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Clemson Football Game Program Feature: The Last Word

Oct. 15, 2010

It is hard to believe it has been 10 years since the 2000 season. I am sure a lot of those former Tiger players in attendance for their 10-year reunion today feel the same way.

That was a memorable season for the program and for me, personally. The Tigers ran off eight consecutive wins to begin the season and reached a #3 national ranking in the coaches poll in late October.

It was also memorable in a sad way because my longtime boss, Bob Bradley, was in his final days fighting bone cancer. It was spiritually uplifting on the one hand, because he had such a bright outlook on life and was a true example of the Clemson spirit. His mind was as sharp as ever throughout, but there were many difficult days when he had to deal with chemotherapy treatments.

Bradley started the season needing to attend five games to reach 500 in a row. That streak drove him every day, and we all celebrated his 500th game at Duke on September 30. That streak would reach 502 when he attended the Maryland game on October 14.

Bradley certainly enjoyed his last season on Earth because this was one of the most exciting and dominant teams on both sides of the ball in Clemson history.

That was evident in the second game when Missouri came to town for a game televised to much of the country on ABC. Clemson recorded its highest point total since the 1981 National Championship season in a 62-9 rout. Missouri was attempting to revive its program under former Southern California Head Coach Larry Smith and had beaten Clemson four years earlier.

Tommy Bowden’s Tigers followed that performance with a 55-7 win over Wake Forest. Woodrow Dantzler showed his capabilities as a runner and thrower the next week at Virginia when he rushed for 220 yards, then a record for an ACC quarterback.

The Tigers followed that victory with a road win at Duke by a score of 52-22. Clemson allowed Duke to score two touchdowns in the fourth quarter, much to the disappointment of the first-team defense. I remember how mad All-America linebacker Keith Adams was after that game in the locker room. However, that was a good thing to see. This team had lofty goals.

A 34-27 win over N.C. State and freshman quarterback Philip Rivers followed, as Dantlzer amassed 103 rushing yards and 220 passing yards. On Homecoming, the Tigers downed the Terrapins in workmanlike fashion (35-14), as Rod Gardner had five catches for 148 yards.

The following week at North Carolina, the Tigers showed their depth. Dantzler was injured and left the game with Clemson trailing 17-0. Bowden inserted Willie Simmons at quarterback and the Tar Heels did not know how to defend him and a now pass-happy Clemson offense. Simmons threw four touchdown passes, including three to Gardner, and came away with a 38-24 victory. It was Clemson’s second-largest comeback win in school history.

The win in Chapel Hill brought Clemson to an 8-0 record, a #3 ranking in the coaches poll, and a #5 ranking in the AP poll. It is Clemson’s highest ranking in the last 26 years.

Georgia Tech was the opponent at Clemson on October 28, the ninth straight Saturday game for the Tigers. Clemson took a 28-24 lead with 1:52 left in the game on an 18-yard touchdown pass from Simmons (again in for an injured Dantzler) to Gardner.

But this time, Clemson’s defense could not stop Yellow Jacket quarterback George Godsey, who drove Georgia Tech 80 yards in 11 plays. His 16-yard scoring pass to Kerry Watkins, who made a one-handed catch in the back of the endzone, with seven seconds left broke the hearts of Tiger fans and the eight-game winning streak.

If there ever was a situation where a loss beat a team twice, it was this 31-28 loss to Georgia Tech. The next week, Clemson played at #4 Florida State, a Seminole team that would go on to play for the national title.

The Seminoles won 54-7, and after the game, Bobby Bowden told his son, Tommy, “You just need to go get more players.”

The younger Bowden took his words to heart and beat his father in four of their last five meetings.

Thank goodness for an open date. The Tigers had two weeks to prepare for #25 South Carolina and topped the Gamecocks in dramatic fashion (16-14). “The Catch II” took place on this day when Dantzler connected with Gardner on a 50-yard pass to set up Aaron Hunt’s game-winning 25-yard field goal with three seconds left on the clock.

The victory gave the Tigers a 9-2 record and a #16 national ranking entering a Gator Bowl matchup with Michael Vick and Virginia Tech. It was billed as a matchup of the two best all-purpose quarterbacks in the nation. Both had strong individual performances, as Dantzler gained 261 yards of total offense compared to 224 for Vick, but the Hokies won the game 41-20.

The Tigers finished #14 in the coaches poll and #16 in the AP poll. It is the highest final ranking for any Tiger team in the last 20 years.

As I reflect on the season, one memory stands out. Mr. Bradley went into a coma during the fourth quarter of that Georgia Tech game, and he never had to endure that difficult loss. He would pass away two days later.

To him, the 2000 season finished with a perfect 8-0 record, a fact that brings a smile to the over 250 sports information office assistants who benefitted from his guidance for over 40 years.