Modern-day gladiators: Swinney describes running down the Hill


by - Senior Writer -
Swinney stands at the top of the Hill.
Swinney stands at the top of the Hill.

When Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney steps off the bus at the top of the Hill and walks through the gates, he’s met with an explosion of sight and sound that not many people get to experience. In his eyes, it’s like modern-day gladiators entering the arena to do battle.

He’s also trying to go fast and catch the band.

Clemson’s iconic entrance – dubbed The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football by Brent Musberger – had humble beginnings.

The first game in Memorial Stadium was on September 19, 1942 against Presbyterian. The 40 Clemson players on the 1942 sophomore dominated team dressed in the basement of Fike Field House, just like usual that day, according to Clemson historian Sam Blackman. The team walked down Williamson Road, entered the stadium and went diagonally across the hill to the Clemson sidelines. When the team arrived, the fans in attendance stood up and cheered. The team did calisthenics and pregame warmups and then the game started.

Little did the 1942 edition of the Tiger football team know that an insignificant run down a hill to the field established a nationally known tradition that September afternoon. Clemson inaugurated the new stadium in fine fashion with a 32-13 victory over Presbyterian and a tradition was born.

Swinney, on a recent edition of Chum Chat with Tanner Tessmann, said it’s hard to put into words what it’s like and what it means to run down the Hill.

“It's unbelievable. It's like a modern-day gladiator. It's crazy,” Swinney said. “It's indescribable. But when you get off that bus and you are approaching the rock and there are eighty-thousand-plus people going crazy, it is one of the most intense moments every time. Every time. And it's also a little uncomfortable, too, because you have all these people looking at you. That is why I always just touch the rock and say, 'All the glory to You, God.' And then I focus on just getting down the Hill and not falling. I don't want to be a blooper for the rest of my life.”

Swinney is the first one down the Hill, taking off with the roar of the cannon. He sprints down the Hill and into the middle of the field, where he then turns around and greets his players. The all-out sprint is by design – he wants to run fast and catch the band.

“One of the reasons I wasn't able to make it to the next level in my playing career is because I wasn't quite fast enough,” Swinney said. “And I've always wanted to know what it felt like to a run a 4.5 or 4.6 (40-yard dash). It took a hill and all of that to make it happen. I just try to pick them up and put them down and I think you set the tone. Anybody can just cruise and get down the Hill, but man, I wanna come down that Hill with some purpose. And then I want to try and chase the band and catch them out in front of me. It's pretty cool.”

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