Sept. 3, 1999
CLEMSON, S.C. – How many sports fans have been enthralled by ESPN’s series of video biographies on the 50 greatest athletes of the 20th century? It occurred to us that we could extend this idea to Clemson football. This summer we enlisted a 28-person committee to select the 25 greatest Clemson football players of the 20th century.
The panel is composed of former coaches, players, administrators and fans who have followed the program for at least 20 years (and some longer than 50 years), were asked them to rank their top players 1-25, regardless of position. A first place vote received 25 points, second-place vote 24 points, and so on.
Each home football program we will announce five new players, in descending order. Next Friday, prior to the Virginia game, we will announce numbers 16-20.
Here then are players 21 through 25:
#25 Joel Wells, RB (1954-56) Joel Wells is our #25 greatest Clemson football player of the 20th century, a running back who wore number-70. In the defense minded 1950s, he broke the ACC rushing record his junior season with 782 yards, then bettered that total with 803 as a senior. That junior year he reached 782 yards in just 135 carries, a 5.8 average that still ranks among the top 10 single season averages in Clemson history.
How respected was Wells nationally? In 1956 his picture adorned the cover of the NCAA media guide. He was the first running back in Clemson history to rank among the top 20 in the nation in rushing in consecutive seasons. His number-seven ranking in yards per game in 1955 is still the highest ranking by a Clemson running back.
This two-time All-ACC running back is still in the top 15 in Clemson history in rushing and he led the Tigers in rushing three straight seasons. He might have saved his best game for last when he ran for 125 yards in 18 carries against Colorado in the 1957 Orange Bowl. He scored two touchdowns in that game, including a 58-yard jaunt that is still the Clemson record for a touchdown run in a bowl game by a running back.
Wells was truly an all-around player. Remember, in the 1950s, players went both ways. He was a strong tackler who also had five career interceptions. He had a 21-yard average on kickoff returns for his career and also had 11 punt returns for 85 yards. On top of that, he had a 20-yard average on 10 receptions for his career. Altogether, Wells had 2482 total performance yards.
A second-round selection of the Green Bay Packers in 1957, Wells played four years in the Canadian Football League before finishing his career with the New York Giants of the NFL.
#24 Jeff Bostic, C (1977-79) The list of Clemson’s top 25 players of the 20th century won’t do much for the reputation of recruiting services. The list is full of players who were not highly recruited. The ultimate example might have been Jeff Bostic, our 24th greatest Clemson player of the century.
A 190-pound offensive lineman out of high school, Bostic was headed for Fork Union Military Academy, where he hoped to mature physically and earn a scholarship to a Division I school the next year. But, after practice had started at Clemson in August, Bostic got a call when one of the signees decided to go home.
Bostic’s brother, Joe Bostic, who would become a two-time All-American at Clemson and is a member of our top 25 list, told Clemson coaches about his brother. In one day in August of 1976, Jeff came to Clemson, picked up his books, went to class and then to practice.
Bostic spent the 1976 season working on his size and abilities, but did not appear in a game. By the fall of 1977 he was in Clemson’s starting lineup at center. He joined forces with brother Joe, helping the Tigers to their first bowl game in 18 years. Two more trips to bowl games followed, including the 1978 season when the Tigers defeated Ohio State and Woody Hayes.
Bostic was an all-conference performer for the Tigers in 1979 and was a team leader. In all, he started on three Clemson bowl teams. The native of Greensboro, NC went on to a stellar NFL career, playing on the famed “Hogs” offensive line of the Washington Redskins from 1980-93. He remains the only Clemson player in history to play on three Super Bowl Championship teams.
#23 Bubba Brown, LB (1976-79) Marlon “Bubba” Brown is the all-time leading tackler in Clemson history. When you review the lengendary list of linebackers who have played for Clemson, that is quite a statement. This year he is finally getting his due with his inclusion on this list, and next week when he is inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame.
It has taken a while for Brown to get his due simply because of the great teammates Brown had in his era (1976-79). Of the four players now in the Clemson Ring of Honor, three played on Clemson’s 1978 team. But, a look at the statistics tells us that Brown was the team’s top tackler, a ferocious hitter and enthusiastic player.
Two games stand out in his career. In 1978 Clemson traveled to Raleigh for an ACC showdown with NC State. NC State was promoting their Brown, running back Ted, for the Heisman Trophy. He had riddled Clemson for four touchdowns and 227 yards rushing three seasons earlier.
