Note: The following appears in the The Citadel gameday football program.
Editor’s Note – This is the 125th season of Clemson football. To commemorate the first 125 years, Tim Bourret is writing articles this year on some of the most important moments in Tiger history. Below is the first installment of the series.
Happy birthday, Memorial Stadium! Seventy-eight years ago today (Sept. 19, 1942), Clemson opened the gates of Memorial Stadium (not known as “Death Valley” until the late 1940s) for a season-opening game against Presbyterian College.
There was considerable work accomplished leading up to that game, and most of it was supervised by Head Coach Frank Howard. Can you imagine Dabo Swinney supervising that project today?
Swinney is very involved in all stadium projects today, don’t get me wrong. However, he is not on the field supervising the laying of the sod as Howard did in 1942.
“About 40 people (including Howard) laid the sod on the field,” said Howard when he was asked years later about the stadium construction. “After about three weeks on July 15, we only had gotten halfway through. I told them that it had taken three weeks to get that far and I would give them three-weeks pay for however long it took them to finish.
“I also told them we would have 50 gallons of ice cream when we got through. After that, it took them just three days to do the rest of the field. Then, we sat in the middle of the field and ate up that whole 50 gallons.”
Many scholarship football players were involved in the construction of the stadium. Early on in the process, one player was clearing land and got covered up with poison ivy so bad that he had to go to the hospital.
The first survey of the stadium was done by two members of the football team, A.N. Cameron and Hugh Webb. Webb returned to Clemson years later to be an architecture professor and Cameron became a civil engineer in Louisiana.
Howard said it was a close call to get the stadium finished by the first game on Sept. 19.
“We hung the gates at 1 p.m. and kicked off at 2 p.m.,” said Howard with a chuckle.
The stadium on Sept. 19, 1942 held 20,000 fans. Just 5,500 showed up to see the Tigers defeat the Blue Hose 32-13 behind 192 rushing yards by Butch Butler, the most by a Tiger in the decade of the 1940s. Soon, the crowds grew and grew as Howard took the Tigers to eight conference championships, six top-20 seasons and six bowl games.
The original stadium cost $125,000 to build, or $6.25 a seat. By comparison, when Clemson built the north side upper deck in 1983, the cost was $13.5 million, or $866 a seat.
Sept. 19 has been a great day in program history. Not only was it the date of the first game in the history of Memorial Stadium, Clemson also has a 10-1 all-time record on the date, including an 8-0 mark at home and a 3-0 record against top-20 teams. Clemson’s 90.9 winning percentage on this date is the best in program history given a minimum of eight games.
The list of wins on the date includes a triumph at No. 12 North Carolina, a key victory in Clemson’s 1959 ACC championship season, a win over No. 4 and defending national champion Georgia, the only regular-season loss of Herschel Walker’s college career, and a victory over the Bulldogs at Clemson in the 1987 season on a last-second field goal by David Treadwell.
When Jess Neely left Clemson after the 1939 season to become head coach at Rice, Howard was elevated to the top spot. One of Neely’s parting conversations with Howard concerned building a new on-campus stadium. Neely told Howard to build a 10,000-seat facility behind the YMCA building.
“That’s all you will ever need,” said Neely.
Thank goodness Howard had a much bigger vision for the Clemson program. We are indebted to him for many wise decisions he made over his 30 years as athletic director and head coach. Building Memorial Stadium was perhaps his most important.