40 Years Ago—The Catch
The image of Jerry Butler stretching in the Columbia, S.C. night sky to catch a pass in the end zone to score the winning touchdown against South Carolina in the 1977 classic is one of the most historic moments in Tiger football history.
“I was excited, but I wasn’t shocked that I could catch it,” said Butler about what is now known in the Tiger annals as “The Catch.”
In the November 19, 1977 game, Clemson built a 24-0 lead and was dominating South Carolina. The Gamecocks came charging back and took a 27-24 advantage with 1:48 remaining in the game.
“After we won at Georgia early in the year, Coach (Charley) Pell started giving us cigars after every win,” recalled Butler. “I looked at their bench as they scored, and some of the players had pulled up their jerseys to show off t-shirts that said, ‘No Cigars Today.’ I was very irritated.”
Then the “Butler did it” on Clemson’s next possession.
“I ran a corner route,” said Butler. “I came out of my cut and saw that Steve (Fuller) had been rushed and had to break containment. I knew he would get rid of the ball and wouldn’t take a sack.”
Fuller apparently fired a pass just to get rid of it.
“I saw the ball out of the corner of my eye,” continued Butler. “I went for it and made a leaping grab (moving backwards). I got my hands on it and came down in the end zone. It was something that we hadn’t worked on.”
The clock showed just 49 seconds left in the game, and the Tigers went on to win 31-27, a victory that clinched Clemson’s invitation to the Gator Bowl, the school’s first bowl bid since 1959.
He was named First-Team All-ACC that year, and in 1978 became an AP First-Team All-American. He then played eight years in the NFL and made the All-Rookie team in 1979. He also was selected to the Pro Bowl in 1980.
Strange But True
One of the most bizarre situations of the Clemson-South Carolina football series or any rivalry of this consequence took place in the 1940s when a player served as captain of both squads during his playing career.
Cary Cox was a member of the Clemson football squad in 1942 that beat South Carolina. Cox signed up for the V-12 Program in 1943 and was placed at the South Carolina campus. The V-12 Navy College Training Program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the United States Navy during World War II. Between July 1, 1943, and June 30, 1946, more than 125,000 participants were enrolled in 131 colleges and universities in the United States.
The Naval Instructors at USC ordered him to play on the Gamecock football team and he was named captain for the Big Thursday game against Clemson. Cox was reluctant to play against Clemson, but the Gamecock Head Coach, Lt. James P. Moran responded to him, “Cox, I cant promise you’ll get a Navy commission if you play Thursday, but I can promise you this, that you won’t get one if you don’t play.” Cox and the Gamecocks defeated Clemson 33-6, in 1943.
He returned to Clemson after the war, and played for the Tigers in 1946 and 1947. He was a Clemson captain during the 1947 season. He graduated from Clemson in 1948 and was an assistant football coach at Clemson in 1949.
Cox pursued a career in business and finance. He spent his career in investment banking. He was highly regarded for his role of mentor to a number of younger associates and was appreciated for his teaching and encouragement.
Retirement finally came at the age of 80 as President of a large chain of food Stores.
Cox passed away on September 30, 2006 at age 83.
Coach Frank Howard, The Discoverer
Some of the best discoveries are made by accidents. And for Clemson fans over 55 years ago, it was fortunate that the great Clemson football scientist Frank Howard happened to stumble across a place kicker in spring practice of 1962.
(Coach Frank Howard is shown below.)
A rising and unknown senior Rodney Rogers happened to be playing with the football one day before a practice session–kicking extra points and field goals.
It was one way Rogers satisfied a desire to get his hands and feet on the football, since he did not see much action as a defensive back. Howard observed that Rogers was quite talented at splitting the uprights. “Son,” Howard said, I want you to keep practicing them kicks, you might be the answer to our problems this fall. The discovery on this warm, spring afternoon turned out to be one of the most rewarding in Howard’s 30 years as master of the Tigers.
