by Sam Blackman
The Clemson Family…an often-used term that best describes the spirit of Clemson and the school’s hard working alumni.
The Clemson family has been generous in its giving over the years as IPTAY is one of the most successful, if not the most successful, fund raising organizations of its kind in the nation. The pride of Clemson is seen and felt all over the country as people wear Tiger Paws on every article of clothing and on every imaginable surface and items that people use everyday.
This is not anything new as Clemson alumni and friends of the college have been out working hard for the school since the beginning.
One example of a proud and dutiful alumnus is Marvin Ellison. Ellison was a member of the Tiger Cross Country team in the early 1920s. He graduated from Clemson in 1924, with a degree in Chemical Engineering.
After his graduation, he followed Clemson Athletics closely and in 1939 he was living in Dallas, Texas. Ellison traveled to New Orleans in 1939 to see the Clemson-Tulane game that the Tigers lost 7-6. It was the only setback for the Tigers that season, and Ellison knew that Clemson had a great team that could compete with anyone. He was impressed with the likes of Banks McFadden, Shad Bryant, George Fritts, Charlie Timmons, Walter Cox and Bob Sharpe.
“The Tulane game was the only loss that year and that was by one point,” Ellison said in an earlier interview. “We were a good team.”
Living in Dallas and being familiar with the Cotton Bowl, Ellison had an idea—he would start actively “politicking” for the Tigers to participate in the New Year’s Day game. At that time bowls were not affiliated with businesses and communities like today. Dallas oilman, Curtis Sanford owned the Cotton bowl and it was his private enterprise. Simply put, Sanford made the decision on which teams would be invited, since it was his bowl.
Ellison was a very active businessman and community leader in Dallas. He wanted his Clemson Tigers in the Cotton Bowl. “I decided to do something,” Ellison said. “I started phoning Sanford, the Dallas sportswriters, and “Scoop” Latimer the sports editor of the Greenville News at the time, and reminding them how great the Clemson’s football team was that fall.
Ellison became Clemson’s one-man public relations team in Dallas, Texas.
“If Clemson could finish the rest of the season with one loss, I thought Clemson would be the logical choice. It was one of the featured New Year’s Day games and would give the school a lot of publicity. The Cotton Bowl stadium had a capacity of 45,000, and Clemson could be pictured the colorful team that it really is,” said Ellison.
“It was a hard job lobbying to get Clemson in in the Cotton bowl. Not many people in Dallas had heard of Clemson. “We were not well known,” said Ellison.
Ellison was persistent and he benefited from a stroke of good luck.
McFadden brought fame to Clemson when he was selected to every All-American team. Ellison realized that was his secret weapon in persuading Sanford.
“Sanford was a devout Catholic so he invited Boston College first,” Ellison recalled. “I told him he needed a good southern team, and Clemson and the great, Banks McFadden would fit the bill.”
There was an earlier story that Tennessee and Texas A&M might be invited to the Cotton Bowl, but Ellison kept his hopes up. In the previous year, Clemson was a second choice for the game and he just knew that the January 1, 1940 Cotton Bowl game should include Clemson.
While Ellison worked for the bowl bid, football season ended at Clemson. When Ellison was given a preliminary OK he frantically tried to get in touch with Clemson Head Coach Jess Neely. When he called Clemson Coach Neely’s wife, Dorothy Neely, she said he was out of town. Finally Neely got the message that night and he called Ellison.
“What in the world is this all about?” Neely asked
Ellison told him he had a preliminary idea that Clemson might get invited to the Cotton Bowl.
The official invitation was sent on Saturday, December 8, and Clemson accepted the invitation to play Boston College.
Ellison’s hard work and dedication had paid off in a big way. Clemson was heading to the Cotton Bowl. But Ellison’s work was not done.
(Above is a telegram to Marvin Ellison from Clemson Head Coach Jess Neely asking for seven minutes during halftime so Clemson’s Senior Platoon could perform. He also asked Ellison to borrow rifles for their performance. A football coach’s job is never done.)
Ellison was the point man for the Tigers in Dallas. He made the hotel reservations for the Tigers and staff at the Melrose Hotel and made arrangements for team meals. He also arranged for transportation for the Tigers in the city. Ellison even put up his own money to rent 45 rifles so that Clemson’s famous precision drill team, the Senior Platoon, could perform. Both the Senior Platoon and the Clemson band made the trip.
When Clemson arrived at the Dallas train station, players and coaches were loaded onto fire trucks and they were paraded though downtown Dallas, with horns and whistles blaring to arouse interest in the game. The Tigers had arrived.
Tickets for the big game were $2.50. A Clemson student ticket was $1.10.
This was a monumental event in Clemson’s history. The Tigers did not disappoint and defeated Boston College 6-3 and launched Clemson into big time college football.
The 1939 season was truly special because so much of the history and heritage of Clemson football documents 1939 as a cornerstone season. Not only was it Clemson’s first bowl team, it was Clemson’s first team to be ranked in the final top 20 (12th in the final AP poll). In 1942 Clemson opened up Memorial Stadium, a definite result of Clemson’s success in this era.
Also, the fruition and realization of IPTAY was starting to be evident five years after it was formed in 1934, as the Tigers were enjoying success in many sports in the late 1930’s.
At the 50 year reunion of Clemson’s 1940 Cotton Bowl Team, Ellison was made a honorary member of the team because of his efforts in helping Clemson receive the Cotton Bowl invitation.
Ellison had a 32-year career in the military and retired as a Colonel. He taught in Clemson’s engineering department and had a successful construction business. He died November 3, 1994.
Ellison’s love and devotion to Clemson was evident and his persistence and dedication paid off as the Tigers won the Cotton Bowl on the afternoon of Janury 1, 1940. The legacy of this team continues to pay dividends for Clemson to this day.
(Below is a letter from Clemson’s Head Football Coach, Jess Neely thanking Marvin Ellison for all of his hard work.)
October 23, 2020