Note: The following appears in the June issue of Orange: The Experience. For full access to all of the publication’s content, join IPTAY today by calling 864-656-2115.
Kanyon Tuttle couldn’t wait to show his father, former Clemson All-America wide receiver Perry Tuttle, his 2016 national championship ring…make that rings.
The day after he received the box with three rings (two national championship and one ACC championship), the wideout drove home to Charlotte, N.C., where he met “dear old dad” at home.
“He had his ring on and I had my 1981 national championship ring on, and we took a picture of the two together,” said Perry.
“With a smile on his face, he then said, ‘Dad, your ring looks like something you get out of a bubble gum machine.’
“We both had a big laugh. But it shows how times have changed. The three rings the guys got this year in that beautiful box are really impressive.”
That was just one of many moments that brought pride to Perry Tuttle during the 2016 Clemson football season. While Tuttle has been a loyal son of Clemson since he entered as a freshman in 1978, his pride came to a new level this year when his Kanyon joined the team.
Kanyon did not play in a game this year, as he sat out due to NCAA transfer rules, but anyone who watched Tiger scrimmages and practices over the course of the fall and this past spring knows the younger Tuttle has a chance to contribute to the Tigers over the next few seasons.
Kanyon does not wear his father’s #22, but he does wear #81, which until last year, represented the only national championship season in school history.
“I was so happy for Kanyon this year,” said Perry. “Ever since he was a little kid, he wanted to run down the Hill and play in that stadium for the Tigers. I am happy for him.”
Perry went to many of the games this year and lived and died with each result. While the final result was the same joyous ending celebration, he believes the journey was drastically different.
“At the beginning of the 1981 season, we didn’t get a single vote in the AP poll. We were coming off a 6-5 season, and towards the end of the season, the media was talking about coach (Danny) Ford’s job status until we beat South Carolina. So, we didn’t have a lot of expectations entering the 1981 season.”
The opposite was the case at the beginning of the 2016 season. The Tigers were coming off a 14-1 season that ended with a five-point loss to Alabama in the national championship game. With the return of Deshaun Watson and many other high-profile players, Clemson was ranked No. 2 in the preseason poll by virtually every major service and preseason publication.
“This year’s team had to play with a lot of high expectations,” said Perry. “There were a lot of close games and a lot of people thought Clemson should be winning by larger margins. Then there was the loss to Pittsburgh.”
But one thing the 1981 and 2016 teams had in common was leadership. While the leadership of the 1981 squad provided confidence to the younger players that this team could be champions, the leadership of the 2016 team continued to drive home the point that the team was better than they were showing three quarters into the season. The leadership held the spirits up after that lost to Pittsburgh, and Clemson ran the table.
The leadership from the coaching staff was also important in both seasons, and Alabama graduates 23 years apart knew the correct approach.
“One thing coach Ford and coach (Dabo) Swinney have in common is that they both knew how to motivate. They both had close relationships with their players and knew when to press the right buttons.
“Everyone is different when it comes to being pushed to reach for that extra level. Coach Ford knew how to do it in 1981, and we had great respect for him. The same was true for Dabo in 2016.
“Danny Ford was a winner and he had a way to make you feel like a winner. He had a positive effect on me. I hope I have conveyed that to my son. Now he is getting the same type of experience from Dabo, so I hope he is getting a double dose.”
Another great experience for Tuttle last year took place in Phoenix when the team returned to the hotel after beating Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, a victory that put Clemson in the national championship game.
“I was in the lobby when the team got back to the hotel, and it really brought me back. We had beaten Ohio State my freshman year (1978), and now this was Kanyon’s first year.
“Then, combined with winning the national championship my senior year, it brought me back to celebration feelings of the 1981 season.”
Perry was Clemson’s top wide receiver and a first-team All-American in 1981. While many of his records have been broken as teams have gone to a more passing office, his 160 career receptions are still ninth in Clemson history and his 2,534 receiving yards are sixth. His 17 touchdowns are eighth as well.
Tuttle obviously spent considerable time with Homer Jordan that year, and he saw a lot of the same characteristics in Watson.
“Both were great leaders, but did it in a quiet way. They knew when to push certain players, but were generally very cool in their approach. You saw that with Watson on the last drive to the winning touchdown this year.
“We had a similar situation at the end of the Nebraska game in that Homer controlled the offense and ran the clock out with his passing and running.
“I remember celebrating on the field with Homer at the end of that game. But he was exhausted. He left it all out there.”
Homer did not celebrate very long. When he returned to the locker room, he passed out and had to take many IVs after the game to get his strength back. That is why you will not find any postgame quotes from Jordan. He was in the training room well after the game.
Another common denominator for the Tiger program in its national championship seasons has been the cover of Sports Illustrated the week after the clinching victory.
The week after Clemson’s 22-15 win over Nebraska, #22 Perry Tuttle adorned the cover of Sports Illustrated in a celebration after a third-quarter touchdown reception from Jordan.
This year’s cover was a bit more dramatic, but it was a shot of the reception by #13 Hunter Renfrow with just one second left, giving the Tigers the come-from-behind victory.
The sum of the uniform numbers for Tuttle and Renfrow is 35, the number of years it was between Clemson’s national championships.
“I have met Hunter Renfrow, and I told him since that game that he is a great representative of Clemson, and it will be an honor for him to represent the school the rest of his life.
“He is going to be signing Sports Illustrated covers the rest of his life, I know that.
“I actually first met Hunter at a clinic in Black Mountain, N.C., about 13 years ago. He was six and Kanyon was five. I remember meeting the entire Renfrow family.
“Hunter is going to be a great ambassador for Clemson.”
Perry should know because he has been a great ambassador for Clemson. The school has had a profound effect on his life.
He is someone who appreciates that Clemson family. He closed our talk on the 2016 season by saying, “tell everyone at Clemson how much I love them.”
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