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1970, 1980 and 1990 Clemson Football Teams

Oct. 9, 2000

By Sanford Rogers Contributing WriterThe NC State Game Program – October 7, 2000

There will be some familiar faces in Death Valley this afternoon as nationally-ranked Clemson and undefeated N.C. State prepare to do battle in a key ACC tilt. While all the Tiger fans in attendance are certainly excited about the 2000 version of Clemson football, they will also have the opportunity to recall exciting teams and players of years gone by.

This afternoon’s game against the Wolfpack is a reunion weekend for the 1970, 1980 and 1990 Tiger squads. All three of these Clemson teams are separated by at least a decade, but each one has something in common. All three teams had to adjust to a transition of some form, but each laid the groundwork for the tradition that makes Clemson that special place that is today.

1970 1970 was definitely a year of transition for the Clemson football team. For the first time since 1940, Frank Howard was not roaming the sidelines as head coach. Howard, who began his coaching career as an assistant coach at Clemson under Jess Neely in 1931, announced his retirement as head coach on December 10, 1969. He finished his career with 165 victories, 96 in ACC play and was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1989.

On December 17, 1969 a new era in Clemson football began when Hootie Ingram was named head coach. Ingram came to Clemson after serving as the defensive coordinator at Arkansas.

“It was definitely a transition,” recalled Ingram, who now serves as the color commentator on the re-broadcast of Clemson games on College Sports Southeast. “I was named head coach in December of that year, but I was still the defensive coordinator at Arkansas for its game in the Sugar Bowl. My biggest priority was trying to put a staff in place and getting to know the players we had.”

After visiting a few minutes with Ingram it is easy to understand how much college athletics have evolved during the last 30 years. When he arrived at Clemson the entire athletic department was housed in Fike Fieldhouse. The Jervey Athletic Center, now the home to the athletic department was still in the planning stages.

“When I came to Clemson then coach Howard was still athletic director,” remembered Ingram. “He had his office and all of my assistant coaches had an office. The only person that didn’t have an office was me. I remember one of the custodial people in Fike helped me clean out a storage room. We had some carpet put down and that was my office!”

Bobby Johnson, now head coach at Furman University was a sophomore flanker on that 1970 Clemson squad. He remembers the 1970 season very well.

“The 1970 season was different from several aspects,” said Johnson. “It was the first year that coach Howard was not the head coach, and that was pretty significant right there. There was an adjustment to Coach Ingram. Anytime there is a coaching change you are going to have a transition.”

The 1970 campaign was full of excitement in another manner for Johnson. At that time freshman were not allowed to compete in varsity contests. Johnson spent the 1969 season on the freshman team, but 1970 would be the first year of full-fledged intercollegiate competition “I was excited, as were all of the sophomores. To get on the field and play with the varsity in Death Valley was a big deal. We were fired up to get in there.”

Even though the 1970 squad struggled to a 3-8 final record, they did manage to be a first for a Clemson athletic team. On July 21st of that year Clemson University unveiled a new logo – the Tiger Paw. When a sports fan thinks of Clemson today, one of the first thoughts has to be the tiger paw.

“I can still remember pretty clearly how the tiger paw came to be,” said Ingram. “Dr. (RC) Edwards, who was then President of Clemson University, came by my office and told me the university was working with Henderson Advertising in Greenville. I told Coach Howard I would glad to meet with them. John Antonio was the gentleman I met with from Henderson Advertising. We kind of hit it off because he was an Arkansas graduate and I had coached there before coming to Clemson.”

“I told him that I wanted a logo that was unique to Clemson,” said Ingram. “There are all kinds of different teams that have Tigers as their team name, but I wanted something unique. The tiger paw was just that.”

Ingram remembers going to several area merchants to gauge their interest in the new logo, but only one responded in a positive manner at the time.

“I went in to see Judge Keller and he seemed to think he could do something with this paw,” remembered Ingram. “The week after the first game I went by to see him and he told me that he sold everything he had ordered with a paw on it. That kind of told me we were onto something.”

