The Slippery Slope Of Clemson Fandom
What a bizarre start to the 2008 football season. And I’m not just talking about the play on the field.
The offseason fire was fueled in February when Tommy Bowden inked, arguably, the best class of his tenure at Clemson. Added to that class was the news that both James Davis and Aaron Kelly would return for their senior seasons at Clemson.
Tiger Nation had six months to sit on the enthusiasm and it bubbled over the top of the rim as the opening kickoff in the Georgia Dome three weeks ago flew through the air.
And almost immediately, fractures in the fan base cracked back open as the Tigers put together a pitiful performance in Atlanta. Back were the concerns about Tommy Bowden. Back were the concerns about the softness of Clemson’s offensive and defensive lineman. Back were the concerns about Cullen Harper and Willy Korn.
The following two weeks after Alabama has provided two wins, but no solace for a fan base that can’t seem to latch on to the side of the slippery mountain. A portion of the fan base has not enjoyed much of anything in the season thus far because they can’t seem to allow themselves to have hope. It is as if they have seen this movie before and they know the ending. It’s hard to blame them, as we have all been down this road before. But it is becoming almost comical how quickly and easily people are giving up.
The first week of the season was a miserable experience for me. Seeing our team get pushed around the field with little to no answers was embarrassing and heartbreaking all at once. I turned the corner the Thursday before Clemson played The Citadel, and have since moved on and enjoyed these two wins.
But I know the Alabama games is still haunting many of you, including a former Clemson great.
Joe Bostic, a former All American offensive tackle for Clemson, took it upon himself to blast (or challenge) the current offensive line last week in an interview with The Greenville News. Bostic is one of my heroes, anchoring an offensive line during an era where we could physically dominate opposing teams. There was nothing in Bostic’s comments that I could find fault with or disagree with. Then again, I’m not sure what value comments like his make two games into the season. I think Bostic over-stepped his bounds much like the crazed, nameless Internet junkies have done.
Maybe Bostic is some covert coach for the offensive line, trying to motivate the guys to play better and play with a meaner streak. Clemson’s freshman offensive lineman did step up, opening enough holes for the Tiger offense to grind out 166 yards rushing at almost 6 yards per run against a decent Wolfpack defense. And, in case you were wondering, the offensive line did not give up a sack either. Maybe the credit should go to Bostic for his criticism instead of Brad Scott or Landon Walker or Mason Cloy or David Smith?
But that has become the norm for Clemson football and those that follow it with a passion. At the first signs of trouble, tons of folks begin to jump off the ship. In some corners, this season has already been thrown away. Not, necessarily, because of what has happened on the field. But because of this gnawing feeling of what will happen.
This uneasiness has bled inside the program as well. Tommy Bowden and Cullen Harper have thrown subtle jabs at each other the past two weeks. Bowden initially questioned Harper’s performance against The Citadel (a game that Harper completed 14-18 passes). Harper took exception, telling the media that he wishes Bowden would talk to him in private instead of at a press conference.
Harper then throws an interception on the first play of the game against NC State. Later, Harper runs out of bounds instead of fighting for a first down, possibly protecting his bum shoulder. Boos rained down in Death Valley, and Harper proceeds to get an ear full from Bowden and other coaches as he trotted off the field.
Getting the point, Harper later tucks the ball and runs for an apparent first down before getting drilled by a Wolfpack defender. The ball falls out and the Wolfpack seize some momentum. Harper, shaken up on the play, is booed again. Talk about a damned if you do and damned if you don’t scenario. All of this drama is wrapped around a 20-28 performance by Harper that included 262 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the “Golden Child” sits on the bench patiently waiting his turn. It’s a good thing Willy Korn has some class, because if he took on the demeanor of his supporters he would scream and yell on the sideline to the Clemson coaches, demanding to be put into the game. Maybe Korn, unlike his supporters, understands that the issues the Clemson offense have encountered the first three weeks of the season have little to nothing to do with the quarterback. Korn’s time is coming, and hopefully he will earn legitimate snaps this year so that we can build for the future. But the incessant screams from the stands to insert Korn into the game after every incomplete pass by Harper is growing old. Korn’s folklore has made his upcoming career at Clemson doomed from the start. There is simply no way the kid can live up to the expectations that the high school arm chair quarterbacks have made him out to be.
The only thing keeping the defense out of the line of fire is that there are no easy answers to the concerns on that side of the ball. Vic Koenning seems eager to try anything to jump start the Tiger defense, and the answers that he seems to find revolve around getting Ricky Sapp and Rashaad Jackson back as soon as possible. Koenning can’t buy a break, having his best young linebacker get the flu during the week. Who gets the flu in September? Brandon Maye may be the first diagnosed case of the flu in the nation since last February. That was until Scott Cooper contracted the flu a week later. Were the two of these linebackers drinking from the same cups or is Koenning snake bit?
At least we can’t throw jabs at the special teams so far this year. Clemson has been almost perfect in all phases of special teams this year, which is scary considering how awful that area has been over the past few years. Then again, nobody is talking about special teams because there are way too many other things to complain about that leaves no time for the positives.
All of this adds up to a slippery slope as a Clemson football fan. I think our people have been burned so many times, we are fearful to have hope and to see positives. For every good thing that happens, the immediate feeling is that a bad thing is coming right around the bend. I can’t say that I blame people. Negative Nellies can provide so many examples of why they should be down on this team and these coachers based on what has happened in the past that nobody in their right mind can argue against.
But I do feel sorry for those that can’t seem to find any joy in winning football games because they are too busy clinging to the slippery slope.
Other than being hot, the last two weeks have been wonderful for me as a fan. We have won two football games and we have showed steady improvement in almost all phases of the game in those two wins against out-manned opponents. The beauty of the schedule this year was that we had at least three weeks to work out the kinks and to improve after the Alabama game. When the Tigers host Maryland in two weeks, I think this team will be playing the kind of football that we all can be proud of.
I don’t have the fear of failure that some of you do. I don’t have the gut feeling that we will get what we have got with this team. Am I the only one that feels that way? Surely there are others out there.
I have been called many things, most notably a “homer” and “sunshine pumper”. Actually, I have been disappointed in this team as a whole for the first three weeks. Coach Bowden deserves a tremendous amount of criticism for not having his team ready to play in Atlanta. But I haven’t jumped off the ship. In fact, I’ve never considered jumping off the ship.
If you watch any college football you know that what you get one week is going to be different than what you get the next week from your favorite team. That is not an issue exclusive to Clemson. It’s an issue everywhere in college football.
The best you can hope for is to find a way to win games, even with the flaws that come with analyzing the games’ aftermath. For two weeks, Clemson has won games despite the warts and the flaws. I have dug my heels onto the side of the slippery slope. I think most of us have done the same. I know many of you that are worrying want Clemson to be successful; you just can’t make yourself have faith.
We have somehow warped into a fan base where people are made to feel guilty if they have hope. We also have somehow warped into a fan base where people can’t let a loss go. I’ve never seen such a strange start to a season.
And I don’t see any way out of this funk even if Clemson makes it to Tampa. This funk can’t be washed off.
What a shame.
Thomas Williams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org