TigerNet -- Football -- History -- Banks McFadden, Hall of Famer

Banks McFadden

All-American in both football and basketball in the same calendar year (1939), only Clemson athlete to do that...named the nation's most versatile athlete for 1939-40...Clemson's first wire-service AP All-American...record setter on the field as a runner, passer, and punter...led Tigers to state championship in track twice in his three years on the team...elected to National Football Hall of Fame in 1959...received Distinguished Alumni Award from Clemson in 1966...charter member of the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame...only Clemson player to have his jersey retired in two sports...the number-four pick of the Brooklyn Dodgers (football) after the 1939 season, that is still the highest draft pick ever by a Clemson player...played one year in the NFL and led the league in yards per rush...coached the defensive backs at Clemson for 26 years, he was also the head basketball coach from 1947-56...Clemson's McFadden Building, dedicated in 1995, is in his honor...named to Clemson's Centennial team in April, 1996...ranked as Clemson's #1 football player of all-time by a panel of Clemson historians in 1999... member of the Clemson Ring of Honor.

Banks McFadden, regarded by sports historians as Clemson's greatest all-around athlete in its 109-year intercollegiate sports history, passed away Saturday morning after a lengthy bout with cancer. The native of Great Falls, SC died at the home of his daughter, Lil Arrants, in Ormond Beach, FL. He was 88-years-old.

McFadden will be buried on Cemetery Hill behind Clemson Memorial Stadium. Funeral arrangements will be announced at a later date. Flags on the Clemson campus were lowered to half staff on Saturday in McFadden's honor. A moment of silence will be observed in McFadden's honor prior to Saturday night's NCAA Tournament baseball game vs. College of Charleston at Kingsmore Stadium.

McFadden was a standout at Clemson in football, basketball and track, earning three letters in each sport from 1936-40. He earned All-America honors in both basketball (1938-39) and football (1939) and was named the nation's most versatile athlete in 1939.

On the basketball court, McFadden led Clemson to the 1939 Southern Conference Tournament Championship, the only postseason tournament title in Clemson basketball history. The Tiger center was Clemson's top scorer each season and finished his career with a then Clemson record 810 points.

In track, McFadden won three events in the State Track Meet in one afternoon, setting state records in all three of them. Earlier in the same year he placed first in five events in a dual meet, scoring 25 points while the opposing team's total score was 28 points. His senior year he also pitched in one game for the Clemson baseball team.

On the gridiron, McFadden was a triple threat player, leading the Tigers to a 9-1 record and Clemson's first ever bowl bid. With McFadden batting down four passes in the second half, and averaging 44 yards on 11 punts, the Tigers defeated a Frank Leahy coached Boston College team, 6-3, in the 1940 Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX.

McFadden held the Clemson single season punting record (43.5 in 1939) for 40 years, and his 22 punts of at least 50 yards in 1939 still stand as a Clemson single season record. At the conclusion of his career he was a first-round draft choice of the Brooklyn Dodgers of the NFL, the fourth selection of the draft, and still the highest draft choice in Clemson history. He played one year in the NFL with the Dodgers and led the NFL in yards per rush before returning to Clemson.

In 1959, McFadden became the first Clemson football player (and still one of only two) inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame.

After coaching Clemson's defensive backs under second-year head Coach Frank Howard in 1941, McFadden joined the Army Air Corps and spent four years in North Africa and Italy. He was discharged as a colonel. McFadden came back to Clemson after his service and was again the secondary coach, this time for four seasons (1946-49), and then took over as head freshman football coach for five years before returning to coach defensive backs in 1955, a spot he held until Howard retired following the '69 season.

Besides his football coaching years, McFadden also put in a stint as varsity track coach, freshman basketball coach and was for 10 years, 1946-47 through 1955-56, he was Clemson's Head Basketball coach. From 1947-48 through 1951-52, Clemson improved its conference victory total each year, the first coach in the history of college basketball to realize a conference victory improvement five consecutive years. The streak was culminated with an 11-4 Southern Conference record in 1951-52, still the Clemson record for conference wins in a season.

After Howard resigned as head football coach in 1969, McFadden took over the university's intramural department, which he directed for 15 years.

McFadden came to Clemson in a 6-3 frame and a skinny 165 pounds. According to former Clemson Sports Information Director Bob Bradley, Frank Howard, said, "If McFadden drank a can of tomato juice, they could have used him as a thermometer." Howard was an assistant coach under Jess Neely when McFadden came to Clemson in 1936.

