Clemson Memorial Stadium has been held in high esteem for many years. Whether it be players from the 1940s and 1950s, opposing players from the 1970s and 1980s, or even professional players in the 1990s, the ambiance of this special setting is what college football is all about.
The storied edifice added to its legend when the first meeting of father and son head coaches (Bowden Bowl I) took place before a sellout crowd of more than 86,000 fans in 1999. Clemson has ranked in the top 20 in the nation in average attendance 22 consecutive seasons. That includes 2001 when Clemson set an ACC record for total attendance. Last season, the streak continued when Clemson averaged nearly 79,000 fans per game.
The facility’s mystique is derived from its many traditions, which date to its opening in 1942, the legendary games and players, and Clemson’s corresponding rate of success. Clemson has won 227 games in 63 years there and has won over 71 percent of the contests (227-88-7). Thirty-nine times since 1983, a crowd has exceeded 80,000.
The stadium has definitely been good to the Tigers, but the stadium was constructed against the advice of at least one Clemson coach. Just before Head Coach Jess Neely left for Rice after the 1939 season, he gave Clemson a message. “Don’t ever let them talk you into building a big stadium,” he said. “Put about 10,000 seats behind the YMCA. That’s all you’ll ever need.”
Instead of following Coach Neely’s advice, however, Clemson officials decided to build the new stadium in a valley on the western part of campus. The place would take some clearing-there were many trees, but luckily there were no hedges. The crews went to work, clearing, cutting, pouring, and forming. Finally on September 19, 1942, Memorial Stadium opened with Clemson thrashing Presbyterian by a score of 32-13. Those 20,000 seats installed for Opening Day would soon grow; and grow and grow.
When the original part of the stadium was built in the early 40’s, much of the work was done by scholarship athletes, including many football players. The first staking out of the stadium was done by two members of the football team, A.N. Cameron and Hugh Webb. Webb returned to Clemson years later to be an architecture professor, and Cameron went on to become a civil engineer in Louisiana.
The building of the stadium did not proceed without problems. One day during the clearing of the land, one young player proudly announced that he was not allergic to poison oak. He then commenced to attack the poison oak with a swing blade, throwing the plants to and fro. The next day, the boy was swollen twice his size and was hospitalized.
There are many other stories about the stadium, including one that Frank Howard put a chew of tobacco in each corner as the concrete poured. Howard said that the seeding of the grass caused a few problems. “About 40 people and I laid sod on the field,” he said. “After three weeks, on July 15, we had only gotten halfway through.”
“I told them that it had taken us three weeks to get that far, and I would give them three more week’s pay for however long it took. I also told them we would have 50 gallons of ice cream when we got through. After that it took them three days to do the rest of the field. Then we sat down in the middle of the field and ate up that whole 50 gallons.”
Howard said that on the day of the first game in the stadium, “the gates were hung at 1:00 and we played at 2:00.” But that would be all of the construction for a while. Then in 1958, 18,000 sideline seats were added and in 1960, 5,658 west endzone seats were added in response to increasing attendance.
With the large endzone, “Green Grass” section, this expansion increased capacity to 53,000. Later, upper decks were added to each side of as crowds swelled – the first in 1978 and the second in ’83. This increased capacity to over 80,000, which makes it one of the largest on-campus stadiums.
The effect spiraling inflation has had in this century can be dramatically seen in the differences in stadium construction. The original part of the stadium was built at a cost of $125,000 or at $6.25 a seat. The newest upper deck was finished in 1983 at a cost of $13.5 million, or $866 a seat.
The capacity for Clemson Memorial Stadium in 2005 was listed as 77,381 during construction of the WestZone area. The new capacity with the completion of the WestZone in 2006 is 80,301. Previously, capacity was listed as 81,473. When we listed that number in previous years, we counted 6,000 people on the hill. Our new capacities (2005 and 2006) count just 4,000 people on the hill and that accounts for the fact that our new capacity in 2006 is lower than what it had been previously.
Click on the following link to view interior and exterior photos of the WestZone: Photo Gallery. Click here to view the newly completed Phase II of the WestZone project, which includes the coaches’ offices, administrative offices, a new strength and conditioning area, a large team room/auditorium, an expanded equipment room and athletic training facilities.
Through the years, Memorial Stadium has become known as “Death Valley.” It was tagged this by the late Presbyterian coach, Lonnie McMillan. After bringing his P.C.teams to Clemson for years and getting whipped, McMillan said the place was like Death Valley. A few years later the name stuck. In 1974, the playing surface was named Frank Howard Field for the legendary coach because of his long service and dedication to the University.
Luckily, the stadium wasn’t built behind the Y.