Oct. 31, 2000
By Brent Breedin Former Clemson Sports Info. Dir.The Georgia Tech Game Program – October 28, 2000
Football teams, like the players and coaches that spawn them, are all special. But at Clemson, now fielding its 105th team, it appears that those teams playing at the start of the century and at mid-century are extra special.
New Clemson Coach John Heisman in 1900 led his first team through a perfect 6-0 season, averaging 37 points a game on offense while shutting out four teams and allowing a total of only 10 points. Only Coach Frank Howard’s undefeated 1950 Tigers, Clemson’s first to finish among the nation’s “top ten” in the Associated Press annual ratings, nearly matched Heisman’s 1900 club, averaging 36.4 points in nine regular season games. And at a time football offenses were beginning to score more points than previously, the 1950 team blanked four opponents and gave up an average of just under seven points per game. Neither of these 1950 marks on offense and defense have been equalled by succeeding Clemson teams-though the 2000 Tigers are currently on a pace to surpass the per-game scoring records of 1900 and 1950.
This 1950 11 Howard’s 11th Clemson team, and at the season’s outset he was not anticipating great things. Except for his 1948 Tigers, with their 10-0 record, including a 24-23 win over Missouri in the 1949 Gator Bowl, he had experienced far more disappointment than success as a head coach. For example, his 1949 Clemson team had not picked up where his 1948 one had left off. This was particularly true on defense. Ten opponents had scored a record 216 points compared to the 53 points allowed by the 1948 team n 10 regular season games. The 4-4-2 record left him with only four winning seasons to go with five losing ones in the decade of the 1940s.
But, the 1950s would be different. Clemson would have one of the top15 winning percentages in college football in that decade, and the 1950 season certainly got Clemson off on the right foot.
As fate would have it, all the tough games on Clemson’s 1950 schedule were on the road. Boston College and Wake Forest had scored a combined 75 points at Clemson in 1949 and, along with South Carolina, Missouri, and Auburn, would host the Tigers this time around.
In early September workouts, it was obvious that senior backs Fred Cone, Ray Mathews, and Jackie Calvert had been working out together in the summer to perfect the deceptive features of Clemson’s single wing offense. Mathews, who had tried his hand at tailback in 1949, was now settled at wingback where he had excelled in 1948. Cone was in his third year as the spinning fullback, and Calvert a multi-talented substitute for two years, was sparkling at the key tailback position. Coach Howard was impressed. He began calling them his “dream backfield.” As for the men up front, they were tagged “my nightmare line.”
This derogatory heading didn’t last long. By dividing his linemen into offensive and defensive units, Howard employed two-platoon football at Clemson for the first time on a full-time basis. In the middlle of the line, on defense, guards Sterling Smith and Barclay Crawford and tackles Billy Grigsby and Bob Patton concentrated on stopping the opposition. This left blocking assignments to offensive starters Pete Manos, Dan DiMucci, Dick Gillespie and Jack Mooneyhan. And freed of centering the ball and blocking duties by center Jack Brunson and blocking back Dick Hendley, linebackers Don Wade and Wyndie Wyndham provided the leadership on defense that had been missing in 1949.
These changes and others, such as the adding of ex-Furman Coach Bob Smith to the staff, Billy Hair’s emergence as a great offensive force, Coach Russ Cohen’s molding of sophomore baseball speedster Knobby Knoebel, 155-pounder Peter Cook, and veteran reserve back Gil Rushton into a quality defensive backfield, and the superb end play of Coach Bob Jones’ starters Glenn Smith and Bob Hudson on offense and the contrasting giant Dreher Gaskin and 170-pounder Jim Calvert on defense paved the way for a huge Tiger turnaround in 1950.
The season opener against Presbyterian College was a 55-0 romp for the Tigers. With Calvert excelling at tailback in the manner of 1948 All-American Bobby Gage, the offense actually produced for the first time ever three players to rush for over 100 yards – Calvert, Mathews and Cone.
What was expected to be the real test at nationally ranked Missouri the second week proved more of the same. The three members of the “dream backfield” once again accounted for over 100 yards rushing each, and the “nightmare line,” aided by fine secondary play, shut down the home team for a 35-0 victory. It occasioned the first time a Dan Faurot-coached team had been blanked since 1946-a span of 35 games.
No one was more in awe of what had happened than Coach Howard. He figured on the way home that he had potentially a “top ten” team, one comparable to the 1939 and 1948 bowl teams-if he played his cards right and got some good bounces of the football. There was no trouble the next week as visiting North Carolina State fell with relative ease, 27-0. But coming up after a weekend off was arch rival South Carolina to be followed by nationally ranked Wake Forest. They had both defeated Clemson by two-touchdown margins in 1949.
As expected, both came to play. A partially blocked field goal in the final minute of play salvaged a hard-earned 14-14 tie against Carolina, and a blocked extra point attempt by Wake Forest in the final seconds of play preserved a 13-12 Tiger win. In the case of the Gamecocks, they just outplayed Clemson. Still, when a female fan suggested to Coach Howard that he must be happy to have held on for a tie, he quipped, “Lady, a tie ball game is like kissing your sister!” The closeness of the Wake Forest game was caused in large part by the absence from the lineup of All Southern Conference players Ray Mathews and Fred Cone following rib injuries suffered in the first quarter. Remarkably Clemson held on to win despite coughing up the ball five times deep in their own territory via four fumbles and a blocked punt. Cone would miss the next two games against Duquesne and Boston College, returning against Furman and Auburn. Mathews did not reappear until the Auburn game. Even so, the Tigers ran rampant over their final four foes by a combined 186-36 margin.
Clemson (8-0-1), ranked 10th in the nation, met Miami (9-0-1) in the Orange Bowl on Jan. 1, 1951, and won in dramatic fashion, 15-14, after blowing an early second half 13-0 lead. This time it was not final minute blocked kicks as at Carolina and Wake Forest, it was a safety in the Miami endzone caused by defensive guard Sterling Smith. Clemson would field five bowl teams in the fifties-1950 Orange. 1951 Gator, 1956 Orange, 1958 Sugar, and 1959 Bluebonnet. And two others with 7-3 records (1955 and 1957) may have been better than some of those that went “bowling” in those days of limited bowls.
Coach Howard liked to refer to the players on most of his top-rated teams as “small town boys playing big city football,” and the 1950 team had its full share of country boys. However, perhaps more important to him was taking largely unknown and unwanted boys and molding them into a team that opened the eyes of football fans in Boston and St. Louis and Miami.
Twelve members of the 1950 team are in the Clemson “Hall of Fame:” offensive backs Calvert, Cone, Mathews, Hair, and Hendley, offensive ends Smith and Hudson, defensive end Gaskin, linebackers Wyndham and Wade, defensive guard Tom Barton, and defensive back Knoebel. Also the entire full-time coaching staff of 1950 resides in the Hall of Fame. No other Clemson team has been so honored.
Statistical Leaders of 1950Scoring: 92 points by Fred ConeRushing: 184-845 yards by Fred ConePassing: 29-71 for 644 yards by Billy HairReceiving: 22-498 by Glenn SmithKickoff Returns: 6-89 by Jackie CalvertInterceptions: 6-68 by Knobby KnoebelPunting: 18-610 by Billy HairPunt Returns: 14-225 by Jackie Calvert
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