From the glory years of the '80s to the agonizing Bowden era
About the best and worst of Clemson fandom can be described just by recent events.
First, the Tigers are in a good spot on the football field. Dabo Swinney led the Tigers to its first ACC title in 20 years in 2011, and 2012 wrapped up the program’s first back-to-back 10-win seasons in more than two decades. The offense is one of the best in the country, leading the Tigers to a top-10 rank in the preseason.
But this is Clemson, and the Tigers can’t get out of their own way.
When Howard’s Rock was revealed to be vandalized earlier this summer, fans were aghast to find one of the nation’s most beloved college football artifacts broken. Could it have been a rival? Had Clemson found its own Harvey Updyke?
Nope, it was an 18-year-old Clemson fan who snuck into the stadium for kicks and chipped off a piece of the college football landmark.
Beyond recent years, we looked at the best and worst times to be a Clemson fan, and because Clemson football has unique ability to tantalize its own fanbase, we picked the most frustrating time to root for the Tigers.
BEST TIMES TO BE A CLEMSON FAN
National championships: 1
Coach: Danny Ford, Ken Hatfield
Notable players: Terry Kinard, William Perry, Terrence Flagler, Donnell Woolford
The casual college football may forget how good the ‘80s were to Clemson. Tigers fans won’t. From 1981-90, only Nebraska, Miami and BYU won more games than Clemson. The run under Danny Ford included the improbable 1981 national championship coming off a 6-5 season a year earlier. The ’81 team defeated four top-10 teams, including a win over a Herschel Walker-led Georgia team. The Tigers capped the season by defeating No. 4 Nebraska in the Orange Bowl in a de facto national championship game. The era also feature two-time All-American defensive back Terry Kinard and fan favorite “Refrigerator” Perry. Clemson finished the era with three consecutive ACC titles from 1986-88 and four consecutive 10-win seasons from 1987-90.
National championships: 0
Coach: Frank Howard
Notable players: Bobby Gage, Jackie Calvert
Clemson wouldn’t achieve national prominence until the ‘80s, leaving these three (but really two) seasons as the top mark before the 11-1 season in 1978. Clemson went 11-0 with a win over Missouri in the Gator Bowl in 1948 and 9-0-1 with a win over Miami in the Orange Bowl in 1950. Clemson fans had plenty to cheer about, but too many games against regional teams like Presbyterian, Furman and The Citadel made it tough for the nation to take Clemson’s record too seriously.
MOST PAINFUL TIME TO BE A CLEMSON FAN
Coach: Tommy Bowden (right)
It’s tough to classify to the Bowden era at Clemson. The Tigers had eight consecutive winning seasons from 2000-08. They went 7-2 against South Carolina, and at one point took three of four from Florida State. Clemson recruited well and kept talent on the field. Given the program’s history — especially apart from the Danny Ford years — this was all pretty good. But Clemson always kept fans wanting more. This is when “to Clemson” became a verb, meaning raising expectations only to see them crash in spectacular fashion. The Tigers started 8-0 in 2000 only to lose three of the last four. They started 7-1 in 2006 to lose four of the last five, including a bowl game to Kentucky. The 2007 team started the season unranked but excited the Clemson faithful by beating Florida State in the opener. The 4-0 start was spoiled by back-to-back losses to Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech. Fittingly, the Bowden era ended when Clemson opened the season ranked ninth in the polls before starting 3-4.
WORST TIME TO BE A CLEMSON FAN
Coaches: Frank Howard, Hootie Ingram, Red Parker
Clemson won five ACC titles under Howard, but his latter years were no reason to brag. The successors to Clemson’s all-time wins leader didn’t fare much better. The Tigers endured eight losing seasons in nine years. Charley Pell was hired in 1977 to fix the program, which he did. But it came at a price.
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