown teams. I guess I enjoy seeing people around me miserable. Plus we were Virginia Tech fans back when Virginia Tech wasn’t very good. Clemson used to demolish us. Now, thankfully, that has changed.
But the longer I live in New York City, the more empathy I have for the Clemson Tigers and their fans. The better they are, the more they are on ESPN, the more I am reminded of home. Of course now it’s to watch everyone talk about how overrated they are which isn’t nearly as fun as it once was. And watching the Orange faithful pour out of Death Valley after another crushing defeat, formerly one of my favorite things to see, now makes me a little…sad. Those are my people- I grew up with them, I know people at the game, they deserve better then this.
When did this happen? When did the Tigers go from being the this football monolith to the team that got slaughtered by Alabama on national television and got beat by Maryland (Maryland?) at home.
September 18, 1988 is when it happened. Sept 18 1988, a little over 20 years ago, the beginning of the end of dominant Clemson Tiger Football. Clemson, ranked number three and at home, was locked in an epic battle with number 10, Florida State. The Tigers had come up with a huge defensive stand and were poised to get the ball back with 1:31 left in the game, tied 21-21. That’s when Bobby Bowden pulled the ole’ punt-ruski. The punter jumped like the ball had gone over his head, players run to the right side of the field, except the guy with the ball- he takes off down the left side line 70 some-odd yards all the way to the one yard line. They kick a field goal and win 24-21 One of the greatest plays in college football history. And the pall it cast over Death Valley that has not lifted to this day.
And Tommy Bowden is not the answer. Neither is any buttoned up, got his act together kind of coach. Clemson needs to get their swagger back. They need their next Danny Ford. They need a redneck, mouth full of chew, womanizing, beer drinking, church on Sunday my ass type of guy to go in there, to call out the entire team for being a bunch of sissy, pre-Madonna, weaklings, fire the strength and conditioning coach, get a bunch of fat strong offensive line men, a fast tailback, a nasty defense and start playing smash mouth football again. If for no other reason so I can hate you guys again in peace and stop feeling bad for how pathetic your team has become.
And most importantly so I can say the phrase “Clemson used to be good” without revealing the decade in which I was born.