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Curry Kirkpatrick
October 23, 1989
You still might not be able to find it, but football and ol' Frank Howard have put Clemson on the map
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October 23, 1989


You still might not be able to find it, but football and ol' Frank Howard have put Clemson on the map

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Is Clemson truly Southern Gothic or what? Thomas Clemson's wife, Anna Maria Calhoun, was the daughter of U.S. Senator John C. Calhoun, the ardent voice of states' rights and secessionism and an architect of the Confederacy.

Is Clemson truly ultrafarm or what? Thomas Clemson was the nation's first superintendent of Agricultural Affairs, the predecessor to the Department of Agriculture. Senator Pitchfork Ben Tillman, a fiery farmer from Edgefield, S.C., who may have been the nation's first full-fledged redneck, led the fight to approve the school's charter. (It passed by one vote.)

Moreover, it was Pitchfork Ben who once called the Clemson student body "the horny-handed sons of toil"—a description long since evolved into a boisterous chant at Georgia Tech-Clemson games in Atlanta. The chant begins, "" Since Pitchfork Ben's time the Clemson agricultural-experiment station has made incredible breakthroughs, developing the Clemson spineless okra, the Colossos Southern pea, the Edisto 47 cantaloupe—we are not making this up—Clemfine turf grass and the Clemson nonshatter (CNS) soybean.

Bottom line, however, what really has mattered at Clemson? Soybeans or sideline markers? Clemson natives say you can tell if a third-grader has attended the local school system by how he answers the math question: What's two plus two? Clemson answer: third-and-six.

But the school's obsession with football can be ugly, too. In the early 1980s, Clemson president Bill Atchley, who wanted to clean up the program in the wake of the Tigers' NCAA probation, was embroiled in a power struggle with athletic director Bill McLellan. As a result, both men resigned.

Clemson's first football coach, Walter Riggs, became the school's sixth president. A later Clemson president, R.C. Edwards, was a student manager under ol' Frank. Edwards, an agronomist, was also a former president of IPTAY, which explains why he occasionally saw fit as Clemson's president to lead the football team when it ran onto the field. Even today the 75-year-old Edwards, 10 years retired, goes down to the athletic dorm to wave goodbye to the Tigers each time they board the bus for an away game.

Riggs once tried to hire Ty Cobb to coach baseball at Clem-son. He did hire John Heisman—yes, that Heisman—to coach football. The human trophy-to-be wound up winning 19 games in four seasons (1900-03) while establishing a philosophy that seems to epitomize Clemson 90 years later. (By the way. Heisman honorees Herschel Walker of Georgia and George Rogers of South Carolina played a combined six games against Clemson and never scored a single touchdown.)

"At Clemson we have a style of football play radically different from anything on earth," wrote Heisman, no Humble Johnny, he, in 1903. "All colleges should have fixed athletic traditions and should be loyal to them as to the institution itself.... The complete unity and harmony of athletic opinion and sentiment existing at Clemson is due in no small part of credit to her glorious athletic record."

Thus were born, years later:

?Running Down the Hill. After their last warmup before each home game, the Tigers retreat to the dressing room and then board buses that deposit the Tigers at the top of the hill at the east end. A cannon sounds. Tiger Rag begins to play. The Tigers charge down to the field on an orange carpet. It's great stuff—unless you're Florida State's Deion Sanders, who last fall stood at the base of the hill, mocking the Tigers and beckoning them to "come and get it." Unfortunately for the home team, they didn't get Sanders, who ran back a punt for a touchdown and a 24-21 Seminole win.

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