"I can remember the first time I saw him on the practice field," Howard (who died in 1996) recalled. "He looked like one of those whooping cranes. I thought sure as the devil that Coach (Jess) Neely had made a mistake by giving this boy a scholarship. But he proved me wrong."

McFadden was granted a long list of honors throughout his career. In 1966 he was presented with Clemson University's Distinguished Alumni Award. He was a charter member of the Clemson Athletic Hall of Fame and the South Carolina athletic Hall of Fame. In 1987, both his uniform number 23 in basketball and uniform number 66 in football were retired by Clemson University. In 1994 he was inducted as a charter member of the Clemson Ring of Honor at Clemson Memorial Stadium.

Of all of the honors he received as an athlete, he told Bradley that the 1939 football team MVP award was his highest honor. "To me, when your teammates vote you something, then you feel pretty good. That award meant more than anything else (to me)."

McFadden is the only Clemson athlete to have both his football jersey and basketball jersey numbers retired. In 1995, the Banks McFadden Building at Jervey Athletic Center was dedicated in his honor.

McFadden was married to the former "Aggie" Rigsby of Manning, SC for 55 years prior to her death in 2001. McFadden and his wife had four daughters, Lil, Patsy, Marcia and Jan.

Head Football Coach Tommy Bowden on the passing of Banks McFadden "Banks McFadden is one of the legendary figures of Clemson athletic history. His accomplishments on the field as an all-around athlete are second to none.

"He followed all Clemson programs closely, and obviously had a strong bond with the Clemson football program. He was always willing to help and was very supportive at all times.

"I talked about Banks McFadden with my father after I first met him when I became the head coach at Clemson. He remembered Banks McFadden as a great player during his (Bobby Bowden's) youth. He was very excited that I had the opportunity to meet him.

"What a wonderful gentleman who had such a significant impact on Clemson university for a long period of time.

Source: Clemson Football Media Guide

Program Article: September 24, 2005

By Brent Breedin

Nicknames were big at Clemson in its military years. A couple of my favorites were "Goat" for one-time, passing-record-holder Covington McMillan of Saluda, and "Mule" for tackle Jesse Yarborough of Chester. They were Tiger teammates on the 1929 team. I met them for the first time in the late 1940s. "Goat" was backfield coach at Clemson during the single-wing bowl years of 1939, 1948, 1950, and 1951; "Mule" built Miami High's football team into possibly the nation's finest in the 1930s and 1940s. I never learned exactly why they carried the names "Goat" and "Mule" with them to their graves.

Then there was Banks McFadden, who was tabbed "Great" by the likes of Tiger legend Frank Howard. That moniker was not universally used, but it could have been - and perhaps should have been. Of course, nicknaming someone "Great" smacks of that person's being "not-so-great," and I guess that is why McFadden did not take that name with him to his grave behind Clemson's Memorial Stadium this past spring. He rests near Coach Howard, who watched greatness develop in the string-bean-like teenage McFadden of the late 1930s. To me, a transplanted South Carolinian living in Pennsylvania in the late fall of 1939, McFadden was not only great, but also a godsend - a real honest-to-goodness football hero from back home with write-ups of his exploits on the gridiron in all the newspapers and magazines.

Even the movie newsreels depicted him alongside fellow All-America greats "Jarring John" Kimbrough of National Champion and Sugar Bowl-bound Texas A&M, future #1 NFL Draft pick George Cafego of Rose Bowl-bound Tennessee, and quarterback Paul Christman of Orange Bowl-bound Missouri. McFadden, unlikeliest member of the consensus all-star backfield, would lead Clemson to the "other" postseason bowl, the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, TX, then in its fourth year.

All serious Tiger fans of my vintage know the rest of the story. Clemson defeated the nation's #11-ranked Boston College team by a score of 6-3 on New Year's Day of 1940 behind the final-quarter defensive heroics of McFadden, the game's MVP, who had four pass breakups in the fourth quarter when the Eagles were desperate to score a winning touchdown. It was one of only two games lost by Boston College under Hall-of-Fame Coach Frank Leahy from 1939-40. Leahy is still second to Knute Rockne in winning percentage in college football history.

I struggled to keep up with my hero after the Cotton Bowl, but this was not all that easy in a small Pennsylvania town. I knew McFadden played basketball and was on Clemson's track team in 1940, because a story on his versatility toward the end of his college career brought national acclaim, and he was named the nation's "Most Versatile Athlete" for the 1939 calendar year.

