Just the mere idea of Clemson going to a bowl Game was almost unfathomable to this, then 16 year old.
After an 18 year postseason bowl drought, the Clemson Tigers were going bowlin’ thanks to a spectacular finish in the Clemson-South Carolina matchup. Culminating in “The Catch,” the No. 11 Tigers accepted a bid to play the No. 10 Pittsburgh Panthers in the Gator Bowl.
With great excitement and anticipation and very grateful hearts, we loaded up the van and headed to Jacksonville Beach to set up our Bowl Compound. The possibilities seemed limitless, the outcome assured, we just knew the Tigers would crush Pitt. We were Tigers, it was our destiny. We were wrong, slightly.
Upon arrival, from our perch on the worn, wood bottomed stadium seat (with splinters), we got our first glimpse at our victim, the Panthers. I remember thinking of the stark difference in the sheer size of their players versus Clemson’s, they were monsters. Rationalizing the Tigers had Steve Fuller and that by itself almost insured victory, everything would be just fine.
Oh the wonders of adolescence ignorance. Clemson would end up being crushed 34-3. The only offensive output was derived from the leg of Obed Ariri. It was a sad performance but oh what a night. The travel, the sites of St. Augustine, the food, everything different, new and exciting, the outcome mattered little because this team had taken us places, and we were thrilled.
Many years latter, I still have a picture in my mind of the sheer joy, even in defeat, on my Daddy’s face. It was and still is much more precious than any win.
Sadly, today, things don’t mean as much. The Gator Bowl is a lesser bowl and the team has travelled so much in the last 12 years, the Big Orange ROY Bus needs an overhaul. It’s sad, anything less than the playoff is seen, felt and acknowledged as a failed season. How foolish.
On that December 30 night in 1977, life was sweet and simple, blissful and uncomplicated. While the scoreboard said otherwise, there wasn’t a Tiger Fan that night that felt anything but victorious. That Gator Bowl, that trip. Oh, what a night!
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