Sept. 24, 2009
When the 1959 Tigers defeated #7 TCU 23-7 in the first Bluebonnet Bowl, it proved to be the perfect ending to the greatest decade in the school’s then 64-year football history…the 1950s. Clemson had the 15th-best winning percentage in college football during the 1950s and it was certainly the best decade of Frank Howard’s three as leader of the program.
The decade opened with Clemson’s first-ever top-10 opponent, the undefeated conquerors of Miami (FL) in the 1951 Orange Bowl at the end of the 1950 season. The Tigers would have finished with a second top-10 team had a post-bowl poll been taken, as has been the case since the late 1960s.
Even without receiving credit for defeating the #7 Horned Frogs, Howard’s 20th Tiger team, with a final ranking of #11, was in the same ballpark with 1939’s #12 Cotton Bowl champions and 1948’s #11 undefeated Gator Bowl squad. All four would have benefitted from an after New Year’s Day poll, because all four won bowl games. But such was the state of polls in those days.
In between the 1950 and 1959 championship years (Southern Conference in 1950, ACC in 1959) were four other top-20 Tiger teams…#20 in 1951 (loser to Miami (FL) in the Gator Bowl), #19 in 1956 (loser to Colorado in the Orange Bowl), #18 in 1957, and #12 in 1958 (loser to #1 Louisiana State in the Sugar Bowl).
Only five bowls were taking Division I teams during the decade, otherwise the 1955 Tigers (7-3 record with losses to #3 Maryland and #5 Auburn) and the 1957 team (7-3 record with a win over #8 Rice and losses to #15 N.C. State and #16 Duke) would surely have been bowl-bound as well.
Clemson’s 23-7 victory over favored TCU on December 19, 1959 in Houston’s first Bluebonnet Bowl was the culmination of a seemingly endless number of Tiger football milestones that year. Most of the contributors to this eventful season of 50 years ago are now in their 70s and guests of the 2009 team today as it entertains another Horned Frog team.
Milestone #1 January 1 – Frank Howard’s completed his major bowl “grand slam” in New Orleans, LA, where his 1958 team played National Champion Louisiana State to a standstill in the 25th-annual Sugar Bowl, only to lose 7-0. Howard had been a starting guard on the Wallace Wade and Jess Neely coached and undefeated 1930 Alabama squad that beat Washington State 24-0 in the Rose Bowl. He was Neely’s line coach when Clemson’s 1939 team was a 6-3 victor over Boston College in the 1940 Cotton Bowl. He was also the Tiger head coach in the Orange Bowl seasons of 1950 and 1956 along with the Gator Bowl seasons of 1948 and 1951.
Milestone #2 September 19 – Clemson opened a football season for the first time against a nationally-ranked opponent (#12 North Carolina). It was the third year in a row the two ACC foes met, as the #18 Tigers won the rubber match by a score of 20-18 before a sellout crowd in Chapel Hill, NC. Howard’s two playing units took the names of their quarterbacks, senior Harvey White and junior Lowndes Shingler, as was the case in 1954 and 1955 when Don King and Charlie Bussey quarterbacked the K-Unit and B-Unit in the early years of T-formation football at Clemson. White and backfield mates Bill Mathis and Doug Cline each scored touchdowns, which were matched by three Tar Heel touchdowns. However, in a bad day for extra points, only one in six was made. White’s two-point pass to Cline proved to be the margin of victory. Halfback George Usry, in his third year as a starter with White, rushed for 51 yards on nine carries. The victory was Howard’s 100th at Clemson and one of his sweetest.
Milestone #3 September 26 – Virginia fell to Clemson for the fifth straight year by a score of 47-0 in the ACC rivalry that began in 1955. The 47-point margin of victory was larger than the combined margin of the previous four Clemson wins. The White unit accounted for three touchdowns, while the Shingler unit accounted for four. White and Shingler each passed for over 100 yards and handed off to 10 running backs who netted 250 yards on 47 carries. Playing three sets of ends and linemen, Clemson limited Virginia’s offense to 170 yards.
Milestone #4 October 3 – Mathis set a Tiger kickoff return record of 99 yards to keep his team in the game against Georgia Tech. It was all in vain, as the virus-ridden and #6 Tigers were upset by the #7 Yellow Jackets 16-6. During the 10 days prior to the game, 15 of the two units’ starters suffered from the same virus.
Milestone #5 October 10 – Clemson opened its home season in 3.28 inches of rain by beating N.C. State 23-0. Five turnovers by the visitors, one a 60-yard interception return by Ron Scrudato for a touchdown, aided a slightly sluggish Tiger offense. Sophomore end Gary Barnes scored his first-ever touchdown, Mathis rushed for his fifth touchdown in four games, and sophomore guard Lon Armstrong kicked his first-ever field goal from 28 yards out. The Tiger defense limited the Wolfpack to 119 yards in its second shutout of the season.