Then there was the College All-Star Game in Chicago, IL in August of 1940 that matched the 1939 All-Americans, who had finished their football eligibility against the 1939 NFL champions, in this case the Green Bay Packers. McFadden was one of the game's standouts. A week later, he joined Brooklyn's NFL Dodgers, whose games were going to be broadcast for the first time on a New York radio station (WOR) that could be picked up loud and clear in Pottstown, PA, my hometown.

Most Sundays in the fall of 1940, I listened to the Brooklyn games. New NFL Coach Jock Sutherland, the University of Pittsburgh single-wing guru, had led his Panthers to three AP top-10 finishes from 1936-39, including the national title in 1937. Dodger millionaire-owner Dan Topping, whose first six years in the NFL failed to produce a winner, personally signed McFadden, Brooklyn's first draft pick (fourth overall in the NFL), traded for NFL first-draft-pick George Cafego, and allowed Sutherland to bring along his All-American tailback Dick Cassiano. All had played the key tailback position in college and would join veteran All-Pro Ace Parker, whose Duke teams of 1934-36 had all trounced Clemson. McFadden proved to be best of the newcomers, a fact I enjoyed relaying to my friends at school each Monday.

Brooklyn defeated a favored New York Giant team in the final game of the NFL season to finish tied with the Chicago Bears for a second-best record of 7-3 behind the Washington Redskins. Two of the Dodgers' losses had been early in the season to the Giants and Redskins, both of which had been avenged in the latter half of the year.

McFadden had led the league in rushing most of the season, but was beaten out by Detroit's Whizzer White (later U.S. Supreme Court Justice) and New York's Tuffy Leemans, each of whom had more than twice his number of carries. Parker, who held on to his role as starting Brooklyn tailback, with McFadden moving to wingback, as he did at Clemson in 1937, was named NFL MVP. McFadden's 6.3 yards per carry was far-and-away best in the league. But, the defensive play of Parker and McFadden (players went both ways in those days) was perhaps the most impressive factor in the Dodgers' success.

In the summer of 1941, before McFadden had decided whether to play a second season in Brooklyn, he dozed behind the wheel of his car while returning from an evening in Manning, SC at the home of his fiancÚ (and future bride) Aggie Rigby, and rammed into a bridge outside Great Falls, SC. His doctor warned him that a hard blow in football might paralyze him for life. That, along with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 and his ensuing four years in the Army, ended his playing career and launched for good his service to Clemson as head basketball coach and assistant football coach - and in 1970, Clemson director of intramural sports.

So move ahead to February 1947. I have served a year in the Navy and am now a senior at Washington & Lee as student sports information director. My idol (McFadden) is bringing his first Tiger basketball team to Lexington, VA to play Washington & Lee, and I am covering it for the Associated Press.

We meet, and I am impressed with his modesty. I had read in the W&L Yearbook of 1937 how he had scored two field goals in the final minute of play to eliminate the defending Southern Conference Champion Generals in the semifinals of that year's conference tournament.

It would be hard for me to pull against his Clemson team, I thought; however, another friend from Spartanburg (senior co-captain Clancy Ballenger) made it easy by leading the way in a 101-56 Washington & Lee victory. Ballenger had something to prove. Upon discharge from the military in 1946, he planned to finish his senior year at nearby Clemson. New Tiger Coach McFadden did not have any scholarship money available, so he returned to W&L.

Now one might ask, "Who cares about what happened in Clemson athletics in the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s? That's ancient history."

My response was, "Only partly true. A long time ago, yes! But these were the days a small-town boy came from nowhere to resurrect a college football program that had lain almost dormant for more than a quarter-century.

"In addition to Clemson men who played with and for McFadden from 1936-70, and fans of the Tigers during this period, there are perhaps an equal number of former students who benefited from his assuming responsibility for a moribund Clemson intramural program in the 1970s and 1980s. And surely, there must be a few thousand fans of today wondering why the name and image of McFadden appears seemingly everywhere!"

For the record, college football was not in its infancy in 1939. Take away television (nonexistent at the time) and over half of today's 290,000,000 population (down to 1940's 132,000,000), and college football was even bigger 66 years ago than it is today. Except for Major League Baseball, no spectator sport had more fans. So how could this little South Carolina college compete against the nation's best, finish #12 in the final Associated Press poll, and receive one of only eight invitations to play in major bowl games on January 1, 1940? And how could a scrawny basketball player from tiny Great Falls, SC provide the spark to make it happen?

