The tale of the tigers

Of all of Georgia Tech’s ACC rivals, Clemson tops the list for me. I love the Clemson-Georgia Tech rivalry. One of the reaons why is that Clemson is located in the foothills of the mountains, in northern South Carolina. My family comes from just across the Chattooga River in the foothills of the Georgia mountains, so it feels a little like home. The campus sits on a lake just under the mountains and the actual town of Clemson is no more than a stoplight and a couple of stores. It’s truly the definition of a college town. The stadium is a cathedral, one of the steepest upper decks I’ve ever seen, so if you’re at field level all the noise crashes down on you. Plus, there’s Howard’s Rock and the “most exciting twenty-five seconds” in all of college football.

Clemson fans are a unique breed, too. They are some of my favorite fans in all of the ACC. They are loud, energetic and only rarely obnoxious. They come dressed head-to-toe in bright orange in cars with tiger tails hanging out of the tailgate. They are, most of the time, gracious in defeat and in victory. They are also fabulous poor mouthers (I love the old fans….”there’s no way we can possibly win this game…”) and love to hedge their bets (“we may beat Tech, but Florida State will kill us next week.”)

Combine all that with a series that, lately, has been as exciting as they come. Georgia Tech used to play Clemson on Thanksgiving Day from 1905-1914. Tech enjoys a 44-23-2 series lead over Clemson, but most of those wins came before 1975. When Tech joined the ACC and Danny Ford arrived at Clemson, suddenly Clemson wasn’t a gimmie anymore. In the last nine years, all but one game was decided by less than a touchdown, and from 1996 to 2001, each of the games was decided by 3 points. That’s a close series.

The first Clemson game I remember was in 1989 when I listened on radio as Georgia Tech went up to Clemson and won at Death Valley. Nobody won at Death Valley in the 80’s, so that game was an alert that the Tech program was back. In 1990, the game in the unrelenting heat at Bobby Dodd was a classic as Tech held Clemson at the goal line and started to get the attention of the national media.

The game I remember most fondly was the 2000 tussle when Clemson was undefeated and ranked #5 in the nation. Genay and I travelled up to Clemson and stayed with one of his friends, a sweet girl named Shannon and toured the Clemson campus during the day. I remember running into one of our friends from back at Tech and she spouted off in her typical vulgar language about how angry she was that she hadn’t found any alcohol yet for the game and how angry she was that she wasn’t drunk yet. After she left, Shannon asked timidly, “Are all the girls at Georgia Tech ….. like that?”and without missing a beat Genay answered, “Most of them, sadly, yes.” I remember Clemson blocked a punt early in the game and scored a touchdown and I’m not sure I’ve ever been in the middle of such hysteria in my life, the noise and commotion was unreal. However, Kerry Watkin’s one-handed catch with seven seconds left in the end zone sent the crowd home stunned and Genay and I into euphoria.

Last year’s game bordered on unreal, also. The muffed punt and Calvin Johnson’s touchdown catches in the 4th quarter were the stuff of legends. I still find it hard to believe that Tech won last year.

There are so many other memorable games in this series. Some where Clemson finished on top. Woodrow Dantzler was uncatchable in 2001. Adriene and I sat in the upper deck of Death Valley in 2002 and watched as rain band after rain band poured on us in the “hurricane bowl.” Only the “ugly purple jersey” game of 2003 has been a snoozefest lately.

Here’s hoping for another chapter in this exciting series. Combine it with homecoming on The Flats and there should be a lot of excitement this weekend.