The Most Bizarre Moments in Clemson Football History - Part I

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Bizarre, admittedly, is a difficult term to accurately define in the sports world. Webster defines bizarre as “Strikingly unconventional and far-fetched in style or appearance.” Bizarre is certainly a relative term; what is bizarre to you may not be so bizarre to me.

Clemson’s recent football history, of which I will only devote this list to, consists of the post 1970 era. Certainly, there were some bizarre events that took place prior to 1970 in Clemson football. You could probably even say that the early years of Clemson football offer up things that today would seem improbable or impossible. But I’ll stick to what I have seen during my lifetime as a Clemson football fan in creating this list of ten most bizarre moments.

I’ll start this week with the #10 most bizarre moment in recent Clemson football history and end today’s article at the #6 most bizarre moment. I’ll lay out my top five next week in a separate article. And, as always, I would assume that there would be some debate about my rankings.


November 12, 1983

Balloons, Balloons, Everywhere Balloons

To be honest, this one is a little out of place on the list once you read the other nine. But this game, and this event, was truly one of those unique moments in Clemson football history.

In the 1980’s, Central Spirit would specify a game where they would do something out of the ordinary. This particular year, Central Spirit decided they were going to attempt to break the largest balloon launch record by blowing up and distributing over 300,000 balloons. It was a highly publicized affair, and a sold out crowd descended to Clemson for this late November game against Maryland and their quarterback Boomer Esiason.

As the balloons were distributed prior to kickoff, pleas from the public address announcer urged fans to not let the balloons go until the Tigers came down the hill for fear that the record could be in jeopardy. As the bus carrying the Tigers rounded the corner and the team stepped off the bus, a literal sea of orange balloons encompassed Death Valley.

As the cannon sounded and the balloons were released, the perfectly blue and sunny sky that day was completely blocked out by the 300,000 or so balloons ascending into the sky. A huge shadow, almost like a solar eclipse, engulfed the stadium and field. Players reported having trouble making it down the hill that day because they were all looking up at the balloons rising above Frank Howard Field.

In the days and weeks following the balloon release, people reported finding the downed balloons all over the upstate. While many landed in the Anderson area, balloons were reportedly found as far away as Greenwood. Animal activists also were in the news, saying the release was harmful and possibly fatal to animals.

Unfortunately, that type of record-breaking attempt will more than likely never be tried again in Clemson. But for one November afternoon, it was a truly spectacular show.


November 27, 1982 and November 30, 1991

Tigers Speak Japanese

Even the idea of a Clemson football playing in Japan is bizarre, but actually pulling it off not once, but twice, certainly makes it a valid member of this list.

Clemson played Wake Forest in the Mirage Bowl in Tokyo at the end of the 1982 season. The Tigers beat the Deacons 21-17 and wrapped up the ACC Championship. Almost ten years later, Clemson again traveled to Tokyo and defeated Duke 33-21, scoring 26 points in the 4th quarter to get the win.

Former Clemson SID Bob Bradley sightseeing in Japan.

Jim and Julie Prater, longtime Clemson fans from Columbia, relayed to me their experience in Japan watching the Tigers. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A Japanese rock band played at halftime and right after the game. I think the largest Japanese crowd was actually at the end of the game when the musicians came back out on the field.”

The Praters also had an interesting experience one evening trying to order food, but were saved by the “ingenuity” of the late Bob Bradley. “One of our funniest experiences was a night in Kyoto when a group of about six of us went to dinner in a steak house off the tourist path where no one spoke English,” Julia says.

“The group included Bob Bradley. We had the Japanese version of ribs, communicating with a lot of pointing and gesturing. When it came time to pay our bill, we had a communication problem at the checkout and Bob was furiously pointing out his ribs on his own torso trying to make the guy at the checkout understand what we had eaten for dinner!”

The Japanese, while mostly interested in the rock band, were also fascinated with the size and girth of Clemson defensive lineman William Perry. At the press outing prior to the 1982 game, many of the Japanese media thought Perry was a Sumo wrestler, not a Clemson football player.

Consider that the United States, less than 40 years earlier, was embroiled in war with Japan which resulted in dropping two atomic bombs makes it even harder to imagine the fact that Clemson was playing football on that soil. When Clemson played Texas A&M in College Station two years ago, it was strange to the see the Tigers outside of the Atlantic region. But seeing Clemson play in Japan makes the trip to College Station seem like a walk across the street. And it makes for a very bizarre experience to say the least.


November 15, 1986

Press Box Coaches

Danny Ford and Bobby Ross coached a decisive ACC game from the Press Box in Baltimore as punishment for openly criticizing officials at the end of separate games. Both coaches were suspended from coaching the game from the sideline, thus banished to the Press Box to lead their teams from several hundreds of feet in the air.

Coach Ford’s suspension was due to an ugly incident at the end of the 1985 game in Death Valley against Maryland. The play clock had expired before the snap of the ball on a play the Terrapins were running late in the game. Coach Ford, to put it mildly, went crazy. CBS, who was broadcasting the game nationally, picked up every word coming from Ford’s mouth as he berated the nearest official. Moments later, Clemson players scuffled with Maryland players after a kickoff that also made headline news.

