Search Shop
Sep 14, 2023

The Forgotten & Great 1983 Team

By: Tim Bourret

Note: The following appears in the Florida Atlantic football gameday program.

This season is the 40-year anniversary of Clemson’s 1983 team that finished with a 9-1-1 record and No. 11 ranking in the AP poll. There were extenuating circumstances, but this is the most underrated Clemson team, at least in my career in Tigertown.

There were only seven Clemson teams that finished the year with just one loss and at least nine wins between 1907 and 2015.

The 1983 Tigers did not get the attention it should have received because the program was on probation, and the restrictions were strict. The 1983 Tigers could not appear on live television, could not play in a bowl game, could not appear in the UPI coaches poll and could not compete for the conference title.

My recollection is that the violations were for benefits provided that would not be violations today.

The season did not get off to a good start. After an opening victory over Western Carolina, the Tigers traveled to Boston College to take on the Eagles and future Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback Doug Flutie.

Clemson took a 16-3 lead with just 25 minutes left, but Flutie and star running back Troy Stradford led the Eagles on a 28-0 run to end the game on the way to a 31-16 win.

Herschel Walker and Terry Kinard had both moved on to the professional ranks, but week three brought on another memorable game in the Clemson vs. Georgia series. The two teams battled to a 16-16 tie when they both attempted long field goals (Donald Igwebuike from 68 yards for Clemson and Kevin Butler from 66 yards for Georgia) on the last two plays of the game.

The next seven games were against ACC teams, and Head Coach Danny Ford did a great job of motivating the team, convincing them to compete for the best record in the league even if they could not win a trophy.

The offense, behind quarterback Mike Eppley, who finished third in the nation in passing efficiency, best ever by a Tiger, and running backs Kenny Flowers, Kevin Mack and Stacey Driver took it to another level, as Clemson scored 38+ points in wins over Georgia Tech, Virginia and Duke.

Closer wins over NC State (27-17) and Wake Forest (24-17) followed, giving the Tigers a 5-0 mark against ACC teams.

The final two league games were against top-10 teams North Carolina and Maryland. The defense, led by five First-Team All-ACC players, a list that included consensus All-American William Perry, dominated the No. 9 Tar Heels in a 16-3 victory.

The Maryland game was the final home contest. With no live television the entire year, the athletic department decided to do something special that brought positive attention to Clemson.

Student Body President Marc Wilson went to Athletic Director Bill McLellan with an idea that would set a Guinness World Record for largest balloon launch as the team ran down the Hill. The project cost about $28,000, as 250 miles of string and 400 tanks of helium would be needed.

Without the use of social media, Wilson and his staff enlisted 3,000 Clemson students (40 percent of the undergraduate enrollment at the time) to show up at Memorial Stadium at 7 a.m. to begin blowing up the balloons. It was an organizational wonder, and by 11:30 a.m., a record 363,729 balloons were ready for launch when the team came down the Hill at 12:57 p.m.

The atmosphere was electric, and it carried on to the field. I was in my first stint of broadcasting Clemson games on the radio with Jim Phillips. When Driver sped up the middle for a 14-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, it gave the Tigers a 42-7 lead. I said, “Bring on Nebraska!” on the air, as the Cornhuskers were the nation’s top-ranked team.

Mack ended the scoring for Clemson in the 52-27 victory with a 42-yard run, a play in which he ran out of a shoe. That gave him 30 carries for 186 yards in his final game in Death Valley.

Clemson wrapped up the season with a 22-13 victory at South Carolina the next week, giving the Tigers eight straight wins to close the season. Clemson had not been ranked in the AP poll until Nov. 7, but finished No. 11.

This was a talented Clemson team, but this is another category it does not get the credit it deserves. A look to the 1984 NFL draft shows that the Tigers had six players selected.

However, this was the first year of the USFL draft. Three other Tigers, Mack, James Farr and James Robinson, were all taken in the USFL draft, which was held before the NFL draft. Those three players would have been NFL draftees. Therefore, that 1983 team had nine players drafted, tied for second most in school history.