There's No 'P' in Tigers

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November 16th 2019
Published: November 19th 2019
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It was my second time this season wearing purple and cheering for the Tigers in Death Valley. Except that it wasn't the same Tigers or the same Death Valley. Say what? Exactly. That's the weird world of college football. Many of my fellow UGA people will be appalled that I visited Clemson, wore Clemson colors, and had a good time. But I did, so they can get over it. For better or for worse, I didn’t realize until I was already in my car and leaving town that I hadn’t bothered to put out the word that I was heading to Clemson for the game. I had done that for other games that were nearby, especially when there were people I knew who might attend the game, too. It had really slipped my mind. Also, this was another week where I debated where to go for a few days, and I even waited most of the week before buying a ticket.

Last year, when I was still attending UGA games, we discovered that waiting until the last minute before buying tickets for home games usually meant the price would go down, sometimes significantly. So I’ve tried that tack these past two weeks. The only problem has been that I can’t wait until the day of, since I usually have to print them out, and you never know what kind of ticket it will be (sometimes you can just scan it from the phone when you get to the gate). Last week, I had to get it before I left Athens, which was Friday morning. This week, since it was a day trip, I didn’t leave until Saturday morning. But I got a coupon from StubHub (my preferred secondary ticket market) that expired by Friday. So that was my deadline.

Tickets for this game were relatively cheap for the third-ranked team in the country. You could get in the door for about $30. But I had been to a game at Clemson in 2013, and I knew how terrible those upper decks are. So I wanted a lower level. I was waiting all week for the prices to drop, and with my coupon, I finally got to a price I would pay on Thursday night. I found that they offered free parking, starting at 8 AM on Saturday, and I even found a place for lunch that had a good local reputation. My day seemed set.

Alas, it was not. I got to the parking lot around 9:10, and it was full. No signs of life at all, though. No attendants, fans, tailgates, nothing. It looked like the parking department told their employees to park there on Friday night so that nobody could use the free parking. I circled the lot, found other cars circling just as confusedly as I was, and then made my way closer to the campus. Long story short, I found a place closer to the stadium, but it was $25. That sucked, but it looked like my Notre Dame karma had come back to get me. But I was parked, and it would be easy to find, and about half the distance from the previous parking lot.

By this time, it was about 9:35, so I set out toward the stadium, where I knew I could find more people, and closer to where I was hoping to eat lunch.

Clemson is a bit confusing to walk around, and that’s coming from a guy who has a pretty decent sense of direction. They have a main road leading past the main building and toward the athletic district, but heading away from that got me all turned around. And most of the campus maps didn’t have a “you are here” point. So if you didn’t know the name of a road or building for reference, you were kinda screwed. But I managed to find the main building, next to the Carillon Gardens, where they have a big bell. I rang it. And it looks out onto a big green space, with a pond at the bottom of the hill, and the main library on the other side. Not a bad view.

I walked around the pond and found a few more people, since they were few and far between on my walk so far. Most of the people were wearing orange, which is indeed one of Clemson’s primary colors. The other is purple, so it was a lot like last week at Virginia Tech. I love purple. But I grew up in UGA country, so orange is generally distasteful to me. I had looked online to see if there was a dominant color for this game, and there were no notifications about that. They do have a purple day, but that was not today. It was also not an orange day, so I felt relieved. Nevertheless, the majority of people I met throughout the day, and at the game, were wearing mostly orange.

I was in purple. Purple hoodie and purple hat. And I was always happy to see someone else in purple. Honestly, it felt like we were two separate teams to me. Maybe my animosity towards orange runs deeper than I realize.

Along the way to the stadium, I found an antebellum house, and that reminded me of Alabama. They have an antebellum mansion right across from the Denny Chimes on the main quad. This wasn’t so opulently located, but it was closer to the stadium than I had anticipated. Because when I rounded the next building beyond the mansion, I was confronted with a view of the stadium at the bottom of the hill.

Of course, it was closed at this point, since this was about 10:00, and the game didn’t begin until 3:30. So once I got to the bottom of the hill, I turned right and headed toward the downtown area. I found a significantly larger amount of people tailgating over here. This was just the cusp of it, though. I later meandered to the far side of the stadium and found all the partying. Clemson has this thing called IPTAY, which stands for “I Pay Ten A Year,” the original price of season tickets back in the 1930s. Inflation, right? But this is still the name of the booster fund, and people who donate to it all have access to the good parking, and they proudly display their stickers on their vehicles. When I went inside the basketball arena (Littlejohn Coliseum), I stopped to take a picture of the IPTAY logo, and a couple decked out in Clemson gear actually asked me what that stood for! The more you know!

But I found my restaurant around 10:15—The Esso Club, a converted former gas station that was the hit of the town. The signs said it opened at 11:00, so I was going to wait. Then I noticed a group of people walking up to a guy in a chair and receiving wrist bands and going into the outdoor seating area. I followed behind, and they were checking IDs and giving wrist bands to those of us over 21. And it turned out that the restaurant was already open.

