I hope you’ve enjoyed this look back at some of the most likely to have been (almost)forgotten Bowl game. This is day three of seven. Thanks for reading.
1991 Hall of Fame Bowl: Clemson vs. Illinois
The 1991 Hall of Fame Bowl, on paper, looked to be an interesting match-up featuring No. 14 Clemson vs. No. 16 Illinois. It was the fifth game, in its new venue, Tampa Florida. It had previously been held in Birmingham, Alabama until 1986. The Hall of Fame Bowl was the precursor to the Outback Bowl. It was then a New Year’s Day, mid-tier bowl invitation.
Just reading the summary, names like Chris Gardocki, Dechane Cameron and Doug Thomas, brought back memories of what I’ll refer to as the “Wilderness Years” for Clemson Football. The program was in its second year of Ken Hatfield’s tenure at Clemson. The emotions and feelings of many were still ruffled after the devastating loss, two years earlier of the beloved Danny Ford.
My daddy was a friend of Ford and while he continued his financial contribution to his university, his heart, like many was still broken. Except for a few games per season, our seats sat empty. Our usual Holiday Bowl related vacation was put on hold. This year, like last, we planned to watch the game from home. Thanks to Santa Claus, this Christmas, it would be different.
When the announcement was made that Clemson would play Illinois, it wasn’t met with much fanfare. I remember daddy sarcastically asking ‘what the hell is an Illini?’ ‘Of course, it is an Indian tribe, Daddy.’
Quietly, tickets were purchased, accommodations were booked and motorhome serviced, detailed, gassed-up and ready. We, the kids, we’re surprised in our Christmas stockings with tickets, money and passes for Bush Gardens and a second trip to Disney World. We would leave the day after Christmas for Tampa.
I remember this trip fondly, not just because the Tigers destroyed the Illini 30-0, but because it was a time of healing. A reunion between my daddy and his first true love, Clemson. I was happy he had finally made peace with his inner struggle and we never missed another game until his health failed. I remember this as one of the most special bowl trips.
1992 Florida Citrus Bowl: Clemson vs. California
Back to Orlando, again. the Clemson Tigers and their fanbase we’re a plumb of a draw for bowl games. They travelled well, flush with their trademark $2 dollar, Tiger Paw stamped bills. They filled the stadium and the streets of Orlando with orange seemingly, everywhere. Needless to say, all Tigers were welcomed with open arms. I know, as a family, we were.
The No. 13 Tigers (9-1-1), were the ACC Champions after the third season under Hatfield. This was the third overall appearance in the Citrus Bowl for the Tigers, all happening in a span of four years, as the team rode a six-game winning streak. Their opponent, The No. 14 California Golden Bears, (9-2), who were 2nd in the PAC-10 behind Washington after losses to the Huskies and Stanford. Both losses knocked Cal out of the AP Top-10. This was the Bears first consecutive bowl game appearance since the Bears’ streak of three straight Rose Bowls from 1949–1951, and first Citrus Bowl.
All was going great, until the game. By the time the first quarter ended the Bears had a 17–3 lead. By halftime, it was 27-10, and the second half only had 13 points scored, 10 coming from Cal. It was a completely forgettable game, as the Tigers were humbled 37-13. Interestingly, Clemson would not win another ACC title until 2011.
It was a tough loss. While we went to Orlando looking for a victory, that was not to be. What we found on our trip was special, a great time, in a great city, among great family, our Clemson family. However the greatest find was seeing my daddy’s joy in his homecoming back to Clemson.
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