Oct. 1, 1999
CLEMSON, S.C. – This past summer we asked 28 former Clemson players, coaches, administrators and fans to select their top 25 Clemson football players of the 20th Century. All of the panel members have followed Clemson football for at least 20 years and some for over 50 years. A first place vote received 25 points, second-place vote 24 points, and so on.
Each home football weekend we will announce five new players, in descending order. Today we announce players 11-15.
Bobby Gage was one of the finest all-around football players in Clemson history. He played in the two-platoon era and he really had an effect on three platoons because he changed the course of games with his punt and kickoff returns.
A close look to his statistics in 1948 reveals a season in which he had a 100-yard rushing game (12-104 vs. Furman), a 172-yard passing game (against Mississippi State), a two-interception game on defense (also against Mississippi State) and a 100-yard punt return game (101 on three returns against NC State). His 90-yard punt return in that game proved to be the game winner and is still the longest punt return by a Clemson player in the history of Death Valley.
Bobby Gage was the true triple threat football player of the 1940s. He ended his career with 35 touchdowns, eight on rushes, 24 touchdown passes, one via punt return, one via kickoff return and even one on a reception. He still ranks in the top 10 in Clemson history in total offense and interceptions defensively. That is success on both sides of the ball, something you don’t see today.
For his accomplishments in 1948, Gage was named a first-team All-American. He was a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers after the season. There were many great men on Clemson’s 1948 team that posted a perfect 11-0 record, the first perfect season at Clemson in 48 seasons. But, Gage might have been the top all-around player and senior leader. He had the stats to back it up.
Our 14th greatest Clemson football player of the 20th century is still omnipresent at Clemson football home games. Perry Tuttle has been around the Tiger program for over 20 years as a player, supporter and now a broadcaster on the Tiger Tailgate Show.
His accomplishments on the field as an All-America receiver in 1981 were electrifying. He averaged 17 yards a reception on 52 catches during that National Championship season and score eight touchdowns. He ranked in the top 30 in the nation in receiving that year, quite an accomplishment in Danny Ford’s run-oriented offense.
He saved one of his greatest moments for his last game. He caught five passes for 56 yards in the 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl, including a 13-yard scoring pass from Homer Jordan (another of our top 25 greatest players). His ensuing celebration was captured on the cover of Sports Illustrated and he remains the only current Clemson athlete in history to be featured on the cover of the world’s most famous sports publication.
Tuttle finished his career with 150 receptions for over 2500 yards, still second in school history in both areas. He was the #19 selection of the entire NFL draft by the Buffalo Bills in the spring of 1982 and played many years in the NFL and the CFL. In fact, a year after he was named to Clemson’s Centennial Team, he was inducted into the Winnipeg Blue Bombers Hall of Fame.
Bennie Cunningham remains the most decorated tight end in Clemson history. A native of nearby Seneca, SC, Cunningham was a two-time first-team All-American at Clemson in 1974 and 1975, one of just 12 multi-year All-Americans in school history.
Cunningham was a pro scouts dream. At 6-5 and 250 pounds, he could run like a deer, yet run over the opposition in heavy traffic. In addition to his great hands and quickness, he was a devastating blocker. Cunningham first came on the scene in 1973 when he started all 11 games and caught 22 passes for 341 yards. He also averaged 6.6 yards a rush on 11 carries as a runner.
In 1974 Clemson’s season long slogan was “Excitement Galore in ’74”. Cunningham did his part in the 7-4 season that included a perfect 6-0 home record, with seven touchdown receptions among his 24 catches, the most touchdown receptions ever by a Clemson tight end and one of the top five totals nationally that season for tight ends. Cunningham was named a first-team AP All-American that season.
The Tigers stumbled a bit in 1975 with a young offense, but Cunningham still averaged 17-yards a catch, an incredible average for a tight end. After the season he was named a first-team All-American by Sporting News for the second straight year, then was a first-round draft choice of the Pittsburgh Steelers, still the only Clemson tight end in history be a first-round draft choice.
Cunningham might have had an even better NFL career. He cuaght over 200 passes for the Steelers in his 10-year NFL career and was a starter on two Super Bowl Championship teams.
Clemson was the fifth winningest team in college football in the 1980s and one of the reasons was the play of two-time All-American Donnell Woolford, our 12th greatest Tiger gridder of the 20th century. Woolford was the mainstay of a Clemson defense that helped the Tigers to a 28-6-2 record from 1986-88, an era in which Clemson won the ACC Championship every year.
Woolford was a defensive back who might be regarded as the best modern day cover corner in school history. In 1987, Woolford had five interceptions with no interception return yards. Why no yards? All his interceptions were diving grabs while he was blanketing the opposition. His interception total dropped to one during his senior year because rarely did the oppostion throw in his direction. No receiver he was assign to cover caught more than two passes in any game during the 1988 season.
In addition to his job patrolling the secondary, Woolford was one of the top punt returners in the country. He averaged 15 yards a return in 1987, third best in the nation. He had a pair of opponent back breaking punt returns for touchdown that year, one against Georgia Tech and one against Wake Forest.
Woolford may best be remembered for his performance in the final game of his career. Playing against Oklahoma’s famed Wishbone Offense, Woolford was moved to a roverback position by Clemson defensive coordinator Bill Oliver. It was his job to disrupt the attack, which he did. Oklahoma failed to score a touchdown in a game for just the second time in the decade of the 1980s.
A first-round draft choice of the Chicago Bears, Woolford started for the Bears from 1989-96 and for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1997. He earned a berth in the Pro Bowl in 1993.
A rebirth of Clemson football took place in 1977. The Tigers had not gone to a bowl game in 18 years prior to that season. But, a group of veteran players who had suffered through a 2-9 1975 season as freshmen, picked up the Clemson program by the bootstraps.
One of the leaders of that class and the resurgence was offensive tackle Joe Bostic. Charley Pell and Danny Ford used the running game as the staple of the offense and many of the big first downs and long runs of 1977 and 1978 were plays that started with a strong block from Bostic.
A four-year starter, Bostic became a two-year All-American and recipient of the state of South Carolina’s Jacob Blocking Trophy in 1977 and 1978. He won the same award for the ACC in 1977. He was a five-time honoree as the ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week over his career.
While the accomplishments of the 1977 team were significant, the 1978 team, Bostic’s senior year, reached another level. Bostic along with younger brother Jeff, also a member of our top 25 list, led the Tigers to an 11-1 record, a number-six final Associated Press ranking and ACC Championship. The season, and Bostic’s Clemson career, culminated with a 17-15 win over Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.
After appearances in various college All-Star Games, Bostic was chosen in the third round of the NFL draft by the St. Louis Cardinals. He was chosen to the 1979 NFL All-Rookie team and played 10 seasons overall with the Cardinals organization.
April 19, 2019