on re-entry to the atmosphere, killing all aboard. A piece of hard foam had knocked thermal tiles loose on a critical area of one wing during launch. This allowed the heat of re-entry to melt components in the wing, and eventually cause the complete destruction of the orbiter.
The Concorde SST makes its final flight. The US mounts war plans against Saddam Hussein and Iraq, due to his imminent threat of using Weapons of Mass Destruction. He would be captured, but no such weapons would be found. Lance Armstrong wins his 5th Tour de Dope. Armed undercover “Sky Marshalls” begin to be used on domestic air flights, as a response to 9/11. A “National Do-Not-Call Registry” is put into operation to limit telemarketer phone calls. Right.
A familiar face sits on top of the ACC in 2003. No. 11 Florida State (7-1, 10-3) was this year's Champion once again. Two of FSU's three losses came against one team, the Miami Hurricanes. The Canes defeated them 22-14 in the regular season, and did it again by a closer score of 16-14 in the Orange Bowl. Maryland (6-2, 10-3) was ranked No. 17, and was a 41-7 winner over West Virginia in the Gator Bowl. Finishing 3rd in the ACC, and the league's only other ranked team, was (5-3, 9-4) Clemson, 27-14 winners of the Peach Bowl, over the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers of Fat Phil Fulmer. We would finish at No. 22 in both major polls.
Despite the fact that the BCS was created just to keep such a thing from happening, there were split National Champions again in 2003. Oklahoma had been ranked No. 1 for most of the season in both major polls. But, they unexpectedly were upset by Kansas State, 35-7, in the Big 12 Championship Game. This dropped them to No. 3 in both polls. BOTH the AP and UPI polls then had USC at No. 1, and LSU at No. 2 in the last regular season polls. All three of these teams, Oklahoma, USC, and LSU, had one loss each.
But wait a minute, the BCS at the time used COMPUTERS, not people, to do the major work of picking their National Championship game participants. There was a HUGE Hue and Cry raised out in California when LSU and...Oklahoma were named to play in the Sugar Bowl, which was this years BCS Title Game. This left No. 1 USC to play No. 4 Michigan in the Rose Bowl, where the Trojans beat the Wolverines convincingly, 28-14.
The No. 2 LSU Tigers of 4th year Head Coach Nick Saban beat No. 3 Oklahoma by a touchdown, 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl. The Coaches Poll named 13-1 LSU as Champions, per the BCS agreement. The AP refused to follow suit, and named the now 12-1 Rose Bowl winning USC Trojans of Coach Pete Carroll as their Champions. Got it all straight now? Okay, on to the Clemson Tigers season.
Prior to the season, Coach Bowden had made some minor staff changes. Coach Rick Stockstill, who had been the Wide Receivers coach and Recruiting Coordinator, had left to become Offensive Coordinator at East Carolina. To fill both positions, Coach Bowden reached back into his past, and hired a young former assistant he remembered from his own time as an assistant coach at Alabama, by the name of Dabo Swinney. Swinney had gotten out of coaching, pretty much out of necessity, and was becoming a successful real estate agent. But, he still knew that coaching was his first love, and took a leap of faith, and the Clemson Assistant Coaching job, even though it came with a huge cut in pay. Note: One of the Captains of this 2003 team was a running back named Tony Elliot.
The Tigers opened the season at home with a rivalry game against the No. 9 Georgia Bulldogs. A noon ABC TV crowd, along with 82,043 fans in Death Valley, watched as the Dawgs blanked us 30-0. Our next game was a more traditional home opener against Furman, which the Tigers won 28-17. Needless to say, at this point, Clemson was unranked, and would not be ranked at any point during the regular season. After another “cupcake” game, a 37-14 win over Middle Tennessee State, we hit the road for the short trip to Bobby Dodd Stadium, for a night date with Georgia Tech. Tech was in their 2nd season under coach Chan Gailey, and they were only off to a 1-2 start to the season. Clemson made it 3 in the loss column for them, swamping them 39-3. The Tigers had broken out purple uniform tops with white pants for this game, and Charlie Whitehurst and Duane Coleman made the combo look good.
But, the very next week, on the road at Byrd Stadium, we were on the receiving end of a 21-7 defeat at the hands of Maryland. The Terps were in their 3rd season under Coach Ralph Friedgen, and he was accumulating some future NFL talent of his own. We returned home to the Valley the following week, against a No. 25 Virginia team, and managed to pull out a 30-27 win in OT. Virginia's QB was Matt Schaub, who would go on to have a 17 year career in the NFL.