1980 The 1980 Clemson football season opened with a great optimism and ended in the exact same manner.

The Tigers, who ended the decade of the 1970’s with victories over Ohio State (1978 Gator Bowl) and Notre Dame (1979 regular season), came into the 1980’s with a very young squad. Danny Ford’s team started just one senior on offense (kicker Obed Arri) and four seniors on defense (middle guard Charlie Bauman, right tackle Steve Durham, strong safety Willie Underwood and cornerback Eddie Geathers). After opening the season with a win over Rice, Clemson traveled to Athens for a border war against the Georgia Bulldogs. In a game that went back and forth, the Bulldogs squeaked out a 20-16 victory.

Georgia would go on to claim the 1980 National Championship. Clemson posted wins over Western Carolina, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Wake Forest in 1980, but dropped conference games against Duke, N.C. State, North Carolina and Maryland. At that point the Tigers were just 5-5 for the season, with nationally ranked South Carolina coming to Death Valley. The 8-2 Gamecocks had already secured a Gator Bowl bid and featured the eventual Heisman Trophy winner, George Rogers.

The fortunes not only turned for Clemson on that cold, overcast November Saturday, they laid the groundwork for the 1981 national championship season. Without question, the Tigers had some great players on the field against South Carolina in 1980, but the turnaround may have happened in the locker room before kickoff.

After warming up in their normal combination of orange jerseys and white pants, the Clemson team came back to the locker room to find a brand new uniform addition – orange pants. The roar of the crowd when the team approached the top of the hill that day is something that this writer still remembers vividly. Clemson went on to thump the Gamecocks by a 27-6 margin, with the contest serving as a real springboard to 1981.

Jeff Davis, a First-Team All-American linebacker in 1981, was a starter on that 1980 team. “The Judge” started 35 of 40 career games and registered double-figure tackle performances in 22 of his last 23 games. He was credited with 24 tackles in a 24-19 loss to North Carolina during the 1980 season, outplaying future NFL Hall-of-Famer Lawrence Taylor. Davis, who is now back at Clemson as the field director for the “Call Me Mister” program within the Department of Education, Health and Human Development, remembers the 1980 as a learning experience.

“Looking back at 1980, it was frustrating,” said Davis. “We lost some games that we had no business losing, but we kept battling. It was good to end on such a positive note.” Davis also remembers the South Carolina game as crucial to the future success enjoyed by the Tigers.

“I think the South Carolina game was the defining moment of the season,” said Davis. “They had a great team with some super talent.

Some of their players had said they were going to run us back up the hill. Well, we broke out the orange britches for the first time and played an almost perfect game. There is no doubt in my mind that the game against South Carolina restored the faith in Clemson football and put us in great shape for 1981.”

1990 The 1990 Clemson Tigers also faced a year of transition. For the first time in 11 years the Tigers would have a new head coach in Ken Hatfield. The adjustment of a new head coach is always hard, but having to deal with great expectations made it even more difficult. Clemson came into the 1990 season ranked ninth nationally.

This Clemson team proved worthy of the accolades. The Tigers tallied a 10-2 overall mark, losing only to Virginia and Georgia Tech. Both the Cavaliers and Yellow Jackets were both ranked number-one in the country during the year, with Georgia Tech earning a share of the nation title with Colorado.

The Tigers finished the year with a 30-0 pasting of Illinois and were ranked ninth in the final Associated Press Poll. It is the last time a Clemson team has ended the season in the Top 10.

Hatfield, now the head coach at Rice University, remembers the Hall of Fame Bowl win over Illinois as the high point of the season. The 30-0 victory margin was a Tiger record for victory margin in a bowl game.

“The shutout win over a great Illinois team is the fondest memory I have of that season,” said Hatfield. We played so well against them. That was a great bowl experience.”

Stacy Fields was the starting tight end for the 1990 squad. Fields, who is now employed by Dow Chemical in Charlotte, NC, deserves a great deal of credit for providing leadership to a team during a difficult time.

“I was looked upon by some of by teammates to be a leader,” said Fields. “Any time there is a coaching change there is having to deal with the unknown. I think it was important for the older guys on the team to let the younger guys know that we were still going to win.” Fields looks back at the Virginia game as an important part of the 1990 season. “We lost to Virginia, the first time Clemson had ever lost to them, but we came back and continued to play hard every week. We got better as the season went along.”

The Hall of Fame Bowl game was a great way for the Tigers to end the year and for Fields to close out his career. He remembers the dominating offensive and defensive performance against the Illini. “We just totally dominated that team,” said Fields. Early in the second quarter their guys were huffing and puffing. It was evident we were the more well-conditioned team.”

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