When I had looked at the menu online the night before, I found a dish I wanted: The Bird Dog, a sandwich composed of chicken strips, shredded cheese, and drizzled with honey mustard. So healthy. But so me. It did not disappoint, and the service was really good. Plus they gave me a sweet tea to go, which was perfect.

It was about 11:30 at this point, so I needed to find some stuff to do until the Tiger Walk at 1:20. I meandered around the campus, found a few more tailgate spots, and then made my way to the campus bookstore, which was pretty far from where everything else was. I already had some purple, so I wasn’t in the market to buy any Clemson swag today. I just wanted to look, and maybe see if they had any purple pennants for my pennant wall. They had one, but it was $15, and for one of the smaller sizes. No thanks. What was funny about the store is that they were selling all of the National Championship gear for $2.50 each, this day only. Did I mention that Clemson is the reigning national champion of college football? At any rate, hats and t-shirts were all they had left, and I did get a hat. Maybe I’ll wear it next time I’m in Tuscaloosa.

It was also nice to sit down and enjoy my cold drink at the tables outside the bookstore. Despite temperatures in the 50s today, the sun was shining, and I was doing a lot of moving around, in a hoodie with a long-sleeve shirt underneath. So I got to do some people watching. Apparently, the complex that houses the bookstore also has student apartments on the upper floors. And there’s a restaurant of some kind on the bottom floor, as well as a Starbucks.

I made my way back over to the athletic area, and the crowds were starting to build up along the streets and in the tailgate lots. I found a fan area in front of the basketball arena, but the free stuff looked pretty lame, so I passed. And a little after one, I ventured down to the lower parking lots, where the Tiger Walk would take place. There were already lots of people along the route. One thing I did notice about the stadium from this side, which I hadn’t ever seen before, was how much the revamped façade of this entryway looked like the national championship trophy—two curved pillars on either side of the Clemson logo near the top of the columns. Coincidence? They have won the championship two of the past three years, so probably not.

The team came down the middle of the fans along the route, with Dabo Swinney at the head. He’s a good coach, for sure, and has turned around the program in almost every way possible. I remember when “clemsoning” was a bad thing, but I can’t say that anymore. Not too far behind him was the Clemson quarterback and demigod Trevor Lawrence, whose flowing hair has its own Twitter account. He’s a lot taller in person than I expected. And I found out earlier this week that he has his own security detail on game days; gotta keep him safe if they wanna keep winning. The rest of the team came down, and they were definitely okay interacting with the fans along the route—high fives, fist bumps, and even hugs and photos with fans. Definitely not Alabama.

Right after that, the stadium opened, and we could find our way inside. It was a very easy process, and I had a ticket on my phone, so it was even paperless. One of my first items was to get the typical souvenir soda, and it was $5 here. Plus the cup was really cool, celebrating the national championship from last year. Apparently they’ve made it a point to have affordable prices for stadium food, and based on what I saw, they have accomplished that. I didn’t get anything else to eat or drink, but the prices advertised around the stadium were much more reasonable than other places.

And then there was Howard’s Rock. If you don’t know, this is kind of a big deal for Clemson. A rock from Death Valley in California to cement their stadium’s label of Death Valley. LSU also calls their stadium Death Valley, and also wears purple, and also has a tiger mascot. So this is really weird. I call them Death Valley-West (LSU) and Death Valley-East (Clemson). I don’t know which team did it first, and I don’t really care. But I really think they should play each other and the winner gets to keep it all (maybe that’ll be the national championship game this year). Anyway, the rock is atop a pedestal, just inside the gate where the players enter the stadium pre-game. They all touch the rock before running down the hill, through the student section (but no bleachers, just a grassy hill leading to the goal post), and out onto the field. Definitely a cool tradition (and cooler than Virginia Tech, my dude from last week).

My seat was in the lower bowl, one section away from the students, so I got to see the running team up close. It was also senior day, the last home game of the season, so the senior players entered the field individually through that path when their names were called. Not so bad.

Clemson’s pregame rituals, aside from the rock and the downhill run, are quite extended. Most schools have the “Star Spangled Banner,” because ‘Merica. But Clemson’s band also plays “God Bless America,” which isn’t the national anthem and so it doesn’t require standing or removing of hats (unless you’re protesting); so it kinda gets on my nerves when people do those things as if the song was also the national anthem. Cheapens the real anthem, in my opinion. Another thing they do pregame is an invocation by a religious person. For this game, it was the rabbi that leads the Jewish student organization on campus, so that was inclusive of them. Still a bit odd to have a religious moment at a public university’s football game. They had them at Mercer, Wake Forest, and Notre Dame, but these are all private and very openly affiliated with religious denominations.

