There are just those special players that come to be recognized as the face, heart and soul of their team. That was Steve Fuller.
Growing up in Spartanburg SC, Clemson was always his most likely choice for continuing his football career. His skills would be honed at Spartanburg High School where he was a star.
While he sparkled as the Spartans QB and led them to two region titles, he would never get a state title. In subsequent interviews over the years, he always mentioned this as a sore spot, a disappointment, in spite of all his success.
I was 13 years old when I first heard the name “Steve Fuller.” We had travelled to Georgetown, SC, for the annual spring IPTAY meeting. It was the predecessor to the “Prowl and Growl” events held today. That evening, head coach “Red Parker” was talking about the recruiting class coming in for the 1975 season. He excited the crowd by the mere mention of Fuller’s name. I was more concerned, at the time, with the BBQ and fried chicken I was eating, to think that far ahead. I’d soon learn what all the excitement was about.
While his first two seasons were unremarkable, almost painful, you could see the potential he possessed. I remember listening to one of his first games against (of all teams) Alabama, they won handily 56-0. It was ugly and virtually nothing went right that night. Out of the trials and disappointments of the 1975(2-9) and 1976 (3-8) seasons would come the beginnings of something extraordinary in the 1977 and 1978 seasons.
Like Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence, with Fuller under center in his final two seasons, anything was possible. “The Catch” against South Carolina in 1977 and the great “back and forth” nail biter of a victory at Maryland to seal the 1978 ACC title, just to name a few. I liken him to Tajh Boyd, that followed a generation later, in that he’d never get to the promised land but he got the Tigers close enough to see and finally enter.
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him several times throughout the years and he is unchanged. He is that same quiet, unassuming guy, seemingly uncomfortable in front of a microphone or on rare occasion, a TV camera. Back then, the national media didn’t pay too much attention to “little ole Clemson” and the players weren’t as accessible to the media as they are today.
He finished his Clemson career and “sneaked” his way into the NFL as the Kansas City Chiefs first round pick, going twenty-third overall. He spent three years with the Chiefs, 1979-1982 and the LA Rams in 1983 (where he never attempted a pass) and was finally traded to the Chicago Bears for the 1984-1986 seasons. He would retire after the 1986 season.
In 1984, when starting QB, Jim McMahon was injured, Fuller was instrumental in leading the Bears to the NFC Championship where they would lose to the eventual Super Bowl Champion San Francisco 49’ers. In 1985, Fuller “starred” in the hit video “The Super Bowl Shuffle.” He would be awarded a Gold Record award and a Platinum Video award for his performance. It seems his camera shyness faded in Chicago.
Steve Fuller’s legend continues to be seen and felt in and around Clemson Memorial Stadium. His was in the first class of inductees, in 1994, to the “Clemson The Ring of Honor.” He is a member of the Clemson Hall of Fame, the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame and the National Football Foundation Hall of Fame.
Fuller had the honor of having his No. 4 retired by Clemson. In the recruitment of Deshaun Watson, Watson inquired about wearing the No. 4. He was told he must seek Fuller’s permission and after a phone call, he did receive Fuller’s blessing. Needless to say, the No. 4 is synonymous with greatness at Clemson.
Steve Fuller was a “generational talent” before the term was ubiquitous in our vernacular. He was and is a great ambassador for Clemson University and the Clemson family. He is probably the first player I ever watched that gave me hope and led me to believe that anything was possible concerning Clemson Football. We, the fans, were rarely, if ever disappointed.
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