On Labor Day afternoon this September, Roy Philpott and I will broadcast another Tiger Pregame Show live from the lawn at Littlejohn. It will mark the 50th straight game we have broadcast from the location where the Tigers play. Most of that thanks should go to WCCP 104.9 FM, Aly Haley, the listeners, and our spouses for putting up with such an ambitious schedule.
There are plenty of Clemson fans that have a longer streak of games attended than my 49 and counting. And, I feel certain, there are plenty of wild stories that accompany those road trips.
I?m not sure what I will document in the text below should qualify as wild, but our trips do tell a story of traveling with the Tigers and why, no matter the quality of the season, watching Clemson football live in person is worth every penny and second.
Kicking It Off With A Thud
The inaugural Tiger Pregame Show (at least with Roy and me at the helm) was created with much anticipation during the summer of 2003. Our first bad omen came when the game was moved to 12:00 noon, which gave us a 7:00 a.m. start (the show was only 2 hours the first year). Even at 7:00 a.m. on game day, the temperature was unbearable. After all the anticipation about a new season and a new broadcasting opportunity, Georgia proceeded to rip our teeth out to the tune of 30-0 in 100+ degree heat. I?m not sure a bigger let down could have occurred had it been drawn up by our biggest enemies.
All Night From D.C.
Later in 2003, Roy and I drove to College Park, Maryland to see a suddenly resurgent 3-1 Tigers coming off a 39-3 whipping of Georgia Tech in Atlanta. We began our broadcast from the radio booth at Byrd Stadium amid a perfect blue sky and a ton of excitement. As we signed off at our normal three hours before kickoff, we both noted on the air that it would be a perfect day for football. Fast forward to 15 minutes before kickoff and the sky turned black, rain fell, and the temperature dropped 25 degrees. It would be my last time trying to prognosticate the weather, although Roy would take many more stabs at it as the years went by. Kevin Youngblood caught a 40 yard TD pass right beside me in the end zone as I stood on the field at Byrd Stadium. It was called back because of an offensive pass interference penalty. I looked over at Roy and said, ?Game over?. It was. Instead of staying in the Washington area for the night, we hopped in Roy?s car and proceeded to drive all the way back to the upstate of South Carolina. We arrived a 5:15 a.m.
The Absolute Low Point
There is little question when the low point of this 49 game stretch took place. That would be on a blustery November day in Groves Stadium in Winston Salem when Wake Forest beat our Tigers 45-17. It was simply a deflating moment on all accounts. We pondered leaving at halftime to avoid sitting through the rest of the debacle. But, like good Clemson fans, we suffered through every second of it. Roy had the honor that evening of driving back to South Carolina from Winston Salem. To this day I don?t recall that he said a word. To this day I don?t recall ever shutting up. I?m sure I cursed every player and all of the coaches in my 3 ½ hour diatribe. But it did make me feel better and Roy miserable. That?s a win-win.
Out Of Gas In Texas
Prior to the trip to College Station, I received a call from a group of IPTAY members that were getting together before the game against the Aggies. They wanted us to broadcast the Pregame Show from an outdoor tailgate party they were throwing. The logistics of broadcasting outside of a stadium are a bit dicey, especially when there is no power. However, since Roy was driving to Texas (for some crazy reason), he could transport the generator that we would need to produce power for the show. After flying into Houston on Friday and still soaking up the whole wonderful experience that College Station provided, we prepped for our show the next day outside of Kyle Field. About half way through the show, the power from the generator suddenly went off and we were immediately off the air. After careful inspection, it became obvious that the generator had run out of gas and oil. A puzzled Roy obliviously stated, ?Well I guess that?s why my trunk smells like gas.? That may be the understatement of the year.
A Car Wreck in Charlottesville
Thursday night games stink. After a week out west (in Texas), and a week in Florida (Tallahassee), the last place I wanted to go the next week was up north on a Thursday night. But I trudged out of the upstate of South Carolina on a chilly Thursday morning to broadcast the Pregame Show from Charlottesville, VA. After traveling 360 picturesque miles, I arrive at the University of Virginia. After grabbing a bit to eat, I proceeded to the stadium. As I sat at a stop light behind another car, I could see the stadium in the distance. When the light turned green, the driver proceeded to put her car in reverse and ram me. The UVA student was obviously upset and a bit shaken. But she had no explanation as to why she put the car in reverse. I guess UVA students are not as smart as their reputation would lead you to believe.
