On most Thursday nights during the past three football seasons center Kyle Young gathered teammates for burgers and sweet tea at Mac's Drive-In, where they occupied the 13 orange stools and watched videotapes of the Tigers' greatest victories on the old Zenith behind the counter. On a wall is a grainy photo of the 1939 Clemson team, which went 9-1, won the Cotton Bowl and included Young's grandfather Ed McLendon, who played both ways at tackle. Kyle's father, Ron, has coordinated TV timeouts between the broadcast booth and the game officials at Tigers home games for two decades. Kyle's older brother, Will, played guard for Clemson from 1992 through '95. Having grown up within a half mile of Clemson Memorial Stadium, a.k.a. Death Valley, Kyle, now a senior, has attended or played in more than 140 games there.
" Clemson football is very personal to me, and I want to help my teammates understand the amazing legacy of success that we've inherited," Young says. "I grew up watching cocky Clemson teams that expected to win every game."
Since the arrival of coach Tommy Bow-den two years ago, after a 3-8 record in Tommy West's final season, the Tigers have progressed to six victories in '99 and nine last year. Bowden's theme for 2001 is "double-digit wins," and he doesn't have to spell out the primary obstacles to that goal. Clemson has endured four consecutive three-point losses to Georgia Tech and hasn't defeated Florida State in nine tries since the Seminoles joined the ACC.
"Our goal is to put the Death back in Death Valley," says senior quarterback Woodrow Dantzler. "It feels as if we've been reaching for a trophy that's 37 inches above us and we've got a 36-inch vertical jump. We have to work a little harder to get that last inch."
The Tigers' litmus test, against Florida State, comes on Nov. 3, the day Clemson celebrates the 20th anniversary of its only national championship season. "I have this vision of future Tigers players going to Mac's to watch our 2001 team play," Young says. "I'd like them to see us finally beat Florida State and have them say, 'That's the team that brought back Clem-son's swagger.' "