Sept. 10, 1999
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 program we will announce five new players, in descending order. In the Marshall program we announced numbers 21-25, and today we announce players 16-20.
No. 20 Jeff Bryant (1978-81) Many of our top 25 players of the 20th Century played during the 1978-81 era. And, justifiably so when you look at Clemson’s record during that time. The 1978 and 1981 Clemson teams both ranked in the top six in the country, the two highest ranked teams in school history. Jeff Bryant had a lot to do with those rankings.
A freshman in 1978, he was a key reserve on Clemson’s 11-1 team that defeated Ohio State in the Gator Bowl. By the time he was a senior in 1981, Bryant was the leader of the Tiger defensive line that allowed opponents just 89 yards per game on the ground and just 8.2 points per game.
Bryant had 19 tackles for loss in 1981, and eight of those were sacks, best on Clemson’s National Championship team. He was a second-team All-American and first-team All-ACC selection that year. Like many of our top 25 list, one play stands out in Bryant’s career. The native of Atlanta saved the day in Clemson’s 10-8 victory over North Carolina in Chapel Hill, still the only meeting of two Top 10 ACC teams in history.
Late in the game and with North Carolina driving, the Tar Heel quarterback threw a lateral pass in the right flat. Every player on the field assumed it was an incomplete pass…except Jeff Bryant. The senior hustled after the ball and pounced on it. After a dramatic moment, the officials ruled the ball had been a lateral. Officials gave Clemson the ball and the Tigers ran out the clock, keeping alive an undefeated season and National Championship hopes.
That basic instinct for the game and superior national physical talent allowed Bryant to play 12 years in the NFL with the Seattle Seahawks. The first round draft choice who was the number-six selection of the entire NFL draft that year still ranks in the top five in Seahawks history in tackles for loss and sacks.
No. 19 Chris Gardocki (1988-90) The only kicker on our list is Chris Gardocki. His accomplishments as a punter and placekicker are unprecedented in Clemson and college football history. This year one publication ranked him as the top kicker in college football for the 1990s.
Only one player in NCAA history has ranked in the top 10 in the nation in punting and field goals per game in two different seasons and Chris Gardocki is that player. His abilities in both aspects of the game gave Clemson one of the top special teams in the nation from 1988-90.
In 1989, as a sophomore, Gardocki ranked sixth in the nation in field goals and was 10th in punting with a 42.7 average. As a junior, he was fourth in both areas, averaging 1.73 field goals per game to go with a 44.34 punting average.
The native of Stone Mountain, GA tied an ACC record for the longest field goal with a 57-yarder against Appalachian State in 1990, and saved his longest punt for his final punt in Death Valley, a 78-yarder in the 1990 South Carolina game. He concluded his career with 63 field goals and had a record 72 consecutive PATs. As a punter, he averaged 43.48 yards boot for his career, including a 39.1 net average. A one-step punter, Gardocki had just one punt blocked his entire career at Clemson and has never had a punt blocked in the NFL. The Tigers were 30-6 in Gardocki’s career.
Ironically, Gardocki was a two-time All-America placekicker at Clemson, but has been a punter in the National Football League. He was an honorable mention All-America punter all three years he played in Tigertown. Gardocki is now the starting punter for the Cleveland Browns of the NFL. He was an All-Pro selection in 1996 when he led the NFL in net punting.
No.18 Homer Jordan (1979-82) Homer Jordan is our No.18 greatest player of the 20th Century, but he is certainly number-one in the hearts of many Tiger fans. The quarterback of Clemson’s National Championship team holds a record no one will ever break, but we hope someone ties….best winning percentage by a starting quarterback in a season.
Jordan was the nimble field general for the Tigers in 1981 and he started every game in the perfect 12-0 season. That season, Jordan completed 107 of 196 passes for 1630 yards. He was also one of the team’s top rushers. It was a season in which Jordan showed steady improvement, highlighted by his 20-29 performance against Maryland for 270 yards. He also rushed for 42, giving him a 300-yard total offense performance.
He was Clemson’s offensive MVP in the 22-15 victory over Nebraska. On a hot and emotional evening in the Orange Bowl, Jordan personally ran down the Cornhuskers. He completed 11-22 for 134 yards and a touchdown and also had 46 yards rushing 16 carries. He ran out the clock with dexterity on the final Clemson drive, then passed out after the game from heat exhaustion. While his teammates were celebrating a national title, Jordan was getting an IV in the training room.
Jordan’s senior year was not quite as rewarding, as a knee injury forced him to miss a good bit of the season. Still, he helped the 1982 team to a 9-1-1 record and a number-eight national ranking.
No.17 Harry Olszewski, 1965-67) Harry Olszewski was Clemson’s top lineman of the 1960s according to our panel. A first-team consensus All-America guard in 1967, he was the only unanimous selection to the All-ACC team in 1967. It was his second straight year on the team.
“Harry O” was also named to the ACC Silver Anniversary team in 1977, meaning he was one of the top offensive linemen In in the ACC over the first 25 years of the league. That covers a lot of great players. He also won the ACC and the South Carolina Jacobs Blocking Trophy in 1967.
A starter in all 30 games of his Clemson career, his blocking was a prime reason Clemson won the ACC all three years he played. A highlight of his career took placein 1966 against South Carolina. In a game Clemson needed to win the ACC Championship, Olszewski scored a touchdown on a 12-yard run with a fumbled snap from center. No Clemson offensive lineman has scored a touchdown since.
Buddy Gore, a member of our top 25 announced last week, will be the first to tell you that he would not have gained nearly as many rushing yards had it not been for Olszewski. In 1980, Olszewski was inducted in to the Clemson Hall of Fame and he was named to the State of South Carolina Hall of Fame in 1990. In 1996 he was named to Clemson’s Centennial team.
No.16 Joe Blalock (1939-41) While O.K. Pressley is Clemson’s first All-American, Banks McFadden the school’s first two-sport All-American, Joe Blalock was Clemson’s first two-time All-American in Clemson sports history. Blalock was a star wide receiver for the Tigers from 1939-41 and was an All-American in 1940 and 1941.
Longevity of a record is certainly a testimony to someone’s greatness. While Joe DiMaggio was setting his incredible 56-game hitting streak in 1941, Joe Blalock was ending his Clemson career with a 20.34 yards per reception record, a mark that still stands today.
For his Clemson career, Blalock had 38 catches for 773 yards and11 touchdowns. He also found time to rush 35 times for 143 yards and even completed a pair of passes on end-around plays for 45 yards. He played in 28 games in his career, 26 as a starter. Blalock was the first receiver in Clemson history to have a 100-yard receiving game. He had 105 yards in three catches vs. Wake Forest in 1939.
A fine all-around athlete who also played basketball at Clemson, Blalock was a fifth-round draft pick of the Detroit Lions after the 1941 season. In 1973, Blalock was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame as a charter member, then was chosen to the Clemson Centennial Team in 1996.
March 14, 2019