We followed that game with a road trip to NC State, who was having a middling season themselves, at 4-3 going into our game. But, they also had a future NFL QB in Phillip Rivers, who did just enough on this day for a 17-15 Wolkpack victory. We had several chances to mount a drive for a winning field goal, but the offense could not come through. After a Whitehurst interception with over 4 minutes left in the game, Rivers got the NC State offense back in gear to mount a clock eating drive to end the game.
Next up, North Carolina came to Death Valley. The Heels were having a terrible season in which they ultimately would only win two games. But, they still gave us all we wanted, before we prevailed 36-28. Next up, another trip to Wake Forest. Coach Jim Grobe was in his 3rd year at Wake, and they would only win 3 ACC games. But one of those was this one, as they easily dispatched the Tigers, 45-17. This was one of those head scratching losses that so bedeviled Tommy Bowden, as the team just looked totally lost, against a team that we used to own. There were a lot of murmurings starting to happen around Clemson. With our next game at home against the No. 3 Florida State Seminoles, things were most decidedly not looking good.
It would be hard to conceive of a Bobby Bowden coached team “taking a dive”, but what happened next almost defied logic. Under Coach Tommy Bowden, Clemson pulled out the all orange uniforms almost at random it seemed. But, there WAS a real sense of urgency about this game, and the Orange Britches somehow worked their magic again, as Clemson dominated the game, winning 26-10. When a post game reported asked Tommy Bowden what he said to his dad when they met at midfield to shake hands, he joked “I asked him if he did that on purpose!”
Whatever had befallen, it lit a fire under the Tigers, as we smoked Duke in the Valley 40-7 the next week. Then, in a 7 pm ESPN game, before a packed crowd at Williams-Brice to end the regular season, Clemson literally had their way with Granny Holtz's Gamecocks. Our coaches had discovered some schematic weakness over the middle in the Coots zone defense, and Charlie Whitehurst kept raining footballs into that area all night long. It got so bad score wise, that CLEMSON was doing things for the entire 4th quarter to keep CLEMSON off the scoreboard again, and hold the score at 56-17.
But, even though the most conservative plays were being called, football players still want to play football. Reserve Chansi Stuckey broke loose on a long running play and dragged some Gamecock defenders into the end zone with him as he was falling down, to make the final, glorious total 63-17 in favor of the victorious visitors from the Upstate. Clemson fans STILL chuckle about Toad Ellis's radio calls from this game. Touchdown Clemson, Touchdown, Chad Jasmin. It happened so often, he sounded like a recording. Ah, rivalry games, you gotta love 'em. Clemson leads the series 61-36-4.
As stated much earlier, Clemson then accepted an invitation to the Peach Bowl, where we would face the No. 6 Tennessee Volunteers of Fat Phil Fulmer. Tennessee's defense put a lot of heat on Charlie Whitehurst all night, but he completed just enough key passes, and the running game balanced things out enough to have us in the lead at halftime 17-14. Clemson would add on 10 more points in the 2nd half. Tennessee, although moving well between the 20 yard lines, did not score again.
(Note: had Instant Replay been in effect back then, they WOULD have gotten a passing touchdown, on a low ball that replay showed was caught in the end zone. But, it was ruled incomplete on the field. Tennessee's senior QB Casey Clausen was so incensed at the call, he rushed the officials and drew a personal foul penalty.) Fat Phil Fulmer looked like he had eaten a whole bag of sour lemons when he had to go to midfield to shake Tommy Bowden's hand at the end of the 27-14 Clemson victory. From Clemson's standpoint, it couldn't have happened to a more appropriate buttahola.
They say nobody remembers how you start, but everybody remembers how you finish. That must have been true of the Clemson University Administration, because, after the regular season ended, they gave Coach Tommy Bowden a contract extension, with a hefty buyout, that was to run through 2010. The agreement ended a crazy month for the five-year coach, that went from fans chanting for his head after the embarrassing loss to Wake Forest, to being named the Atlantic Coast Conference Coach of the Year, after the late season turnaround. What surprises would the 2004 season hold?
No. 9 Georgia L 0–30 Furman W 28–17 Middle Tennessee State W 37–14 At Georgia Tech W 39–3 At Maryland L 7–21 No. 25 Virginia W 30–27 OT At NC State L 15–17 North Carolina W 36–28 At Wake Forest L 17–45 No. 3 Florida State W 26–10 Duke W 40–7 At South Carolina W 63–17 (Clemson leads the series 61-36-4.)
January 2, 2004 Clemson vs. No. 6 Tennessee (Peach Bowl) W 27–14
I apologize in advance, these recaps are going to get longer and longer the closer we get to the present, as there is much more information available with each year we go forward.