Running down the hill: "You get chills every single time"
|Tuesday, August 27, 2019, 8:23 AM- -|
CLEMSON – The most exciting 25 seconds in college football.
Brent Musberger coined the phrase that describes Clemson’s iconic entrance into Death Valley during the 1980s, and only those fortunate enough to be a player, coach, or support staff will ever know the thrill of running down the hill with 80,000 orange-clad fans at full throat.
Even seniors like Sean Pollard still get chills as they exit the bus and see Death Valley from the top of the hill, in all its fall glory.
The players, coaches and support staff go through pregame warmups on the field, retreat to the home locker room for final preparation and then head out of the locker room to the buses. For Pollard, nothing can top the excitement.
“Well, the first time I did it I had a broken foot. So, I was in a boot trying to go down the hill and it was a little harder than I thought,” Pollard told TigerNet Monday. “But, I was excited. It is definitely the most exciting 25 seconds in college football and you always hear about it, and nothing beats it. When you get up on top of that hill and you look and there are 83,000 screaming fans and it doesn't matter if it's a noon game or if it's a night game.
“They're there, they're rowdy, and they are fun. So, it's intimidating though I mean you get up there and you are trying not to fall. I walk down that thing. Everybody gets mad at me, but I’m not falling. That thing is a lot steeper than it looks.”
The team loads on the buses and room is at a premium – the players are wearing pads and helmets and are trying to cram into seats made for normal-sized people.
“You're lucky to get a seat. But, you're cramped, because everybody gets a seat and then the seniors stand in the middle,” Pollard said. “Everybody is in full uniform, so there's not much room anyways, and Coach (Dabo) Swinney is down at the bottom of the bus, so there is just not much room and everybody is squeezing like sardines and when we get out we actually run again and move again- it's nice.”
Pollard said the ride around the stadium is eerily quiet.
“Just coming around in the bus, you've seen videos of it but once you're there and it’s like a weird quiet in the sense that there are guys that are all making noise but a very weird quiet, because like you hear all these screaming fans, but you really don't hear until once you open those doors and it's unreal. It just erupts,” Pollard said.
The quiet stops once the players exit the bus.
“Oh wow! It's deafening. It's a good deafening. Like you get there and you get to the top and especially during a night game, you get to the top and you look around and see a sea of orange and then people are rowdy,” he said. “It's awesome just hearing the echo of so much pride for our school and just knowing that they are going to scream at the top of their lungs before the game has even started because they are so excited to just see us play. You get chills. I don't care if you have done it one time or 150 times, you get chills every single time. It's great, you get butterflies in your stomach knowing that you get to put something on for your people.”
Not every player makes it down without a little trouble, as Pollard says linebacker Chad Smith knows all too well.
“Chad Smith was the one that is pretty funny. I think it might've been our spring game or something and he like jumped off the second part, because everybody thinks the hill is just straight down, but there is a hump there,” Pollard said. “And he jumped off it and just eats it. barrel rolls and like tries to pop up but couldn't because he had so much momentum. There is a lot of momentum going down and everybody is like, ‘they're purposely running.’ No, we're taking the momentum with us because we're running at full speed to get down that thing. But it was funny just watching pictures in the weight room when we were over in the old room, and pictures were playing on the wheel of him just falling and I was laughing.”
Swinney is the first one down the hill, outpacing everyone else to the bottom.
“Well, he goes down first and he has to get down there to shake everybody's hand. I don't know, Coach Swinney thinks he's a lot faster than he is,” Pollard said. “I keep trying to get him to race me, but he won’t. He comes up with an excuse and all that. But, no, he just runs down. He gets hyped. He gets all that adrenaline, but I feel like he feels like he is going to play a game himself. So, he gets down there and gets crazy and then we're working our way down. We're in full gear and he's in regular pants, so for him, it’s a little bit easier to get down.”
Pollard is a veteran – he’s had 24 chances (counting spring games) to run down the hill and now has just seven chances remaining. The thought is bittersweet.
“Yeah, you just gave me chills, but no I think about it. Coach Swinney always says that the days and weeks might be long, but years are short,” Pollard said. “And that’s true. I feel like I was just getting here in the WestZone. I thought it was the best thing ever. I was at college and doing all this and now I'm the old guy. I'm a senior and I’m done after this season.
“So, it's just crazy and I am going to try to take in everything that I can. Look around, smell the roses while I have them. Kind of like how we did last season, but just like more personally. Find something that I can remember each game by. Even if it's like the pregame book that tells about everything or keep a glove or something that I can remember each game by.”
*Bradley Reid contributed to this report.