As the 1962 season progressed, Rodney Rogers almost became a forgotten man. In Clemson’s first eight games, he kicked four field goals and several extra points. In the ninth game against Maryland just a week before the South Carolina contest, Rogers kicked a 23-yard field goal against the Terrapins with only 1:24 left in the game to give the Tigers a 17-14 Atlantic Coast Conference win.
Rogers thought this was the biggest kick of his life, until…
On November 24, 1962 against South Carolina, Rogers proved to be a hero again and the discovery Howard made proved to be a sure patented product the Tigers would be proud to market and put on the shelves with some of the greatest football games in ACC history.
Clemson was clad in blue jerseys for the annual battle with the Gamecocks. The jerseys were four years old as they were bought for the Sugar Bowl game against LSU in 1959. LSU, as host team said it would wear white. Clemson’s familiar orange jerseys did not offer enough contrast to keep the television and network people happy. There was only black and white televisions back then, and the other Clemson jerseys were white, so Frank Howard ordered a couple of sets of dark blue jerseys for the classic so people watching by television could tell the two teams apart. The jerseys were nicknamed the “Sugar Blues.”
After the Maryland game, the Clemson players started thinking about the South Carolina game and someone remembered the blue jerseys. A couple of the Clemson players asked Coach Howard about wearing the blue jerseys against the Gamecocks, and soon the whole team joined in and finally Howard said OK.
Clemson took an early 7-0 lead against the Gamecocks in the ACC classic, as Charlie Dumas scored from two yards out. South Carolina evened the score at 7-7 as Dan Reeves completed a 44-yard touchdown pass to Sammy Anderson. Reeves was a star player for the Dallas Cowboys and was later the head coach of the Denver Broncos and the Atlanta Falcons.
After the two teams swapped field goals, South Carolina took a 17-10 lead as Reeves scored on a six yard rush with 1:47 left to go in the first half. Clemson tied the score late in the third quarter, as Jim Parker pitched to Elmo Lam for a 14-yard touchdown.
With 8:51 left to go in the game, Clemson started a 17 play, 71-yard drive that would consume 7:09 on the clock.
Rogers kicked the winning field goal from 24 yards out and 1:42 left to go in the game, to give the Tigers the eventual winning margin of 20-17.
Clemson’s defense held the Gamecocks and the Tigers took over on downs.
(Clemson’s Rodney Rogers is shown kicking the winning field goal in the 1962 Clemson-South Carolina Game.)
“I thought the Maryland game the week before was my biggest thrill, but now that was nothing compared with the South Carolina game. I’m from South Carolina and nothing is better than beating them in football–if you play for Clemson.”
“Before the field goal, I kept saying over and over, I have got to make this one” said Rogers. “I have just got to make it,” he said.
When the ball sailed through the uprights, Rogers erupted with joy. One of his wildest dreams had come true.
Rogers had been part of a great discovery that could never be improved or changed with the passage of time.
The Long Drive in ‘39
Clemson drove the ball 99 and 2/3 yards against the Gamecocks in the 1939 classic. A 99-yard drive has occurred only three times in Clemson football history and this was the first occurrence.
In the third quarter, Gamecock punter Rock Stroud punted the ball out of bounds, one-foot from the Clemson goal line. Clemson’s tailback and All-American, Banks McFadden stood in the end zone and threw a 16 yard pass to Shad Bryant. McFadden then completed a pass to Joe Blalock for 31 yards to the Clemson 47. The Gamecocks drew a 15-yard penalty and McFadden, fullback Charlie Timmons, running back Bru Trexler and running back Aubrey Rion advanced the Tigers to the Gamecocks’ 14-yard line.
From that point Rion took a lateral from Trexler and scooted into the end zone to put the cap on a 99-2/3 yard drive. Clemson went on to win the game 27-0.
(Aubrey Rion, pictured below, capped off a 99 and 2/3-yard drive against the Gamecocks in 1939. Sadly, Rion was killed in World War II.)
January 11, 2021