Coach Ross, having chased the officials off the field following a Maryland game with N.C. State earlier in 1986, would also serve a suspension by the ACC.

As a joke, cruel irony, or happenstance, the two coaches would serve their suspensions during the 1986 Clemson game against Maryland in Baltimore. As it turned out, this was a critical game for both teams as Clemson needed a win or a tie to win the ACC Championship. If there was any doubt as to whether Coach Ford was still running the team from the press box, all questions were dismissed while watching the very conservative approach to the game for the Tigers. The game would end in a 17-17 tie (Clemson forcing the tie), thus giving Clemson the ACC title.

The image of Coach Ford up above the playing surface, coupled with not seeing him pull grass on the sidelines while chewing tobacco, is an image that is truly bizarre in Clemson football history.


December 31, 1993

West Wins Without Knowing Names

Try to imagine a situation where you come to coach a football team on four weeks notice that consists of no players you have recruited, signed, coached, or even knew. That is exactly what you had on the last day of 1993 when Tommy West coached the Tigers in the Peach Bowl against Kentucky. West, taking over from the recently fired Ken Hatfield, was charged with coaching a team he hardly knew in a bowl game with the equivalent practice time of 10 days.

This was a bizarre moment for Coach West, I’m sure. But it was also an almost unprecedented event in college football history. West was only the 6th coach (at the time) to make his head coaching debut for a school in a bowl game and only the 2nd coach to ever become head coach for a bowl game after not serving as an assistant at that school during the regular season.

During the initial practices at Clemson, West had all the player names taped onto their helmets so he could refer to them during drills. As the practices moved to Atlanta, the names remained on the helmets and Coach West did his best to remember as much as he could during interviews with the media. To their credit, the assistant coaches under Hatfield (many of them still hoping for a spot on West’s staff) hung around to continue coaching for the bowl game. To West’s credit, he allowed the assistant coaches to take control of game planning and play calling. The game would have been a debacle had either of the two above scenarios not taken place.

On the sideline during the game, West served as part cheerleader and part fifth wheel. His excitement as Clemson’s new coach was evident, even when things looked dim for the prospects of winning the game late against the Wildcats. West and the Hatfield staff were rewarded for handling things with class, as Clemson scored with 20 seconds left in the game to defeat the Wildcats. It was the latest touchdown to win a game ever in Clemson football history.

Although I’m sure Coach West could not tell you to this day what the play call was, mainly because he did not know the vocabulary of Hatfield’s play book!


December 4th, 1978

Do Tell, Mr. Pell

Charley Pell certainly did his part in putting Clemson football on the map. The Tigers were fresh off an ACC Championship and had won 10 games for the first time since 1948 when rumors started to rumble that Pell was talking with Florida about their head coaching vacancy.

At the time, Pell was as well liked as any Clemson football coach had ever been (minus Frank Howard). His cigar purchase after the win in Athens was the stuff of legends, and Pell seemed poised to take Clemson to the elite level of college football, which was great news for the IPTAY loyalists.

So you can imagine the relief of Clemson fans on the evening of December 3rd when Pell put the rumors of moving to Florida to rest in an exclusive interview with the late Jim Phillips. In Phillips’ book, Still Roaring, Jim relays the conversation he had with Coach Pell on the evening of December 3rd. Jim called Pell and directly asked him if he was going to leave Clemson for Florida. Pell said no, and Jim followed up by asking if he could come over to Pell’s house and get him to say it on tape. Pell agreed and told Jim to come over.

Phillips took his camera directly to Pell’s house and they set it up in the living room in a cozy spot. Jim started rolling the tape and asked Pell point blank, “Charley, rumor has it that you’re headed to the University of Florida. What is your response to that?”

Pell calmly looked into the camera and said, “Tiger fans, this is your old buddy, Charley Pell. I wouldn’t lie to you. Charley Pell is here to stay. I’m a Clemson Tiger.”

Less than 24 hours later, Pell was boarding a University of Florida plane at Greenville/Spartanburg Airport as the new coach of the Gators. Clemson fans were stunned at first, then angered. The vile directed at Pell (rightfully so) was so bad you would have thought Pell was the leader of Iran or Russia. In Still Roaring, Jim’s book with Ken Tysiac, Phillips reveals conversations he had with Pell in 2001, which explained exactly what was going on during that fateful day. The book is a must read for all Clemson fans, so I’ll leave the rest of the story on Pell for you to read in the book.

The late Charley Pell, to his credit, regretted the entire situation and came back to Clemson to repent late in his life before he passed away. To our fan’s credit, they received Pell warmly as time healed the wounds and Pell is now remembered (rightfully so) as an integral early cog to the 1981 National Championship team. And, of course, Pell leaving Clemson gave us Danny Ford. And that turned out pretty well, even if Ford’s starting point came days after one of Clemson football’s most bizarre moments.

Next Week

In the next article, I’ll reveal my top five most bizarre moments in Clemson football history. If you think the above were bizarre, they don’t even compare to the bizarre happenings in the remaining five. For debate on these five as well as speculation on what the top five will be, visit the .

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