Protect the Rock

by - Senior Writer -
It's time to protect Howard's Rock.

CLEMSON – The news spread like wildfire Wednesday evening – Howard’s Rock had been vandalized. When we arrived to take a look at the damage, there were between 20 and 30 people gathered around the rock, most of them staring at the damage in a mix of disbelief and sadness.

If you aren’t a Clemson fan, you just don’t understand. If you are a true college football fan of some other team, you understand in many ways because you have icons and traditions that are your own, and they are important to you.

However, that is OUR rock. It belongs to Clemson, and it is a tradition like no other. Thousands of our best players have rubbed that rock. Untold thousands of fans have grown up with The Rock, touching it on football Saturday’s or on tours of the stadium, dreaming of what it would be like to touch The Rock as a sea of orange looks on. Many have wondered if there would be some magical burst or jolt of energy that bursts forth from it on game day.

And now, it has been broken. A nice chunk of The Rock broken off in an act of cowardice and vandalism.

As legendary head coach Frank Howard – the man The Rock is named after – once said, “If you’re going to give me 110 percent, you can rub that rock. But if you’re not, keep your filthy hands off it.”

Coach Howard, I hate to tell you this, but someone has put their filthy hands on your rock, and it is sickening.

College traditions are wonderful, but there are always a small handful of fans that take it to the extreme and ruin something special for the rest of us. People like Harvey Updyke and the poisoned trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn; the idiot who vandalized Williams-Brice Stadium and the Cockaboose recently; and now Howard’s Rock.

It’s easy to blame an entire fan base when something like this happen, but if a Clemson fan did the damage at Williams-Brice, then that fan doesn’t represent Clemson or its values and they certainly don’t represent my beliefs. They are a coward, a criminal and an idiot.

The person that did the damage to Howard’s Rock fits into the same category. They might be a fan of any team out there, one that Clemson plays this season, or they might just be your common, run of the mill coward.

But whoever did it, and we don’t know who that is, has enraged a large group of Clemson fans. Clemson players took to Facebook and Twitter expressing their outrage late Wednesday. We are all outraged, we are saddened. But most of all, we are mad.

Like I said, that’s OUR rock. You don’t mess with it. I hate the fact that someone had access to damage it, and I wish it never happened. And while I am not big on themes or slogans for a football team – just go out and play the game – I can sense something rising up out of this sad situation.

Protect The Rock.

Protect The Rock at all times. Even when we have the quiet of summer and the downtime before football season begins, Protect The Rock.

Whoever did the damage just might know that Clemson is on the verge of something special, and used the defacement of The Rock to send some sort of twisted message or exact some kind of sadistic and evil enjoyment out of doing harm to something that Clemson fans, coaches and players hold dear.

Clemson football players need to know that Death Valley and Howard’s Rock are special, and during football games they need to Protect The Rock. Heck, take a miniature version on the road to road games and know that even in hostile environs, they must Protect The Rock.

The origins of The Rock make it special in the annals of college football traditions, even though it had an inauspicious beginning.

It is named for Howard, who received it as a gift from his close friend, Samuel C. Jones, in the early 1960s. Jones found the two-and-a-half pound rock while traveling through Death Valley, California, and thought Howard might find some use for it back at Clemson.

The rock didn't make a great first impression, however, as Howard is said to have used it originally as a doorstop. There the rock remained until the summer of 1966, when, according to Clemson legend, Howard stumbled across it while cleaning his office. "Take this rock and throw it over the fence or out in the ditch," Howard reportedly told Clemson booster Gene Willimon. "Do something with it, but get it out of my office."

Willimon did what he was told. But instead of tossing the rock away, Willimon placed it on a pedestal at Memorial Stadium, in a spot where he knew Clemson players would pass.

The rock was still sitting on that pedestal when, a few weeks later, Clemson roared back from an 18-point deficit to beat Virginia, 40-35, in the 1966 season opener. Then the Howard's Rock legend was officially born when the coach later gave the message to his team about rubbing the rock, and a legend was born.

Because people have tried to steal or otherwise harm the rock in the years since, it is now tradition for Clemson's Army ROTC to guard Howard's Rock in the 24 hours leading up to every home Clemson-South Carolina game.

However, maybe that kind of protection needs to extend to all-year long. Place it inside the WestZone if at all possible, and only bring it out for special occasions and football games. Maybe there could be an honor guard to take it to The Hill on game days. Maybe that wouldn’t work, and maybe I’m crazy. But be honest, wouldn’t it be kind of neat to have a pregame routine where The Rock is taken around the stadium with some sort of honor guard? I think so.

But that one rock is it, there are no replacements and there can be no substitutes. That is our rock, and it is all we have. Once it’s gone – and hopefully that never happens – it’s gone for good.

Protect The Rock. All year long. During games, it’s up to the players to Protect The Rock. The rest of the time, steps need to be taken to ensure its safety.

Protect The Rock.

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