Nov. 5, 1999
CLEMSON, S.C. – Well, here they are, the top five Clemson players of the 20th Century. The season long announcement is concluded today, as we release the top five players as voted on by our 28-member panel of experts. Four of the five have been enshrined in the Clemson Ring of Honor at Memorial Stadium.
#5 Steve Fuller, QB, 1975-78 Steve Fuller is listed as our fifth greatest Clemson football player of the 20th Century, but he would have to be ranked as the greatest all-around student-athlete gridder in school history. In addition to his selection as a third-team Associated Press All-American on the field in 1978, Fuller was a two-time first-team Academic All-American off the field. He maintained a 3.93 career GPA and would be considered the most decorated athlete in Clemson history from an academic standpoint.
But, Fuller was equally efficient on the field. When he graduated in 1978, he held the NCAA record for lowest interception percentage in the history of the sport. He set the Clemson career total offense record with 6096 yards, including 1737 yards rushing, most ever by a Clemson quarterback.
He is most remembered for quarterbacking Clemson during a renaissance of the sport, bringing the Tigers to the 1977 Gator Bowl, the first bowl appearance for the Clemson program in 18 seasons. His senior year he led Clemson to an 11-1 record, the ACC Championship, and a 17-15 Gator Bowl victory over Ohio State and Woody Hayes. He finished sixth in the voting for the Heisman Trophy that year, still the highest finish in that prestigious voting by any Clemson player.
After the completion of his Clemson career, Fuller played 10 years in the NFL, including the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears. He is now a real estate developer in Hilton Head. #4 Jerry Butler, WR, 1975-78 It has been quite a year for Jerry Butler, our fourth ranked football player of the 20th Century. Fuller and Butler are forever linked in Clemson football history. Classmates, they are still regarded as the greatest passing combination in school history. They are linked in this poll, also, as they follow each other on this list and just two total points separated them in the voting.
Butler is one of the great success stories in Clemson history. He actually first signed a track scholarship with Dr. I.M. Ibrahim’s program. But, a performance at a high school all-star game the summer before he enrolled told Tiger football coaches this fleet receiver could be a star on the gridiron.
After catching just one pass as a freshman, Butler began a record streak of 35 consecutive games of catching at least one pass, a streak that still stands today. As a junior in 1977, he made perhaps the biggest and most important play in Clemson history when he made a diving reception of a Fuller pass to beat South Carolina in Columbia, clinching a 31-27 victory and Clemson’s first bowl big in 18 years.
This year, Butler joined Fuller in the Clemson Ring of Honor. The 1978 first-team AP All-American also entered the coaching industry at the professional ranks with the Cleveland Browns, where he works for former Clemson teammate Dwight Clark.
#3 Terry Kinard, FS, 1978-82 Terry Kinard is ranked number-three in our poll, but he would be considered the most decorated Clemson football player on a national scale in the 20th Century. And the honors seem to keep on coming.
This past August, Sports Illustrated selected a college football team of the century and Kinard was the only Clemson representative on the squad. When USA Today selected a Team of the Decade for the 1980s, it was Kinard who was named to the team as the only free safety.
Why all the acclaim for Kinard? He patrolled the Clemson secondary for four years as a starter and was named first-team Associated Press All-American twice. From the 1979 Notre Dame game when he had two interceptions to preserve a 16-10 victory, to 1982, when he was named National Defensive Player of the Year by CBS Sports, Kinard was a player that gave offensive coordinators sleepless nights. In 1982 he became Clemson’s first and still only unanimous first-team All-American.
Kinard was a starter and leading intercepter on Clemson’s 1981 National Championship team. Clemson had a 21-1-1 record his last two years and had a pair of top 10 national rankings, the only time in history Clemson has had consecutive top 10 finishes. Now a high school coach in Oklahoma, Kinard still holds the Clemson career record for interceptions, takeaways and tackles by a defensive back.
#2 Jeff Davis, LB, 1978-81 Jeff Davis is ranked as Clemson’s second greatest player, the school’s greatest defensive player. He could also be called the school’s greatest team leader, and he continues that leadership today, serving Clemson University as the Director of the “Call me Mister” program.
Davis was a common denomintor on two of Clemson’s greatest teams, the sixth-ranked 1978 squad and the 1981 National Championship team. Captain of the defense in 1981, he led a Tiger point prevention unit with 175 tackles. He was named the Defensive Player of the Game in Clemson’s 22-15 victory over Nebraska that gave the Tigers the National Championship.
The 1995 Clemson Ring of Honor Inductee was a model of consistency. He had at least 10 tackles in 22 of his last 23 games and had 30 double figure games in his 40-game career. He led the Clemson team in tackles 25 times.
In 1981, Davis set a standard for defensive players by being named ACC Player of the Year, just the second defensive player in league history to win the award. He was a first-team All-American that season by UPI, the Football Coaches, Football Writers, Football News and the Walter Camp Foundation.
Upon the completion of his Clemson career, Davis played six years with distinction with the Tampa Bay Bucs. He played 83 games in the NFL and started 72 between 1982-87, and led the Bucs in tackles three of those six seasons.
#1 Banks McFadden, Back, 1936-39 And, our number-one player of the 20th Century is the incredible Banks McFadden. His legend is still strong today. With all the accomplishments of thousands of Clemson football players and teams the last 60 years, McFadden was the leading vote getter on this team, by far. Of the 28 votes cast by this committee, McFadden was listed first on 19.
Still an avid Tiger fan in his 80s, McFadden established standards that are yet to be eclipsed by any Clemson athlete. In 1959, he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame, still the only former Clemson player in that national shrine. He was a charter member of the Clemson Hall of Fame and the state of South Carolina Hall of Fame.
This past summer he was named the greatest athlete, regardless of sport, in Clemson history by the Charleston Post Courier. In addition to his football accomplishments, McFadden was a first-team All-American in basketball, leading Clemson to the 1939 Southern Conference Championship.
A look at his statistics tells us why. Whether it be passing, running, punting, tackling, kicking, McFadden did it all between 1937-39, especially in 1939. He led Clemson to a 9-0-1 record that year, the school’s first national ranking, and a 6-3 victory over Boston College in the Cotton Bowl. His All-American play in the secondary on that day was a key to Clemson’s first bowl win ever. He had four pass deflections, some in the final moments, are still a record for a bowl game.
McFadden was the number-three selection of the 1940 NFL draft by the Brooklyn Dodgers and led the league in yards per carry that year. But he returned to Clemson the next year and served Clemson as a football coach and basketball coach the remainder of his career.
And, to this day he is still regarded as a Clemson treasure.
July 28, 2021