The 1981 Clemson-Georgia contest, one for the ages, was two years in the making.
To truly understand Clemson’s stunning 13-3 upset victory over the forth ranked, defending National Champion, Georgia Bulldogs, you need to look back a year earlier to the 1980 Clemson-South Carolina game.
The 1980 season was an up and down, mediocre season. Danny Ford’s Tigers never got traction at any point during the campaign. Their unimpressive 5-5 record gave little hope for a postseason bowl game.
Then it happened, that fateful November day, the day the Clemson Tigers met arch rival, South Carolina. Unbeknownst to the gathered faithful, it was to be a game that ultimately led to the unbelievable success of Clemson’s 1981 season.
In Ford’s brilliance, he knew he needed something tangible to motivate his team. That was the game where both the team and fans saw, for the first time, those storied Orange Britches. It was like the entire team was wearing a cloak of invincibility.
While the marked improvement was clear, it wasn’t until Willie Underwood’s third quarter 64-yard interception return that the Tigers took control of the game. In facing the 9-2 Gator Bowl bound Gamecocks, the Tigers, clearly underdogs, won that game 27-6. The onlookers could have never imagined what lay ahead.
Fast forward to September 19, 1981, Clemson verses Georgia. That game for me personally, was the first game I’d leave my family’s familiar perch on the 45 yard line, the seat where I watched seventeen, mostly difficult seasons. I was finally free to sit in the student section for a completely different perspective. You could sense that something was different, the excitement, the anticipation, the possibility of accomplishing the then, almost unimaginable.
As the Tigers ran down the hill, the game of the ages began to unfold. Clemson forced a school record nine turnovers, including five interceptions, leading to a 13-3 victory over the defending national champions.
To add insult to injury, the Tigers kept the great Hershel Walker from ever crossing the goal line, handing him the only regular season loss in his storied career. It was a day that left every Tiger fan hopeful and wondering, what was next.
The rest, as they say, is history. No, it was way more than that. That September afternoon was the day the Tigers, team and fans both, witnessed the laying of the foundation for one of the greatest runs in Clemson football history.
Throughout the 1980’s, the rise of “little ole Clemson,” would lead the program to national prominence. To think, the unfathomable success of the 1980’s would lead to where the program stands today. It all began with the clear vision, strong desire and tenacious leadership of one man, the legend, Danny Ford and those magic orange britches. Yes, for every fan, it was and still is, a great time to be a Clemson Tiger.
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