Commentary: This is Clemson Football


by - Correspondent -
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Beating Miami, Tennessee and Florida State the last two years may just be a glimpse of things to come

Special to TigerNet from the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger


There's The Hill, Howard's Rock, Tiger Rag, countless ACC championships and bowl games, a national championship, Mac's Drive In, Tillman Hall, the Esso Club, 81,000 rowdy fans, and of course there is the Paw.

These are the things and the stories which go with them that make Clemson one of the more intriguing places to see a college football game.

The Sporting News ­ which ranked the Tigers' storied tradition 13th overall in a 2001 book called "Every Saturday in Autumn: College Football's greatest Traditions" ­ says "you know you're on the highway to football heaven when you spot that first tiger track, a can't-miss orange paw pointing the way to Clemson University.

"The paws start appearing on the concrete highways about 10 miles out and become more frequent with every passing marker and billboard. Big ones and little ones, singles and groups - soon they're everywhere, warnings that the tradition at this picturesque South Carolina campus is anything but subtle.

"Nothing about Clemson, a tiny dot of a city in the northwest corner of the state is subtle. Football is played there with tunnel-vision intensity, football is watched there with an over-the-edge expectancy and everything relating to football, from clothes and the skin to sensibilities, is shaded in orange ... bright orange.


"On the surface, this is a Rockwellian postcard city of 11,000 permanent residents, nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains and living up to its ‘In Season Every Season’ boast. But on any fall Saturday, when boosted by the fever of 81,000 passionate fans, it transforms into a wild-and-crazy football monster.

"Just follow its tracks because they'll lead you to the place Clemson fans call Death Valley home of the Tiger Rag, Howard's Rock and one of the greatest mystiques in college football." This is Clemson football, and as one can see from The Sporting News perspective, this is what makes Clemson one of the best places to watch a college football game. But how does Clemson compare to other storied traditions in the southeast? How does this football mecca rank with the great traditions of SEC schools, Notre Dame and Southern Cal?

It has been debated by my many in this state if indeed Clemson is one of college football's grandest. Some say being classified as an elite in college football has nothing to do with the traditions and what has happened in the past. They will say the ones who are winning in the now are the ones that make up college football's elite programs.

With this thought I guess it is fair to say that Utah is a power house. The Utes are the Mountain West Champions ­ I think that's right ­ and they did beat Big East Champion Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl last year. When you talk about elite teams in college football, then Utah has to be at the top of the list, right?

In taking a closer look at these claims, however, one will find out that today's elite ( Southern Cal, Oklahoma, Texas, Michigan, Auburn, Ohio State, Georgia, Miami and Florida State to name a few) are the same schools that were sharing post New Year's Day glory some 10,20, 30 or even 40 years ago.

With the exception of the occasional Virginia Techs and Kansas States which started winning on a consistent basis over the last 10 years, the elite in college football has always been comprised of the same teams.

So I guess it is safe to say, maybe traditions and past glory does have a little something to do with success in today's college football. Now, the question is whether Clemson can stay with the elite and produce more teams that rival some of those Tiger teams from the 1940s, ‘50s, ‘70s and ‘80s?

Does Clemson have the tools to become a Top 25 program year in and year out again? Is Tommy Bowden the guy that can get it there?

I guess the verdict is still out. It appeared Bowden might have turned the corner after the end of the 2003 season, but last year's 6-5 mark was a step back and this year's team will have to prove the skeptics wrong.

But Bowden and his staff have a lot going for them that no Clemson coaching staff has had since the late 1980s. The West Zone project is in full production, the current players’ locker room and lounge was completely remodeled and recruits are getting a nice look into future of Clemson football.

The Clemson football program is in the infancy stages of again topping the college football world. Beating Miami, Tennessee and Florida State the last two years was just a glimpse of things to come.

The West Zone will mark the beginning of a new era for Memorial Stadium and Clemson athletics as a whole. The West Zone will be transformed into Memorial Stadium's new front door and will become the visible reminder of Clemson's lofty athletic goals. Those goals are high but not out of reach.

When Death Valley's new front door is done it will be added to Clemson's already rich history and tradition, and with all these tools Clemson will rank with the best in the country again … there will be no reason not to be.


Will Vandervort is the Sports Editor for the Seneca Daily Journal/Clemson Messenger.

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