Danny Ford broke out the Orange Britches for the first time against UofSC back in the 1980 season (AP Photo)
November 22, 1980….. UofSC at Clemson
Coming off of a 34-7 loss to Maryland, the Tigers were just 5-5 and had lost 4 of their last 5 games. Next up for Coach Ford’s Tigers would be the annual rivalry game with the Gamecocks in the regular season finale.
Ford was about finish up just his second full season as Clemson head coach and the talk regarding his job status had started to pick up traction. The rumor mill had Ford needing a win over the Gamecocks in order to save his job, something many weren’t sure would happen.
See, this wasn’t your ordinary, run of the mill Gamecock team. Led by head coach Jim Carlen, UofSC was 8-2 and a substantial road favorite over the Tigers.
However, no one knew more than Ford what was at stake. In a subsequent interview he did looking back on his career, he said “It didn’t look real good for us,” when asked about this particular game.
South Carolina came in playing very well, having won 6 of 7, including a road win over #17 Michigan. Both of their losses came on the road, one at Georgia and one at the real USC, with both of those teams being ranked in the Top 5.
Knowing his team needed an emotional boost, Ford took a page from the Bear Bryant playbook, whom he’d played for at Alabama. Bryant would allow his Crimson Tide teams to wear Crimson pants with their Crimson jerseys against rival Auburn when he felt they deserved it, or were in need of a little extra motivation.
So Ford broke out the orange pants, hoping it would have the same kind of effect on his Tigers as it did for those Bama teams. Orange pants had never been worn by any Clemson Football team before that November day.
Former Tigers All American LB Jeff Davis would later say,
“We warmed up in the white pants but we all knew we were going to
change into the orange pants when we got back to the locker room so all throughout warm-ups we were pumped up and ready to go. We knew how excited the fans
would get when they first saw us come to the top of the Hill wearing
nothing but orange.”
“I mean we had the orange helmet, the orange jersey and the orange
pants. The only thing we had on that wasn’t orange was our shoes. When the fans saw us, they went crazy. We knew right there we were going to win.”
What went onto happen next was something those who witnessed it will never forget. The Tigers thumped the Gamecocks 27-6, saved Ford’s job, and came away with one of the programs most sacred traditions.
With time running down in the 3rd quarter and the score knotted up at 6-6, UofSC had driven the ball deep into Clemson territory and looked set to take their first lead. Willie Underwood had different plans however, as the Tigers DB picked off Gamecock QB Gary Harper and returned it 64 yards to the SC 24. Homer Jordan would score six plays later to give Clemson a 13-6 lead.
On the Gamecocks ensuing possession, Underwood stepped in front of another one of Harper’s passes, this time taking it back 37 yards for a touchdown and the Tigers led 20-6. Jeff McCall would later add a 15 yard TD for the 27-6 final.
-Gamecock RB George Rogers had 168 rushing yards but finished his career that day without ever scoring on the Tigers.
-Underwood’s 101 return yards are still a Clemson record and his efforts that day endured his name will always be etched in the Clemson history books.
The Orange Britches have gone on, having some ups and downs along the way. Ford would save them only for special occasions and only if he’d felt the team had earned the privilege of wearing them.
Through the years the tradition lost some if it’s luster, bottoming out under head coach Tommy Bowden. He allowed them to be worn quite often and without rhyme or reason. He even did the unthinkable and allowed them to be worn with purple jerseys.
However, Dabo Swinney has attempted to bring some meaning back to them. These days they’re only worn when some form of championship is on the line. It’s a tradition the fans have gotten behind and now love, but yet it still doesn’t quite match the mystique that those orange britches brought about back in the Danny Ford days.
Here’s a great, extended recap from that game. Click the link.