By Sam BlackmanA name synonymous with not only the early years of Clemson football but also the collegiate game as a whole is John Heisman. A stern disciplinarian, Heisman expected his players to be of high character and perform well both on the football field and in the classroom.Heisman’s ingenuity in originating plays was one of his strong points. He usually had something new up his sleeve for every game. It was said he used everything in the book, and a lot that was not in the book. Coach C. R. “Bob” Williams said it availed little to scout one of his (Heisman’s) games, for he rarely used the same trick over again. As he often introduced new plays before each game, he had little use for players who could not quickly learn his signal system and remember the intricate and changing plays. This eliminated much otherwise eligible material. Heisman used very few substitutes (3 or 4 at best) not withstanding the 35-minute halves. This may have been due to scarcity of first-class material, or the expense of travel and upkeep and extra equipment. Also, the rules of the game limited return to the game. A player had to have stamina to remain the full 70 minutes of the game. Heisman coached the Tigers from 1900-1903 and was responsible for putting the Clemson name among the annuals of the great early collegiate teams. During his time at Clemson he won or tied for three Southern Intercolliate Athletic Association (SIAA) conference championships. He invented the hidden ball trick, the handoff, the double lateral, and the “Flea Flicker.” He pioneered the forward pass, and originated the center snap and the word “hike” (previously the center used to roll the ball on the ground to the quarterback). Heisman took Clemson to a 19-3-2 record in his four seasons. His .833 winning pct. is still the best in Clemson history. He was also the Clemson baseball coach between 1901-1903. Clemson was a powerhouse during his tenure and was a most-feared opponent. His secret was that he depended on smart, quick players rather than larger-sized men. Another favorite Heisman story was the speech he used to make before a season began. Heisman would face his players holding a football. “What is this?” he would sharply ask. Then he would tell his players “a football was a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere, in which the outer leather casing is drawn up tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing.” Then after a long pause he would say, “Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football.” Heisman broke down football into these percentages: talent 25%; mentality 20%; aggressiveness 20%; speed 20%; and weight 15%. He considered coaching as being a master-commanding, even dictatorial. He had no time to say ‘please’ or ‘mister’, and he occasionally had to be severe, arbitrary, and something of a czar. On November 29, 1900, Clemson defeated Alabama 35-0, which allowed Heisman’s team to finish the season undefeated with a 6-0 record. This was Clemson’s first undefeated team and was the only team to win all of its games in a season until the 1948 squad went 11-0. The Tigers only allowed two touchdowns the entire 1900 season. The Tigers were the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association champions. Clemson opened the 1901 season with a 122-0 win over Guilford. The Tigers averaged 30 yards per play and a touchdown every minute and 26 seconds. The first half lasted 20 minutes, while the second half lasted only 10 minutes. Legend has it that every man on the Clemson team scored a touchdown in this game.The Guilford captain was very distraught over the way his team had played. “We missed everything today, tackles and blocks. One thing we certainly won’t miss is the train back home.”In 1902, John Heisman played the trick of all tricks on Georgia Tech and their followers. “We had already won a couple of games, and word drifted to Clemson that Georgia Tech would spare nothing to beat us,” said Heisman. “When the train with the Clemson team and baggage arrived in Atlanta the day before the game, the Tech supporters made it a point to entertain our players royally.”Heisman told the Clemson players arriving in downtown Atlanta on Friday night to enjoy themselves and live it up and pretend as though they were the Clemson Varsity Team. “The Tech supporters marveled at the ease with which they were able to get our players to sneak out that night and participate in the wild parties around town. There was quite a lot of eating and drinking and the more the Clemson men indulged in such [a] pastime the more were the Tech men willing to back with money their belief that they would win the next day.” Word got back to the Georgia Tech players that the Clemson players were living it up in the big city of Atlanta. There would be no way the Tigers would be ready to play. They knew they would beat Clemson now. The Heisman ploy worked. Georgia Tech thought they had the game won. The Yellow Jackets must have thought, the only thing they had to do was show up. They must have let their guard down.After the game everyone was in shock. Clemson was easy victors in a 44-5 contest. How could this happen? How could the Tigers stay out and carouse around town all night and be ready to play the next day? The Tech players and supporters and wondered and marveled at the hardiness of the Clemson men after a night of revelry. How did they do it? This was unreal!They later discovered that Coach Heisman had sent a bunch of bohunks (today known as redshirts), reserves and scrub players to Atlanta with the team’s equipment and kept the varsity and the starters at Lula, Ga., a small town some few miles northeast of Atlanta, the night before the game. The real Clemson varsity team got a good night’s sleep before the game and were ready to play the next day.“Boy did the Tech supporters that gambled lose a lot of money!” said Heisman.Such was Heisman—an innovator, a sports psychologist, and a very successful coach. Heisman put Clemson on the national football map. His coaching and his expertise helped lay the foundation of success that Clemson enjoys today.
January 19, 2022
January 18, 2022