Orange Bowl Magic and Rain
I have to admit to getting a little nostalgic when I set foot in the Orange Bowl on November 6th of 2004. I have followed Clemson football since 1977, but I was not in Miami when Clemson hit the pinnacle of football lore, defeating Nebraska on January 1st of 1982. The stories from my parents and the memories and the video imagery that NBC painted that night are pictures and memories that were burned into my mind forever. But setting foot in the Orange Bowl was something altogether different, and amazing. Walking into the press box, in the exact condition it was in 1981, was like taking a step back in time. But walking into the television booth where the actual call of that game took place some 25 years earlier was stunning and emotional. As we broadcast the Pregame Show amid such imagery and nostalgia, you could hardly notice the storm clouds brewing to the north. When the afternoon storm finally blew into the Orange Bowl, it knocked us off of our feet. Rain pored into the radio booth as if there were no shields to protect it. Equipment was ruined, and Roy and I (along with several of the Orange Bowl?s security personnel, stood dripping from head to toe. My clothes were still wet five hours later when Clemson defeated Miami in the same historic Orange Bowl venue that was a part of my fondest memories. Never mind the wet clothes. It was a football evening to remember.
Hold That Plane-The Gamecocks Are Playing
Clemson had just earned a memorable victory over Maryland in College Park on September 10th of 2005 as Reggie Merriweather ran roughshod in the 4th quarter. I took some time to celebrate with Clemson fans outside of Byrd Stadium for a few hours before heading to Dulles International Airport for my trip home. When I arrived at the airport, the restaurant nearest to my terminal was filled with Clemson fans watching South Carolina play Georgia. I plopped down at a table with, of all people, Phil Kornblut. He had been covering the Clemson game in Maryland instead of the Gamecocks in Athens. Fortunately for Phil, nobody in the crowd (50 or so Clemson fans waiting on that flight to Greenville) recognized him. While Phil subtlety pulled for the Gamecocks to win (he is a Gamecock fan, right?), I pulled for them to lose?and quickly. Our plane was scheduled to leave in 15 minutes when South Carolina began to mount a rally. The Gamecocks actually had the ball and were driving for the winning score when the airline worker announced over the PA the last call for boarding. But since the entire plane was Clemson fans, everybody was still in the open air restaurant watching the game. Literally, the plane was empty. Kornblut, to his credit, asked the airline official for an extra 15 minutes so we all could watch the final minute of the game. Somehow, even with all the FAA regulations in the post-911 era, he worked his magic. The plane stayed in the terminal, South Carolina proceeded to lose, and Clemson fans celebrated the flight back to GSP in raucous fashion.
A Bostonian Compliment
Clemson fans descended upon the city of Boston in early September of 2006. On the Friday before the game, you could not walk 15 feet in downtown Boston without running into Clemson fans wearing orange. The number of Clemson fans in Boston actually created enough stir that the Boston Globe wrote an article about it for the Sunday edition that weekend. With a 3:30 kickoff set on that Saturday, I arrived at Alumni Stadium around 8:00 a.m. to make sure all of the equipment was set up and ready for operation for our air time of 9:30 a.m. I was met at the media entrance by Chris Cameron, Boston College?s Associate Athletic Director of Media Relations. Chris was immediately curious about the fact that we were broadcasting a Pregame Show that started six hours prior to kickoff. I explained how the show started as a two hour show that began five hours prior to kickoff and how it now expanded to the three hour show. I also explained that we went off the air at three hours prior to kickoff that the Clemson Network picked up at that point and aired the Tiger Tailgate Show that led right up to the game. Cameron said that in all of his years of broadcasting and working with the media for Boston College, he has only seen one school that devoted that amount of time to their games. Cameron said Kentucky basketball started their Pregame Show 5 hours prior to tip-off, and that was the only school that had anything similar to what we were doing. ?If Clemson fans care about football as much as Kentucky fans do about basketball, you guys must really have something special there in South Carolina?, Cameron said. I couldn?t agree more.
