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A touch of rheumatism has cramped Clifton's style a bit on Homecoming Day, but he gets riled up all the same. "Clifton is still a wild man," says Mary. "He gets too nervous, and I have to calm him down. He'll scream, 'Play 'em off the field! Hold 'em! Get 'em below the knees! That's not the way to tackle!' "
Clifton became an expert in tackling in 1922. That was the year his crucial hit helped the Aggies beat Virginia Union, a victory that earned them football respectability. Dr. Albert Spruill, the historian of A & T football, wrote in Great Recollections from Aggieland, "He [Howell] caught up with his adversary and made him the victim."
The truth, Clifton says, was somewhat less heroic: "Coach was shouting at me from the sidelines, 'Big man, if you don't get that guy, I'll kill you.' "
If you ever find yourself in Columbia, S.C., cruise up Main Street past the Ta-kin' Five 41-item salad bar, past Taco Cid, past Wigs 'n Things and the Duck-In restaurant ("Quackin' Good Food"), past the Seoul Restaurant & Lounge and the sign that says SWAMP WIGGLER'S, RED WORMS, NITE-CRAWLERS, MINNOWS, PRODUCE AND CRICKET and turn right after the Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop. At the bend in the road you'll come to a brick bungalow. That's where a retired bookkeeper named Walter May has lived for 61 years. "There's nothing fine about it," he says, "but it's comfortable and paid for."
Which is about how South Carolina fans regard May at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia: not exactly interesting, but modestly monumental. He has attended every Clemson-South Carolina game since 1911, the year he dropped out of Clemson. All May remembers about that first game is the score. "We beat them 27-0," he says. He doesn't know why he left school. "To tell you the truth," he says, "I never have been able to figure it out."
May is a homebred Southern boy, born in Columbia, where he learned to love country music, go to church on Sunday and ignore the University of South Carolina, his hometown team. His one year at Clemson made him a lifelong Tiger fan. His devotion to the university 140 miles to the northwest earned him the nickname Clemson.
May is thin and wiry, and his hands are strong and embossed with veins. He's 92 and he talks slow and easy, like a courthouse whittler. If you've got a minute or two he'll remind you that a couple of Heisman Trophy winners, George Rogers and Herschel Walker, failed to cross the Clemson goal line. He'll also tell you how Banks McFadden, a Tiger quarterback in the '30s, flummoxed South Carolina with a quick kick on first down.
The closest May ever came to missing a Clemson-South Carolina game was in 1942, when an inner-ear infection nearly felled him at the gate. "My head started spinning and people thought I was drunk," he recalls. In those days, South Carolina was always the home team, because the big game was played at the state fairgrounds in Columbia, and highway patrolmen used to prowl the bleachers for bootleg liquor and take-out rowdies. "I got inside and the thing hit me like that," says May, snapping his fingers. "It kinda—heh-heh—held me up. So I set down on a Coca-Cola crate for 10, 15 minutes and it passed off." May has many down-homey anecdotes like that, in fact exactly like that.
He loves Clemson, but he has never worked up much of a distaste for South Carolina. "I'm not the type of guy that hates the Gamecocks," he says. "But Lord knows, I sure don't pull for them."