Sept. 23, 2009
It has been almost 44 years since TCU last visited Death Valley.
The Horned Frogs were highly touted in 1965 and it was going to take a great Tiger performance to knock off TCU that afternoon. The Horned Frogs would finish the year with a berth in the Sun Bowl, the only bowl team Clemson played that season. For Tiger lineman Bruce McClure, it was the most memorable game of his life.
It was not the hype of the football game that McClure remembers, nor was it the fact that a member of the old Southwest Conference was coming to town for the first time. Instead, it was the events surrounding this late October weekend that forced him to make the hardest decision of his young life.
McClure, a native of Charlotte, NC, came to Clemson from Myers Park High School. Hap Carr, who also was a Myers Park High graduate and went on to play football at Clemson, contacted then Tiger Assistant Coach Whitey Jordan, who started recruiting McClure.
“Coach Jordan gave me a scholarship in the fall of 1961, and when I started I was on the 12th team,” said McClure, who is the owner of Seven Products Plus, a contractors supply company in Anderson, SC. “I worked my way up and I ended up on the first unit on the freshman team.”
McClure was in his fifth year at Clemson during the 1965 season, having red-shirted in 1962 due to a knee injury. On the Friday morning before the TCU game, he received a message in his dorm that Head Coach Frank Howard wanted to see him immediately.
“I wonder what I had done, but I went as fast as I could to his office in Fike Fieldhouse,” recalled McClure.
McClure was shocked with the news that Howard told. “Coach Howard was always to the point…`Boy, your Momma is dead’.”
It was a surprise to McClure, but he knew she had been ill.
“She had been sick with leukemia, but I thought there was more time. She had been coming to the games. At that time, they were coming out with new innovations in treatment and we were very encouraged. But during surgery, she had a brain hemorrhage and passed away.
“I was numb…I didn’t know what to say,” admitted McClure. “Coach Howard went on to say, `we need you to play against TCU tomorrow, but we also understand if you don’t’.”
It did not take McClure long to decide what he should do. “By the time I left his office, I knew I would play in the game. I told Coach Howard I would play, but I was going to Charlotte that night to spend time with my family.
“I drove up to Charlotte with my brother and it was the longest drive I have ever made in my life. I drove back to Clemson with a family friend early Saturday morning and we got back to campus around 2:00 AM. I didn’t even sleep for two hours.
“I kept thinking that I had just talked to Mom on a previous visit and she had said, `go back to school.’ I wanted to stay home and make sure she was alright just days before. She told me that whether she lived or died that I had my own life to live.
“`You will get in trouble if you stay in Charlotte and you’ll get behind on your studies,’ she stressed to me. One thought that kept going through my mind is that she told me to fulfill my commitments under any circumstance. I loved my parents and they had made many sacrifices for the family. I was going to fulfill my commitment to Clemson and my teammates.”
McClure woke up on gameday and met with the coaches and training staff before the game. “I went in the dressing room and Athletic Trainers Herman McGee and Fred Hoover were very helpful. I remember both of them talking to me. The rest of the team let me have time to myself.”
In the press box, McClure’s name was not included on the depth chart for the TCU game, as Clemson’s longtime Sports Information Director Bob Bradley explained, “We didn’t put his name on the depth chart because we didn’t think he would play given the circumstances.”
It was a memorable day for McClure, one in which football helped his healing process. “I didn’t start but I got in late in the first half. I started thinking about football. At halftime, Coach Howard asked if I was OK. He talked about my situation and me during the halftime talk to the team.
“I played most of the second half. It was Senior Day and I had a sponsor. There was so much going through my mind. All of that was so difficult, but I knew somehow everything would work out.”
In those days, players went both ways, so McClure played offensive guard and defensive tackle.
“I played really hard and we defeated TCU 3-0.”
According to the Charlotte Observer, McClure played an important role in Clemson’s victory that day. During the final seconds, the Tigers were running out the clock. Thomas Ray ran a quarterback sneak on the final play. When the mass of Horned Frogs climbed off him and the finals seconds were counting down, he scrambled to his feet and dashed to the Tiger player dressed in jersey #68 (McClure). Ray thrust the ball into McClure’s hands. It was the gameball.
“Take this,” Ray said. “We won this one for you.”
“It would have been Mom’s wish that I play,” McClure said after the game. “She wanted me to live up to my commitments. That’s the only thing that enabled me to do it.”
Sam Blackman is Clemson’s Senior Associate Sports Information Director and is in his 23rd year at Clemson.
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