With a pre-game ritual called “The Most Exciting 25 Seconds in College Football,” you’d think that the Clemson Tigers are setting the bar awfully high when it comes to tradition. However, to actually see players rub Howard’s Rock and then “Run Down the Hill” onto the field, the descriptor begins to feel much more appropriate. It’s exhilarating and awe-inspiring, and in a lot of ways, that’s what being a fan of the Tigers is all about.
The actual descent portion of this awesome practice doesn’t need much explanation, as the top of “The Hill” is basically just a really good entrance point. On the other hand, Howard’s Rock could benefit from an origin story. In the ‘60s, a Clemson alum was travelling through Death Valley, California when he came across a white flint stone. Since “Death Valley” was a nickname for the atmosphere at Clemson Memorial Stadium, the fan brought his find back to South Carolina and presented it to head coach Frank Howard. He didn’t use it right away, but eventually the rock was placed on “The Hill,” and players began touching it for good luck. Before a game against Wake Forest in ‘67, the stone’s legacy was cemented when Howard said, “If you’re going to give me 110% percent, you can rub that rock. If not, keep your filthy hands off it.”
Clemson first entered the world of college football in 1896, and one of the Orange and Purple’s first head coaches was the legendary John Heisman. The Tigers weren’t bad in their early years, but they weren’t particularly good either. That would change, though, when Frank Howard took over the program in ‘40. Under his watch, Clemson went undefeated in ‘48 and finished the season ranked in the country’s top 25 on seven different occasions. Howard would hold his post for 30 years, so topping him would be no easy feat. However, that’s exactly what Danny Ford did in ‘81 when he led the Tigers to a perfect 12-0 record and the national championship.
In the years following their NCAA crown, the Tigers remained a presence in the polls and posted eight appearances in the Top 25 between ‘82 and ‘91. While ACC foe Florida State garnered all the headlines in the ‘90s, Clemson scratched and clawed, and booked seven trips to the postseason. As the college football playoff system evolved, so did Clemson, and the university competed in BCS bowls in both 2011 and ‘13.
Keeping up with modern trends isn’t just a gridiron-related concern for the Tigers. Their rallying cry, “Tiger Rag,” has been updated countless times, and current iterations of the marching band know more than 15 different versions of “the song that shakes the Southland.” Leading up to kickoff, there are few schools that can match Clemson when it comes to tradition. Once the game begins, it’s up to fate to determine the victor, but fans certainly like their odds.