Milestone #6 October 22 – This was the end of the historic and traditional “Big Thursday” series with South Carolina. The sports and social event-of-the-year as part of the State Fair in Columbia since 1896, the game was always a Gamecock home event fraught with public relations opportunities. Home field did not seem to matter much, as Clemson gained a 33-21-2 series advantage after a decisive 27-0 victory. Harvey White, 1-1 in his two previous starts against the Gamecocks, completed 9-10 passes for 162 yards and touchdowns to Barnes, Usry, and Mathis, who scored a second time from four yards out. The Tiger defense recovered four fumbles with an interception in holding the Gamecock offense to a scant 118 yards.
Milestone #7 October 31 – On Halloween in Houston, TX, Howard defeated Neely, his friend and former coach and boss, and his Rice Owls 19-0 to take a 3-2 edge in a rivalry that began in 1949. Seeking its third shutout in a row, Clemson held the Owls to 127 yards, recovering two fumbles (one in the endzone by Mathis) and an interception by center Paul Snyder that he returned 18 yards for a score. Canadian-born halfback Doug Daigneault scored the third touchdown from the one.
Milestone #8 November 7 – Clemson’s seniors needed no motivational talks in readying for Duke’s first-ever visit to Tigertown. Fresh in their minds was the 1957 loss in Durham that knocked them out of a bowl. In a battle of the defenses, the Tigers prevailed 7-0 on a 30-yard touchdown pass from Shingler to Ed Bost for an ACC-record fourth consecutive shutout. That record still stands today.
Milestone #9 November 14 – Maryland first-year Head Coach Tom Nugent, up from Florida State where in 1953 he had unsuccessfully sought membership into the new ACC, spoiled Clemson’s Homecoming when the Terrapins matched the Tigers’ four-touchdown production while winning the extra-point battle 4-1. The 28-25 Terrapin victory was the first of four successive such contests between Howard and Nugent. White completed 9-12 passes for 149 yards and touchdowns to backfield mates Mathis and Usry. Senior backs Cline and Daigneault also scored.
Milestone #10 November 21 – Called by no-less authority than Bob Bradley, “probably the most exciting game ever played in Memorial Stadium,” Clemson’s 33-31 seesaw victory over Wake Forest and its ACC Player-of-the-Year Norman Snead assured Howard’s Tigers their third ACC title in four years. The Demon Deacons shut down Clemson’s passing offense except for Shingler’s 23-yard scoring pass to Bost. Keeping the ball on the ground, the two Tiger units netted 295 yards and touchdowns by Usry, Daigneault, and Cline (2). Snead’s brilliant play might have won the day except for a fourth-quarter substitution slipup that prevented his re-entering the game for possible late-last-quarter heroics.
Milestone #11 November 28 – At Furman, upset that this one-time traditional foe had taken a quick three-point lead, the Tigers limited the home team to 92 yards and four first downs. Meanwhile, in its final regular-season game, Clemson scored seven rushing touchdowns and added an eighth with Harry Pavilac’s 25-yard interception return. Mathis and Daigneault each scored twice, while Usry, Shingler, and Scrudato had one apiece.
Milestone #12 December 19 – The addition of two new bowls (Bluebonnet Bowl in Houston, TX and Liberty Bowl in Memphis, TN) to go with the existing five attracting Division I bowls opened the door for a “natural” matchup between #7 TCU and #11 Clemson, each with 8-2 records. Six of the Tiger seniors (backs White, Mathis, Cline, and Daigneault along with tackles Harold Olson and Lou Cordileone) were hoping with the rest of their teammates to match the record 24-victory total of the 1948-50 seasons to go with their record three top-20 seasons. However, an added incentive was Texas sportsman Lamar Hunt’s new American Football League’s planned draft of college football players in competition with the NFL. In a well-played game at Rice Stadium, a scoreless first quarter led to an early second-quarter field goal by Clemson’s Armstrong. It was followed minutes later by a 19-yard Horned Frog touchdown pass that gave TCU a 7-3 halftime lead. The third quarter resembled the first with neither team threatening. Then in the fourth quarter, the Tigers opened with three touchdowns. The first was a 68-yard pass play from White to Barnes, the second was a 23-yard pass from Shingler to Tommy King following Armstrong’s 17-yard interception return, and the finale was a Scrudato one-yard plunge to complete a 63-yard sustained drive. The final score…Clemson 23, TCU 7. It was the Tigers’ 300th all-time victory and their fourth bowl win in seven tries.
Brent Breedin served as Clemson Sports Information Director from 1952-55. He is now semi-retired and living in Columbia, SC.
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