Although the national media did not portray the game as a “Battle of the Browns” (Clemson also had running back Lester Brown), Bubba took the confrontation as a personal challenge. By the end of the game, Bubba had 17 tackles and had held Ted Brown under 100 yards rushing, and out of the endzone. When Sports Illustrated was released the next week, it was Bubba who caught the national headlines with his selection as National Defensive Player of the Week.
Clemson finished the 1978 season with a 10-1 record and was chosen to play Ohio State in the Gator Bowl on national television. Clemson won the historic game ,17-15. Again, the pregame headlines were all about Danny Ford’s first game as head coach and his meeting with future Hall of Fame mentor Woody Hayes. Brown personally stymied the Ohio State rushing game with 22 tackles, still the second highest single game total in Clemson history.
#22 Buddy Gore, RB (1966-68) Ironically, we have Buddy followed by Bubba in our countdown of Clemson’s greatest players. Buddy was no less significant in his contributions to Tiger football.
Aubrey “Buddy” Gore was Clemson’s greatest running back in the 1960s and perhaps during a 22 year period from 1956-78. Gore led the ACC in rushing in consecutive seasons, 1966-67, and was named the ACC Player of the Year as a junior, the first Tiger in history so honored.
Still an avid Clemson fan, who looks like he could still play today, Gore carried Clemson to the ACC Championship in 1966 and 1967. His most celebrated performance came in is last game as a junior, at South Carolina. All Gore did was rush for 189 yards in 31 tough carries, leading Clemson to a 23-12 victory. In addition to leading Clemson to the win over its arch rival, a win that gave Clemson the conference crown, he set the ACC single season rushing record and became Clemson’s first 1000-yard rusher in the process. He ended the season with 1045 yards in just 10 games.
Gore also led the ACC in rushing in 1966 when he gained 750 yards. Twice he finished in the top 20 in the nation in rushing, including a number-eight ranking in 1967. That number-eight ranking is still the second highest ranking by a Clemson running back in history. His senior year he accumulated 776 yards, the third straight year he led Clemson in rushing.
While Gore ranks only fourth in Clemson history in career rushing, it must be remembered that he played just three years and 30 games. In his era, freshmen were ineligible and teams played just 10 games per year. Only Terry Allen has a higher rushing yards per game average over a career, and Gore still holds the school mark for all-purpose running yardage for a career with a 109.1 figure.
That last item speaks volumnes about his consistency, all-around abilities and productivity.
#21 Terry Allen, RB (1987-89) Terry Allen was noted for his toughness, perhaps the most resilient runner in Clemson history. The native of Georgia was Clemson’s top rusher in 1987 and 1988, and only a knee injury prohibited him from leading the team in 1989.
As is the case with many of the players on this 25-man list, Allen was not a highly recruited player out of high school. In fact, the overiding reason he decided to come to Clemson was Danny Ford’s willingness to give him a shot at tailback. Every other school wanted him to be a defensive back because they had measured his speed at less than blazing.
But, those other coaches failed to measure Allen’s heart. After red-shirting the 1986 season, Allen burst on the scene in 1987, leading the ACC in rushing and setting a Clemson freshman record. A key victory for the Tigers that year took place against Georgia, a 21-20 verdict. His straight ahead, run over the opposition approach, was pivotal on Clemson’s winning touchdown drive. In 1988 as a sophomore, he again led the team in rushing, and the year was climaxed with his selection as the offensive MVP of the Citrus Bowl victory over Oklahoma.
Allen’s junior year was a constant battle against injury. He geared up for one last stand against South Carolina, and he responded with 89 yards in the first half, leading Clemson to a convincing lead. But, on his final carry of the first half, he was struck square in the knee, the area that had been giving him trouble. He never carried the ball again for the Tigers.
After that season, Allen decided to turn pro, a decision that was met with criticism due to his injuries. He felt if a team could draft him, they would be responsible for him and realize his work ethic. An injury during a senior year at Clemson would effectively end his career.
The gamble paid off. He was drafted in the 10th round by the Minnesota Vikings. He was injured during 1990, but the Vikings stayed with him. In seven healthy seasons, he has had four 1000-yard seasons and is the only running back in NFL history to come back from torn ACL injuries on both knees.
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