A Few Honorable Mentions
1. Longest Show-2003 Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl. Still basking in the afterglow of 63-17, we decided to broadcast a 6 hour Pregame Show from the Fan Fest in the Georgia World Commerce Center. Surprisingly, we never ran out things to talk about.
2. Sickest Moment-2006 Florida State game. Roy caught some virus that was spreading around the upstate on the Thursday before the FSU game in Tallahassee. His condition was not good on Friday and it worsened on Saturday. I thought I was broadcasting with a member of the Blue Man Group because that was the exact tint of Roy?s face the entire broadcast.
3. Scariest Moment-2004 Miami Game in Orange Bowl. Early in the broadcast ATF agents walked into our radio booth atop the Orange Bowl and told us to exit immediately. We were literally on the air when they walked in, so we quickly went to break and excited as asked. It turned out that the two men and their dog were simply doing a routine bomb check of the facilities. Their methods of ?requesting? that we leave had us all wondering what we had done earlier that day to warrant going to jail!
4. Biggest Crowd For Home Game-At home, we have traditionally broadcast from the ?Lawn at Littlejohn?. The biggest crowd we have had making their way to our broadcast was last year?s Homecoming game against Georgia Tech. The GameDay festivities and the Homecoming floats and the late start time created a perfect storm of early arriving crowds.
5. Biggest Crowd For Away Game - We rarely broadcast at remote locations on the road, but we have done so about 10 times total during the 49 game stretch. We had huge crowds at Jocks and Jills in Atlanta, College Station, Playmakers in Raleigh, Downtown Charlotte, and The Farmer?s Market in Columbia. But the largest crowd, by far, was at the Chic-Fil-A Peach Bowl. By the time we went off of the air, there had to be 3,000 Clemson fans in the general area.
6. Worst Weather - Hard to ignore the combination of a 6:00 a.m. broadcast time (noon kickoff), cold, and rain. Those three components came together last season for the North Carolina game. And I don?t mean a slight drizzle. The bottom dropped out right at 6:00 a.m., and it almost ruined all the equipment we had. Every time a commercial break arrived, we would leave the tent area and sit in the WCCP 104.9 FM van. Runner up would be the monsoon at the Orange Bowl. But an afternoon shower in beautiful Miami does not compare to a 6:00 a.m. deluge in Clemson.
7. Nicest Broadcast Facilities-Florida State, Virginia, North Carolina State, and Boston College all had good media facilities and broadcast booths. None of the above holds a candle, however, to Virginia Tech. If felt like I was broadcasting from a four star hotel suite instead of from a radio booth overlooking the field.
8. Worst Broadcast Facilities-None of the facilities in the ACC are terrible. It?s not like you have to live there during the week, you just have to broadcast and get out. But Duke, Maryland, and Wake Forest all have below average accommodations comparatively speaking.
9. Worst Predictions-Roy picked us to beat Virginia Tech last year and that did not turn out very well for him. But I?m going to give a pass to Roy on that one because he admitted after the show that he picked with his heart and not his head. The worst prediction, by far, was mine in 2004 for Clemson?s game in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. I thought we were in big trouble going into that game. Roy spent the entire three hours telling me and everyone listening that Clemson was going to win this game and maybe win it big. I picked Clemson to lose by 17 points. Clemson won 39-3. I?m not sure you can do worse than that if you tried.
10. Best Prediction-In the first year of the broadcast, Aly Haley would stop by and give her predictions in addition to Roy and me. Following the debacle in Winston Salem in 2003, there was little room for optimism. But Aly, from the start of the show, kept telling us that Clemson was going to beat the Seminoles. In the end, she picked Clemson to win 28-10. Of course, the final score was 26-10. That?s pretty much dead on.
Stay tuned as year five and the 50th consecutive game of broadcasting the Pregame Show will kick off on Labor Day afternoon at 2:00 p.m. If we can hang in for four more years and fifty more games, I?m sure there will be more stories to tell.
And, as a side note, the Pregame Show is still missing one major thing. We have yet to broadcast live from the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship Game in Jacksonville. No time like this year to knock that one off the list.