I idolized McFadden as a far-away fan in 1939-40, met and wrote about him as a sports editor-columnist from 1948-52, and was a colleague as Clemson sports publicist from 1952-55. More recently, as a sports historian of sorts, I have pondered the above questions and concluded that it all began with his upbringing in a loving, religious environment tempered by discipline administered at school by a much older half-brother Tom Wallace, Jr. Tom taught, coached, and served as high school principal in Great Falls. Kid brother Banks (the baby of the family) was the team waterboy before he grew up to lead Great Falls High to state championships in football and basketball from 1934-36.

On a historic note, high school football in South Carolina during the 1930s left much to be desired. The talent pool was limited, and coaching at the smaller schools left much to be desired. In the seven seasons from 1920-26, Clemson went 20-38-4; Josh Cody took over the coaching reins in 1927 and compiled a 29-11-1 in four seasons, but 19 of his wins were against in-state teams. When Jess Neely arrived in 1931 from Alabama, where he had helped Wallace Wade win mythical national championships in 1925, 1926, and 1930, his early aspirations of national glory were seemingly shattered, as the Tigers went 7-17-3 from 1931-33.

Enter IPTAY, money for scholarships, and recruitment of some key talent from out-of-state. Winning seasons in 1934 and 1935 bode well for the future, but the big recruiting prize in 1936 was tailback Shad Bryant out of the state of Florida. McFadden, known more for his basketball skills than football, was also a 1936 recruit. He played end on the Tiger Cub team that fall and excelled in Cub track and basketball.

Neely's 1-4-1 record against Furman persuaded him to hire that school's backfield coach, Clemson alumnus and former quarterback star McMillan. He would play a key role in developing single-wing backfields at Clemson, and he was quick to return McFadden to the backfield in 1937, where he saw limited action at the wingback position and as a punter. It was another .500 season, but the schedule included Army, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Tulane, and Florida - and there were no "blowouts."

Clemson's 1938 team really turned the corner, finishing in the top 25 and claiming an early-season win over a strong Tulane 11 that was #19 at season's end. The Tigers' only loss was to undefeated and #2 Tennessee. McFadden contributed greatly as a junior tailback, but trailed teammates Don Willis in rushing, Bob Bailey in passing, and Bryant in kickoff and punt returns. He and Bryant did tie for touchdowns scored (5). He won no postseason honors. So what happened in 1939-40? McFadden joined the basketball team immediately after football, and led Clemson to its first and still only conference tournament championship, beating four teams that outranked them in the conference seeding.

Charlotte/Atlanta sports editor-columnist Furman Bisher recalled in a column on McFadden in the early 1960s how his North Carolina roommate at the time, a New Jersey boy, just could not understand how a small-town South Carolina boy could take such liberties with the Tar Heels' big city all-American George Glamack in eliminating UNC. "Bish", who got to know McFadden over the years, concluded his column with the ultimate compliment, "If I had a son, I'd want him to be coached by Banks."

It was March of 1939. McFadden was all-tournament for the second time and also tournament MVP. Clemson had unofficial invitations as one of eight invitees to either the first-ever NCAA Tournament or the second-ever NIT event in Madison Square Garden. But, as noted earlier, football was king, and Clemson Coach and Athletic Director Neely was in his final two weeks of spring football practice. He wanted McFadden and two or three other members of the championship basketball team to participate - at least as observers in shorts. Ten days after McFadden reported for practice in shorts, he was bus-bound for Durham, NC to observe and possibly go in for a few plays against the remnants of Wade's 1938 undefeated, untied, and unscored upon Duke team in a spring game, which was then allowed by the NCAA.

McFadden played the entire game at tailback, running and passing for touchdowns, punting magnificently, intercepting passes, and appearing as comfortable as though he were on the basketball court. Wade was quoted as saying that he was probably the finest back in the South based on that performance. The Clemson publicist sent that message everywhere, and he figured he had to live up to those words. And he did.

Fortunately, Clemson had done a great job of recruiting in 1937, so that McFadden and the other Tiger veterans off the good 1938 team had the likes of Joe Blalock at end, George Fritts at tackle, and Charlie Timmons at fullback to complete the fine 1939 starting 11.

On a personal note in closing, I have often observed over the years that Banks McFadden never fell off the pedestal I had placed him on in 1939. He, to me, was not only an All-American in three sports and a superb coach, he was also an All-American dancer with his diminutive wife Aggie, an All-American husband and father to daughters Patsy, Lil, Marcia, and Jan, and an All-American human being. He never wanted to disappoint.

Brent Breedin served as Clemson Sports Information Director from 1952-55, and is now retired and living in Columbia, SC.