What has been described as, "the most exciting 25 seconds in college football
from a color and pageantry standpoint," actually started out as a matter-of-fact
entrance, mainly because of necessity.
The first 20,000 seats in Clemson Memorial Stadium were built and ready
for use before the 1942 season. The shortest entry into the stadium was a
walk down Williamson Road from Fike Field House's dressing rooms to a gate
at the top of the hill behind the east end zone. There were no dressing facilities
in the west end zone-only a big clock where the hands turned, and a scoreboard,
which was operated by hand.
The team would dress at Fike, walk down Williamson Road, come in the
gate underneath where the big scoreboard now stands and jog down the
hill for its warm-up exercises. There was no fanfare, no cannon shot
fired, no tiger paw flag, no Tiger Rag played...just the team making
its entrance and lining up to do the side straddle hop.
That's pretty much the way things went for the next 25 years.
Either in 1964 or 1965, S.C. Jones, a member of the Clemson class of
1919, made a trip to California. He stopped at a spot in Death
Valley, CA, and picked up this white flint rock. He presented it to
Coach Frank Howard as being from Death Valley, CA, to Death Valley,
The rock laid on the floor in Howard's office in Fike for a year or
more. One day Howard was cleaning up his office and he told Gene
Willimon, who was the executive secretary of IPTAY, to, "take this
rock and throw it over the fence, or out in the ditch...do something
with it, but get it out of my office."
McMillian and the other Blue Hose coaches before him used to open the
season each year by coming to Clemson. Seldom scoring (24 shutouts in
39 games) and with only three wins and four ties to show for it, his
teams were getting killed by the Tigers regularly. In 1948 McMillian
made the comment to the press that he was taking his team to play
Clemson in Death Valley.
An occasional reference to Memorial stadium by that name could be
heard for the next three or four years, but when Howard started
calling it 'Death Valley' in the 1950's, the name took off like
wildfire. The Tigers celebrated the 50th season in the 'valley' in
But getting back to Howard's rock.
The rock was mounted on a pedestal at the top of the hill. It was
unveiled September 24, 1966, on a day when Clemson played Virginia.
The Tigers were down 18 points with 17 minutes to play and came back
to win (40-35) on a 65-yard pass play from Jimmy Addison to Jacky
Jackson in the fourth period. That was quite a spectacular debut for
team members started rubbing the
rock prior to running down the
hill September 23, 1967, a day
when Clemson defeated Wake Forest,
23-6. Prior to running down the
hill that day, Howard told his
you're going to give me 110
percent, you can rub that rock.
If you're not, keep your filthy
hands off it." Howard
told of the incident the next
day on his Sunday television
show and the story became legend.
When Hootie Ingram succeeded Howard as head coach prior to the 1970
season, Ingram decided that the team would make its final entrance on
the field out of the dressing room in the west end zone. In all home
games in 1970 and 1971 and the first four of 1972 when the Tigers did
not run down the hill, their record was 6-9. The team decided it
wanted to come down the hill once prior to the South Carolina game in
1972. The result, in a cold, freezing rain, was a 7-6 victory when
Jimmy Williamson knocked down a two-point conversion attempt which
preserved the win.
Tigers have made the entrance
for every home game since 1942,
except for the seasons mentioned
above - 320 times heading into
After Clemson's final warm-up, the team goes back into its dressing
room under the west end zone stands for final game instructions.
About 10 minutes before kickoff the team boards two buses, rides
around behind the north stands to the east end zone and debarks to
the top of the hill behind Howard's Rock.
At the appointed time, the cannon booms and led by a high-flying
tiger paw flag, the band forms two lines for the team to run between
and strikes up 'Tiger Rag'...The frenzy starts in all sincerity...and
usually lasts two and a half to three hours.
It is a tradition that has inspired Clemson players for many years.