First Game with Howard's Rock

First Game with Howard's Rock

(Editor’s Note—This month will mark the 50th anniversary of Howard’s Rock and it’s first appearance in Death Valley.  Howard’s Rock is not only an iconic symbol at Clemson but also in the college football world.  This is one story in a series that will appear this week in the Clemson Vault on about Howard’s Rock.)

by Sam Blackman

It was fortunate for Clemson that former IPTAY Executive Secretary Gene Willimon acted when he did.

Otherwise Clemson might not have beaten Virginia, 40-35, on Sept. 24. 1966, in the season opener for the Tigers.

It was Willimon’s idea to put a rock from Death Valley, CA on a pedestal at the top of the hill during the summer of 1966, where the Tigers enter the stadium and make their famous entrance. Alumnus S.C. Jones gave former Head Coach Frank Howard the rock after a visit to Death Valley, CA. Jones must have thought it to be an appropriate gift to Howard as the stadium had been called Death Valley by friend and foe alike for many years prior to 1966.

Howard told Willimon to do something with the rock. He wanted it out of his office. Willimon had a brain-storm and immediately came up with the idea of putting it on a pedestal overlooking the playing field where it still sits today, 50 years later.

Even though the players did not begin touching the rock for good luck until a year later, the rock must have brought the Tigers good luck, or as Howard states, “mystical powers” in the 40-35 win over Virginia in 1966. The Tigers managed to win despite losing five fumbles and giving up 429 yards total offense. It was obvious some kind of strange powers must have been with the Tigers on this particular day.

It also did not hurt the Tigers’ chances that Buddy Gore rushed for 117 yards in this game, and Clemson’s Jimmy Addison had one of the top passing days in Clemson history.

The Tigers went ahead in the ACC contest early in the second period on the strength of a 68-yard punt return by Frank Liberatore, a touchdown pass from Addison to Phil Rogers and the running of Buddy Gore. The second and third quarters belonged solely to quarterback Bob Davis and his Cavaliers, and with the help of Clemson fumbles, Virginia took a 35-18 lead with 3:06 left to go in the third quarter.

Edgar McGee, Phil Rogers and Wayne Bell caught key passes to bring Clemson to a 35-33 deficit with about three minutes to play.

Faced with a third down and short yardage on Clemson’s 25-yard line, the Tigers were driving for the go-ahead score. “We called a pass play that had resulted in several completions in an earlier game to our split end, Wayne Bell,” recalled Clemson quarterback Jimmy Addison.

“Wayne found an open spot between the linebackers, and the Virginia cornerback came from his deep position to cover the open receiver. Jacky Jackson, who had run from his tailback position down the left sideline, made a beautiful catch behind that cornerback and outran the safety man to the end zone.”

That gave the Tigers a 40-35 advantage with 3:49 left and it proved to be the winning touchdown. “I remember this play distinctly”, said Addison who later would attend law school at the University of Virginia. “I thought I had overthrown Jackson, but he put it in second gear and ran underneath the pass.”

However the Cavaliers had one more chance and Davis marched Virginia down the field. With 1:49 left to go in the game, the Cavaliers had a second-and-10 situation on the Tigers’ 14-yard line. Davis’s pass was intercepted by Phil Marion and the Tigers proceeded to run out the clock.

Jimmy Addison was the Associated Press Back-of-the-Week, while Davis was named Sports lllustrated’s Back-of-the-Week. It is probably the only time two opposing players in the same game have been named national Players-of-the-Week in the history of college football.

Davis set the Atlantic Coast Conference’s record for most passes attempted and completed in the game, records that have since been broken.

He finished the game hitting 26-48 passes for 312 yards, while the Tigers’ Addison was 12-1 9 in passing for 283 yards and three scores.

Addison is still third on the Clemson individual highest single game passing efficiency list for his performance against the Cavaliers with a 240.39 mark, and is first among Tiger quarterbacks who have thrown at least 15 passes in a game.

“As someone suggested on the sidelines during the fourth quarter,” continued Addison, “the university should have run everyone out of the stadium before the fourth quarter and made them pay to re-enter.”

It was truly a ball game worth two admissions. It was a great way to christen Howard’s Rock.