(Almost) Forgotten Clemson Bowl Games: Vol 1

Over the next week, leading up to the Cheez-It Bowl, we’ll take a look back at some of the more often overlooked Bowl games for the Tigers.

It will feature bowl trips from the 1970’s through recent seasons. Highlighting games, either won or lost, played in different locations against teams the Tigers rarely, if ever had played before or since.

It’s very interesting, every loss is mostly forgotten but the most painful losses brought about much change. Some losses were defining moments in the evolution from “little ole Clemson” into national prominence. Hopefully this will be an interesting side trip on the way to Orlando for the Cheez-It Bowl, on December 29th.

1979 Peach Bowl Clemson vs. Baylor

I was there, I almost froze to death but I lived to tell the story. That 1979 season, Clemson had a regression from 11-1 the previous season to finish 8-3. Sounds familiar, huh? Yes, there are many parallels between the 1979 and 2021 seasons.

The Baylor Bears had finished the previous season at 3–8, but they rebounded to win seven regular season games, with their four losses being to ranked teams (Alabama, Houston, Arkansas, and Texas), finishing fourth in the old Southwest Conference.

There, in the frozen concrete slab of a venue, Fulton County Stadium, the Tiger faithful we’re gathered to cheer on the Tigers to a victory. That would prove to be as elusive as warmth that day. This was the first Peach Bowl appearance for either team as well as the first meeting between these two teams.

Unfortunately, Clemson was on the losing end of this contest, as Baylor won 24-18. I remember thinking at the time, “What a heck of way to enter the long cold winter of the off season, frozen solid.”

The Tigers did not go to another Peach Bowl until 1993, while the Bears have yet to make another appearance.

1985 Independence Bowl Clemson vs. Minnesota

I remember the announcement that Clemson was to be “lucky”enough to travel to Shreveport, Louisiana for the Independence Bowl. While not a place I’d normally wish to go, this bowl game was to be Clemson’s re-entry into postseason play.

Danny Ford and his Tigers were finally set free from three years of ACC and NCAA probation. It was just nice to go anywhere, even Shreveport. The opponent would be the Minnesota Golden Gophers led by old friend, “Uncle Lou” Holtz or as he would say “Lousch Holtsch.”

The Gophers finished in 6th place in the B1G, while the Tigers finished 4th in the ACC. This was the first Independence Bowl for either team. John Gutekunst was the interim head coach after Lou Holtz left for Notre Dame. This was Minnesota’s first bowl game since 1977 and Clemson’s first since 1982.

With the gloomy weather and the total lack of anything exciting to do, fans at least hoped to come home with a trophy. However, it was not to be. The Tigers lost 20-13 despite a great fourth quarter comeback effort.

John Gutekunst would become the full-time head coach for Minnesota starting the following year, which culminated in an appearance in the Liberty Bowl. He soon disappeared from college football and the Gophers made their last bowl appearance for 13 years. Clemson kept rolling, making four more bowl games in the decade. Neither team has returned to the Independence Bowl since this game.

The entire bowl experience, including the outcome was underwhelming. The weather, the lack of attractions, the lack of restaurants, and really shabby hotel accommodations led to what my daddy referred to as “making two trips in one. Our first and our last” to Shreveport. With daddy wanting to put the bowl misery behind us, we left immediately after the game and headed south to New Orleans. I can assure you, it was a much better place.

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