Note: The following appears in the Wake Forest football gameday program.
When Dabo Swinney was a football student-athlete at Alabama between 1989-92, the Crimson Tide arrived on Bryant Drive at Bryant-Denny Stadium, and thousands of Alabama fans were there to greet the team. It was an emotional moment for Swinney and his teammates every time they arrived on gameday.
“There were people everywhere,” said Swinney. “There was nothing official about it…people just showed up when they knew the team would get to the stadium. It really got you ready and you could feel the passion of the fans.”
Today, the Alabama team has a more formal “Walk of Champions” on the other side of the stadium.
But that experience at Alabama gave Swinney an idea, one he was able to execute for the first time in October 2008, when he became Clemson’s interim head coach.
That first week, his head was spinning with ideas. I can attest to that because I got a lot of late-night phone calls from him.
One of his best took place the Wednesday night before the Oct. 18, 2008 game against Georgia Tech.
“Until the Georgia Tech game in 2008, the buses just dropped us off outside the locker room at Memorial Stadium. There were some people there, but it was a short walk to enter the stadium.
“The Wednesday night before the Georgia Tech game, I got the idea to have a Tiger Walk and have the buses drop us off at Perimeter Road. We needed something to pull everyone together, because we were a divided fanbase at the time. It was an opportunity for our players to be exposed to the passion of our fanbase as they walked to the stadium.
“I had no idea what to expect. A lot of people thought I was crazy. It took some convincing to get Terry Don Phillips to buy in, but he did. There were a lot of meetings with the security force.”
I was involved in publicizing Tiger Walk through various outlets, and word spread. Tiger fans were in fact anxious to get behind Swinney and this team.
I would estimate that 30,000 people showed up for the team’s walk from Perimeter Road through the parking lot to the west endzone entrance.
“It was a lot longer (walk) than I expected,” said Swinney with a laugh. “There were a lot of people there and it took us a while to get through the crowd. But it was terrific. It was great for the players to see that support.”
The Tigers did not win the game, suffering a 21-17 loss to Georgia Tech, but it was obvious that Tiger Walk was a hit with everyone involved and would continue.
Another tradition at Alabama concerns the honoring of all captains each spring with a ceremony at Denny Chimes, a 115-foot tall landmark on the Tuscaloosa campus.
“Each spring, the captains from the previous year go to Denny Chimes and place their hands and game shoes in cement,” said Swinney. “It is a long-standing tradition. When I was a student, I went over there to see the displays for Joe Namath, John Hannah and many of the other Alabama legends. It is a great celebration of Alabama’s history.”
Swinney wanted to do something similar at Clemson.
“It was on my future wish list for a long time. When we started the idea for a Tiger Walk, I thought it would also be the perfect place to honor the captains.”
The original discussions to revamp the parking lot behind the west endzone date to 2019. Swinney set up a meetings with D.J. Gordon, the director of football operations and external affairs.
“We knew it would be impossible to get handprints of captains back to 1896, so D.J. came up with an idea for a plaque for each team captain that displayed their uniform style and (jersey) number.”
The plans were finalized in early 2022, and the project was completed Aug. 18, 2023.
Brian Hennessy, Ross Taylor and I researched the list of captains and their jersey numbers and supplied them to Gordon, who worked with the design company.
There was a lot of proofing involved, including a day last July when Hennessy and I had to lift each 30-pound plaque and proof the information. But it was a labor of love.
This past summer, the project was completed, as the 254 bronze plaques were put into the cement displays along the 708-foot Tiger Walk. The plans include an additional 298 precast spaces reserved for future plaques, and additional room for growth that will reach 720 total spaces.
“We estimate there is enough room on Tiger Walk for the next 51 years to have the captains honored there,” said Eric Sabin, senior associate athletic director for facility management and capital projects.
The total cost of the project was $3.7 million. It is part of the $69.5 million budgeted for the Memorial Stadium project (2021-23).
“The overall design project team included LS3P, AECOM, Land Planning Associates and Sexton Design & Development,” said Sabin. “The design was derived from the tradition of Tiger Walk, along with the operational use of the Lot 5 parking lot for both gamedays and Monday through Friday to maximize the improvements for pedestrian use, safety and security of the area.”
Sabin worked with many companies on the project that basically started when he came to Clemson four years ago. Brasfield & Gorrie and Thompson Turner Construction were responsible for the construction of Tiger Walk, along with multiple subcontractors.
The statues at the beginning of Tiger Walk near Perimeter Road were designed by artist Benjamin Cheney with MTM Recognition. The statues were made entirely of bronze by using a 3D model. They were handsculpted from clay and cast in multiple bronze pieces. The leaping Tigers include a steel cage as well.
“It has turned out awesome,” said Swinney, who brought his team to Tiger Walk during preseason camp. “We are going to add something on the three national championship teams.
“This is a great space for Clemson people to come back to and reminisce about many great players and games. The captains enshrined can bring their grandchildren back to this area. It’s a special honor to be recognized by your teammates as a captain.”