Dec. 13, 2010
CLEMSON, SC – No one was really surprised the Meineke Car Care Bowl chose Clemson over Maryland and Boston College for the ACC’s fifth bowl slot, despite the fact the Eagles beat the Tigers in late October, and the Terrapins had a better ACC and overall record.
Though the Tigers deserved to go bowling by earning the required number of wins set forth by the NCAA to become bowl eligible, it was Clemson’s passionate football fans’ flood of emails and telephone calls to the Charlotte-based bowl that put the Tigers over the top.
“I would say that we got over a thousand messages in a short period of time supporting Clemson coming to the Meineke Car Care Bowl,” said Ken Haines, the CEO of Raycom Sports, which runs the Meineke Car Care Bowl. “That is a rough estimate, but it was a lot. We have got the message loud and clear.”
Somewhere around 12,000 to 15,000 Clemson fans are expected to take over the Queen City on New Year’s Eve as the Tigers take on South Florida at noon at Bank of America Stadium. Those numbers are not surprising, as Clemson has always had the reputation of having great fan support no matter where it goes to play during the holiday season.
“Clemson fans have always been very supportive, and we expect that to be the case again this year,” said Travis Furbee, who is the Assistant Athletic Director for Ticket Operations at Clemson. “No school’s fans in the ACC travel as well as ours. For the most part, we are always leading the way when it comes to bowl ticket sales.”
So far, more than 7,000 of Clemson’s allotted 12,000 tickets to the Meineke Car Care Bowl have been sold, and Furbee is confident Clemson fans will soon buy out the rest like they have in recent years.
In the 2003 Peach Bowl, Clemson had a high demand for tickets, as it did in the 2007 Chick-fil-A Bowl against Auburn. Clemson helped set a Peach Bowl record in 2003 and almost did the same in the Chick-fil-A Bowl (formerly the Peach) in 2007.
Tiger fans also outnumbered Nebraska fans two years ago in the Gator Bowl, which very rarely happens in any game that involves Nebraska. Despite not being announced as the ACC representative until much later in both Music City Bowls versus Kentucky, Clemson fans still made their presence known and had good contingencies at both games.
“There is great fan support out there,” Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney said. “That’s the one thing I would like to do is thank our fans. I know it helps us. When you have a lot of teams that are kind of clumped together from a conference record standpoint, the bowls can really select who they want, and we would not be in this bowl game if it was not for the passion of our fan base.
“I certainly understand that, and our team is awfully appreciative. I’m sure the flood of emails that they got and so forth in support of Clemson is why we are in this bowl game. I anticipate us having a really good crowd.”
Clemson’s reputation as an attractive team for bowl officials began in 1977 when Tiger fans took over Jacksonville, FL in anticipation of the 1977 Gator Bowl against Pittsburgh. It was Clemson’s first bowl game in 18 years, and Clemson fans ordered more than 50,000 tickets — 25,000 more than what the school was allotted.
IPTAY tried to get more tickets through Pittsburgh, but could not. So, Clemson fans bought tickets from the Pittsburgh athletic department, as well as through the Gator Bowl Association. When it was all said and done, Clemson fans helped set a new Gator Bowl attendance record at 72,289.
To make their presence known, Clemson fans brought with them their signature two dollar bills, which were stamped with Tiger paws, and let them circulate through the Jacksonville hotels, restaurants and other area businesses.
“When we went to the (1977) Gator Bowl, there were Tiger Paws painted on the highway about every five miles from (Clemson) to Jacksonville,” said former Clemson coach Frank Howard in his 1990 book titled Howard: The Clemson Legend.
The next year, the Tigers returned to the Gator Bowl and brought 72,011 fans with them to Jacksonville as Clemson beat Woody Hayes and the Ohio State Buckeyes 17-15 to finish the season 11-1 and ranked No. 6 in the final Associated Press Top 25.
Three years later, the Tigers again found themselves on the national stage as undefeated Clemson played Big Eight Champion Nebraska for the National Championship in the Orange Bowl. Like they did in Jacksonville in 1977 and ’78, Clemson fans took over Miami and South Florida, as more than half of the 72,748 in attendance wore some kind of orange.
Jim Phillips, the late great voice of the Tigers, said in his book Still Roaring, which was printed in 2005, that he knew Clemson was going to win the Orange Bowl that day when somewhere between 15,000-20,000 fans gathered outside the team hotel for a pep rally several hours before the game.
“The cheerleaders were out there, standing on a flatbed trailer and getting the fans pumped up,” he recalled. “The pep band was there, playing `Tiger Rag’ and all the other songs that get Clemson people so excited during games.
“Everybody was going crazy. It was almost a repeat of the scene at the airport after the Maryland game in 1978–only this was before the game.”
As everyone knows, Clemson went on to win that game 22-15 and claimed its only National Championship. After that, Clemson fans helped set attendance records in the Citrus Bowl, the Gator Bowl and the Peach Bowl through the years. In fact, Clemson has been a part of several of the top-five attendance figures in Gator Bowl and Peach Bowl (also Chick-fil-A Bowl) history.
There is really no way to explain Clemson fans’ loyalty and their commitment to travel the way they always have. Howard never could understand it as he explained in the 1983 book The Clemson Tigers: From 1896 to Glory.
“I’ll tell you the truth, I’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “No other school comes close.”
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