One Woody Dantzler was serene, the other frenzied. With Clemson on its own 32-yard line and trailing archrival South Carolina 14-13 with 59 seconds to go last Saturday in Death Valley, Woody Dantzler III, the Tigers' junior quarterback, looked over at section C, where his father, Woody Jr., was cheering wildly. His dad's presence has always brought Woody III a sense of peace, so when he stepped into the huddle, he told his teammates, "Losing this game is not about to happen."
Clemson began to drive. On third-and-12 at the Tigers' 42, Dantzler called a play named Go Look X. He rolled left on a sore left ankle that had hampered him for four weeks and threw a strike across the field to senior receiver Rod Gardner, who made the catch at the Gamecocks' eight-yard line with 10 seconds remaining. Two plays later freshman Aaron Hunt clinched a 16-14 victory with a 25-yard field goal. "For a guy playing on a bad leg, Woody showed a ton of courage," said Gardner, who ranks second on Clemson's alltime receptions list, with 159. "He just knows how to be a hero."
After the game Dantzler was asked if he had been scared of losing. He laughed incredulously. While growing up in Orangeburg, S.C., Woody III learned to deal with his father's frightening illness. In 1985 Woody Jr. began enduring debilitating headaches and fatigue. His condition was diagnosed as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura, a rare and deadly blood disorder.
After being hospitalized a number of times since the diagnosis, including earlier this year, to undergo a treatment called plasmapheresis, which involves removing and replacing plasma with fresh-frozen plasma, Woody Jr. now has weekly plasma infusions that help keep his condition reasonably stable. He isn't working because he is disabled and the condition is currently affecting his speech. "I know my father is a fighter," Woody III says. "I've always felt that he can beat whatever adversity comes along, and I've gathered strength from watching him."
While guiding Clemson to a 7-0 start this season, Woody III was on pace to become the first collegian to pass for 2,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in the same season. After throwing for 1,271 yards and rushing for 819 in those first seven games, he was being touted as a Heisman Trophy candidate. Then, in the second quarter of a 38-24 win over North Carolina on Oct. 21, Dantzler severely bruised his left ankle. He was so hobbled that he ran for only 26 yards and threw for just 167 in the next two games, against Georgia Tech and Florida State, as the Tigers suffered their only two defeats. "I got frustrated, and I must have asked myself a hundred times, Why me?" Dantzler says. "Then I called my dad, and he told me to be patient because the season wasn't over yet."
With 185 yards passing and 81 yards rushing against the Gamecocks, Dantzler broke Clemson's single-season total-offense record of 2,557 yards set by Nealon Greene in 1997. He says he has stopped torturing himself with questions about how the 15th-ranked Tigers might have fared if he'd remained healthy. As Woody III limped out of the Clemson locker room on an ankle that will require surgery as soon as the season is over, he spotted Woody Jr., who celebrated his 51st birthday on Friday. The father thanked the son for a memorable birthday gift. "With everything I've been through, I feel blessed just to be around here to watch my boy play," Woody Jr. said. "My heart must be strong to survive this kind of win."