I can hardly see any value at this point in trying to digest what could have been and what was the 2006 Clemson football season. I think most of you have done an admirable job in trying to construct what really happened down the stretch to lay blame at the feet of any and all that deserve that blame. There is plenty of blame to spread over plenty of people.
But I’m ready, finally, to turn the page and close the book on the 2006 football season. It seems, at least to me, the best thing to do.
Every Clemson football season brings with it some great memories that will leave lasting positive images for myself and the thousands of Clemson fans that have been through the good, bad, and ugly. And this season was no different.
I have slowly learned how to better channel my frustration and anger to not allow it to knock me completely on my back. I have also learned to appreciate the returns I get on my investment to Clemson football. Every season in the 30+ years that I have followed the Tigers hold great memories for me as I reflect back. And this year will be no exception.
So, along with all the frustration and anger that will no doubt stay with me for a while, I also took in some great moments and events in the 13 weeks of following our Tigers from town to town.
I will remember a great First Friday parade. The First Friday Parade is always super, but this year was even better as the little girl who was run over and almost killed in the 2005 parade had the honor of being Grand Marshall this year. She also brought with her 10 or so of her best friends, undoubtedly making it a great family memory.
I will remember a true freshman by the name of Jacoby Ford returning a punt 92 yards for a touchdown in his first collegiate game, breaking the previous record owned by Shad Bryant in 1938 and tied in 1948 by the great Bobby Gage.
I will remember a Thursday afternoon flight to Boston, Massachusetts on a plane occupied almost entirely by Clemson fans. I’ll also remember the Friday afternoon in the city of Boston, when for one day orange took over one of the most historic cities in our great nation. To make Bostonians take notice of something is no small feat, but that is exactly what 10,000 Clemson fans did that Friday.
I will remember watching another true freshman, C.J. Spiller, take a simple screen pass and bolt 82 yards for a touchdown against the Boston College Eagles.
I will remember one of the greatest moments in Clemson football history when Clemson defeated a top 10 Florida State team on one magical night in north Florida. For those of us that have plodded down to Tallahassee year after year since 1989 only to see Clemson get their brains beat in, the satisfaction of that win will never be forgotten regardless of what type of team Florida State turned out to be as the season went on. To hear the Tomahawk Chop drowned out on a quick snap handoff to James Davis who carried the ball inside the five yard line was a polarizing moment for me. Leaving Doak Cambell Stadium, side by side with distraught and disbelieving Seminole fans, was a beautiful thing.
I will remember beating the life out of the blue bellies of North Carolina, something that never gets old no matter what the year.
I will remember watching in astonishment as a Tommy Bowden coached team had three running backs rush for over 100 yards in an evening rout of Louisiana Tech. The irony of how improbable those three running backs rushing for 100+ yards in one game under Bowden was not lost on me as I reflected back to the first spring game under Bowden in 1999.
I will remember going on the air for the Pregame Show inside Groves Stadium at 6:00 a.m. in pitch black darkness as the Wake stadium crew had yet to turn on the field lights. As the sun came up in hour two, I will remember seeing field turf, something I did not know Wake had installed, and laughing with my co-host Roy Philpott. We were laughing because I had spent part of the first hour saying how bad the condition of the field at Groves Stadium usually is.
I will remember thinking I was in a time warp inside Groves Stadium on that blustery afternoon. It was the same song, second verse, as the debacle the previous two years in Winston Salem. Then a senior by the name of Gaines Adams turned in one of the most unique and memorable plays in Clemson football history. The change of mood in the Clemson section over the next few minutes after that play and subsequent turnaround by Clemson was an almost once in a lifetime experience.
I will remember feeling guilty for feeling so good about leaving Winston Salem with a win. As the season wore on, I realize that guilty feeling was not deserved as the Demon Deacons eventually won the ACC Title.
I will remember 30,000 Clemson fans showing up in Charlotte to watch the Tigers play a terrible football team on a Thursday night.
I will remember Game Day and purple jerseys and an almost perfect football day at Clemson against the Yellow Jackets of Georgia Tech. I’m not sure there has ever been one day where more positive publicity has ever been heaped upon Clemson athletics, the University, or our fans as that sun splashed October day.
I will remember another Thursday night game and thinking right before kickoff that watching a game in Blacksburg is one of the best places (outside of Death Valley) to watch a football game. It may have taken some strong-arming by the University of Virginia to get the Hokies into the ACC, but the fight was worth it. Blacksburg is a must do on the trip list for any true Tiger fan.
I will remember Thomas Hunter making a catch and almost going the distance that almost saved a win against Maryland. I will remember that catch because Hunter, a team leader, was a former walk on. It still amazes me the blood, sweat, and tears that some non-scholarship players will put in with no guarantee of earning a scholarship or playing. To see a guy like Hunter accomplish both is as good of a “feel good” story as there is in college athletics.
I will remember sitting on the hill with my two daughters watching a final throw into the end zone by N.C. State come within inches of breaking our hearts. As it stood, another hated ACC rival (State ranks up there near the top) went home with a loss from Death Valley. And Chuck Amato, thankfully, was nearing his end as coach in Raleigh. It goes to show red slippers can only take you so far.
I will remember all of the big plays in the South Carolina game that would have gone down in the lore of this rivalry had Clemson been able to score a touchdown in the waning moments to defeat the Gamecocks. As it is, those big plays and special moments by Ford, Spiller, McKissic and Davis will inevitably be lost because of “Merriweather-Gate” and “Wide Left”.
I will remember the night before the Music City bowl at the pep rally attended by some 6,000 Clemson fans. The sheer number of Tiger fans in Nashville that night was neat, but what I will remember is not the number of fans but what the fans were doing. Several bars and restaurants that lined the street where the pep rally was being held also served as a makeshift viewing party for a Clemson basketball game against Georgia. Cheers from Tiger fans that had one eye on the basketball game intermediately interrupted the pep rally. That Clemson would be in a bowl game with fans almost more interested in the basketball game than the football pep rally was a great memory, and a bit bizarre.
And I will remember driving back from Nashville on Saturday after the bowl game, after the disappointing finish to the season, and after what might have been the biggest letdown of a Clemson football season in the program’s history. I can’t remember any team reaching so high during a season before falling so far and so fast. But that was this season. Amidst all that baggage of disappointment, frustration, and anger, were car after car flying their Clemson flags on that ride back from Nashville.
I’m not happy with our season and how it played out. I’m not here to candy-coat the frustrating and disappointment.
But I am here to say, without any doubt, that I received more great moments from this football season and those thirteen games in six states than I put in via time, money, IPTAY dues, and tickets. I’ve got some great memories with friends and family and Tiger fans that can’t be taken away because the wins and losses fell below expectations.
Many of you don’t want to hear that right now. Many of you can’t get past the black and white of wins and losses. I’ve been there and I know that feeling.
And I’m glad that I have moved past that mind-set. Life goes on. Turn the page.
The 2006 football season is no longer.