I had gone to the bathroom just before the festivities began, but the crush of the crowd coming into my section prevented me from actually leaving the section. So I got to enjoy all those things from the row just in front of the tunnel. After all that, I did get a bathroom break (no troughs here), but when I came back to my section, dammit, someone was in my seat. Again. They had at least moved my swag bag over, so their legs weren’t blocking me from it all. And there were a couple of empty seats, so it wasn’t so bad. Until the people in those seats arrived. So I scooted over as much as I could, and they squeezed in. It was a young couple, early twenties. Not long into the first quarter, they left to get drinks and Dippin’ Dots. When they came back, we had the same song and dance as before—squeezing in together. The guy sat next to me, and under his breath said something like “somebody definitely doesn’t belong in this row.” I loudly said, “Yep.” And after that, we were okay. They asked me how much my ticket had cost, and I found out they had bought season tickets for $700 each. But they had sold their tickets for Texas A&M and FSU for $550, and so they had almost got all their money back. Not a bad idea, if money is your thing. But then I probably wouldn’t have bought season tickets in the first place if I didn’t intend to go to all the games. Or if money was so tight that I would even consider selling the tickets. Alas. They were friendly enough, for sure, but during most of the second quarter, we were seated (because not a lot happened), and he kept falling asleep and leaning over toward me, and she would pull him back to her before he got too far. They had apparently been partying late last night. And then at halftime, they left. And never came back. Seems like a waste of season tickets, if you ask me.

So how was the game? It started off like everyone expected: Clemson got a quick score on their first possession, and then on Wake Forest’s ensuing possession, Clemson got the INT and was in the endzone shortly thereafter. Five minutes into the game, Clemson was leading 14-0. A couple of stalled drives later, Wake Forest recovered a muffed punt return from Clemson, which set them up with a short field. All they could manage was a field goal and, spoiler alert, that was all they managed the entire game. At the end of the first quarter, it was 14-3, and I was surprised that it was still so close, based on all the hype I had heard and seen about Clemson. For most of the second quarter, too, this was the routine. Drives that went nowhere. People around me were grumbling. It felt a lot like Michigan during Week 1: they knew their team was better than this, in spite of holding a decent lead and keeping the opponents from getting anything going. But then the second half of the second quarter showed us what Clemson was all about—after a field goal, Clemson scored a TD in the final minute, then got another turnover and scored yet another TD off of that. At the half, the score was 31-3.

In the second half, Clemson’s first two drives resulted in touchdowns, so with 7:00 left in the third, the new score was 45-3. The people around me were yelling for 50 points, but that took until early in the fourth quarter. The final score was 52-3, and it’s the most times a team has scored over 50 points in the conference in a season or something. But for the entire fourth quarter, we got to watch all the backups play, and even then, Wake Forest got zero done.

I hear people talk about how Clemson hasn’t played anybody all season, but honestly, they’ve blown out most of their competition in the same way Ohio State has. I don’t know if Clemson will win the national championship this year, but as in the past two or three years, they’ll get their chance, since it’s unlikely they’ll lose any games before the playoff. It would be fun to watch. And yes, this was a much funner game than last week, mainly because I was wearing the home team colors and cheering them on. My heart, of course, wasn’t in it. But every time they scored, the cannon would sound, and the band would play the “Tiger Rag,” just like at LSU. And the fans would chant “C-L-E-M-S-O--N!” LSU fans chant ‘T-I-G-E-R-S--TIGERS!’ Totally not the same at all. But the crowd was into the game for the whole time, and only a small amount of people left during the second half.

And at Clemson, they have what’s known as the “Meeting at the Paw” after the game. They mean the big orange tiger paw painted at midfield, and they open the gates at the bottom of the bleachers and let fans onto the field. A voice came over the PA system before the game ended, asking fans to wait until 30 seconds after the clock hit 0:00 to enter the field. Fat chance. Even before the play clock hit 0:00, fans were already running onto the field. I waited until the entrances weren’t congested, but I also eventually went down and looked around. Unless you’re a big fan, or friends/family with one of the players, I honestly don’t see the appeal. Lots of people standing around, chatting; way too many elementary- and middle school boys throwing footballs around (I almost got taken out by a couple of them); and people intent on getting that perfect selfie with the field. Okay.

Getting back to my car after the game was no problem at all. I passed by several tailgates still up, all of them watching the game at Auburn. And most of them pulling for Auburn, since they really don’t want two SEC teams in the playoff again. But once I got to my car, it was the parking lot from hell. At least at LSU, I got out and into the traffic pretty quickly. At Clemson, I was in the parking lot, not moving, for probably 40 minutes. It took them that long to get a police person up at the exit to allow us to get out. Talk about infuriating. And once we were on the road, it was probably another twenty minutes to get to the interstate. After all that trouble, I opted to stop at Culver’s in Commerce, GA, on my way back. Yeah, I’m an addict. But after all that, it was nice comfort food.

And lastly, there is no 'p' in Clemson.

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