Nov 23

My First Trip To Death Valley

Posted By:Jason Cooper - Charleston, SC  Tags:

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Photo: The Top Fan

This past weekend, I traveled to Clemson, SC with my good friend Dana (dcomitch) to watch Clemson take on Virginia. Actually, I’ve been to a Clemson game before in ’96. So, that title is misleading. It should be "My First Trip to Death Valley This Century." I mean, they’ve added another level and some more seats to the West end of the stadium, some brush had been cleared away close to the main tailgating area, and some swanky new condos had been built across the street, but other than that, the vibe and the feel were the same. Let’s just say that I got a fresh, updated perspective on what all the fuss is about in Tigerland this year.

Here are some of my "unbiased" observations; however, I’m putting "unbiased" in quotations because without my Clemson entourage, I probably wouldn’t have had the same experience. So, I want to thank my little group of Clemsonites who made my trip all the more worthwhile: Brett (TopFan), Matt, Katie, Erin, John, and Chuck. We stayed with TopFan and his brother, Matt, in their 15,000 square foot mansion and were driven to the game by his driver in the stretch Hummer - all courtesy of Carolina Pride Sausage. At least, that’s what should have happened, right? Thanks also to Nick (nschuma) and his wife and daughter who sat with me and filled me in on all the Clemson players, stats, and traditions during the game (actually, Nick filled me in because I’m not sure if his wife knows Spiller’s yards per carry and his daughter can’t talk yet). Finally, thanks to Paul (tigerpaul01) for giving me his ticket – 20 yard line seats on the East side about 35 rows up. Nice! He couldn’t go because of something about an early Thanksgiving with his family…whatever. But I benefitted from his lack of priorities, so bonus for me.

Ok…here it goes.

1) Orange: I’ve never seen so many orange hues since I was a Cincinnati Bengals fan in ’86. And yes, that’s hue(s) – plural. There’s the standard orange color issued by the team which 50% of the people had on, but then there were those wearing a darker orange – burnt orange almost, orange with stripes, orange with purple, purple with orange, and of course, light orange. However, the lighter orange shirt we saw was more faded than light since it was being worn by some guy with a mullet who probably got the shirt (and kept the haircut) from the 80’s. By the way, orange pants with purple jerseys…not so easy on the eyes. I don’t think it was a favorite combination of the group I was with, either. But hey, football’s not about fashion, is it?

2) Fashion: OK, so maybe it is about fashion. I didn’t realize that all those hues of orange (with and without stripes) were available in short-sleeved Polo shirts and button-down, long-sleeve dress shirts. Clemson fans must attack the clearance racks at Macy’s and Dillard’s to find those things because I don’t think anyone else wants them. I, too, donned an athletic-type, short-sleeved collar shirt (thanks Matt!), but mine was made out of that new breathable, mesh material, so it was much more "officially licensed" and coach-like (mine had a white paw on it…tre cool). But, I forgot to bring my khakis; they were at the cleaners. I wasn’t thinking that I would need them for a football game, so I felt a little underdressed compared to many of the other young men-folk around me. Khakis at a football game aren’t usually a part of my game-day outfit. Hell, if I wore khakis to a WVU game, I might get shot…or at least denied entrance into the stadium. We have a much more relaxed, dress code in Morgantown: denim and jerseys. Denim and lots of layers, actually, because khakis wouldn’t help when it can get down to 32 degrees in late October. And speaking of khakis, I definitely don’t own any with orange paw prints all over them. Where on God’s green Earth do you find those?

For the discerning Tigerette, leather, knee-high boots are apparently the "in" thing this year. Although, there were some young ladies in cowboy boots and sundresses prancing around, which was very nice to admire (the cowboy boots, of course…), but we’re not in Tampa yet, sweetheart. After the game when the sun went down, it got cold! And since I’ve been living in the South for 15+ years, "cold" translates into anything under 60 degrees. I think it got down to 45, so those girls probably had goose bumps on top of their goose bumps. I guess fashion isn’t about being comfortable or warm.

3) Fans: Granted…I’ve only been to home games at West Virginia, Virginia Tech, and South Carolina; so, I don’t have much to compare to, but I’ll say that Clemson fans are some of the most FANatical people around. They love their Tigers; that’s for sure! Most of the stadium stayed on their feet the entire game; they all cheered when the Tigers were up, never missed a stadium cheer or fight song, and booed the refs in unison when the crew made calls they didn’t like (even from plays earlier). But some of those fans might need to think about medication.

I know it was a big game (ACC Division Championship if Clemson won), but at halftime, up 24-21, you’d have thought that the world was ending. It may have been erroneously assumed that Clemson would roll over a 3-7 Virginia team and that Virginia, in turn, would roll over and let Clemson rub their bellies. But, it didn’t happen that way. Virginia hung with Clemson in the first half thanks to some trickeration and lack of readiness on behalf of the Clemson defense. So, standing outside at halftime listening to the frustration coming from not being up by 432 points, I, the outsider, had to be the voice of reason. "You’re winning by 3. Let Dabo make adjustments to the defense at halftime. They’ll come out and play the second half of football and control the game," I said. "That’s why you play two halves of football." And that’s exactly what Clemson did. The Tigers scored a quick 10 points in the beginning of the 3rd quarter, the defense shored up, and a deep sigh was breathed by all…except for the guy sitting behind me and Nick. WELL into the 4th quarter, this guy was screaming at the offensive line for going 3 and out in one particular series…still up 10 points, which we had to point out to this fella. We laughed at how nothing the Tigers did all day pleased this guy. I prayed for whatever woman would be sane (or crazy) enough to cohabitate with him and could only imagine his disgust at having to perform the simple, but annoying and repetitive tasks of life…like microwaving his oatmeal in the morning. "What? I have to add milk to this before I heat it up?!? Jesus Christ!!"

4) Scoreboard: Someone needs to adjust the brightness and color on the video portion of the screen because I almost thought I was at a Georgia game. The orange looks red on the big screen. Just call Comcast and they’ll send someone out to fix that, sparky.

5) CJ "Speller": Clemson fans love to spell. At the end of the fight song, they spell out C-L-E-M-S-O-N, but they add a little hand/arm gesture between the O and the N to throw off any non-suspecting, casual college football fan (ie, me) from grasping the entire cadence of the cheer. I mean, I have two degrees in the medical field and I’ve been able to spell since I was 4, but throw in a simple arm rotation while I’m trying to spell out Clemson and I looked like I need to start Hooked on Phonics all over again. Then, if that wasn’t tough enough, depending on where you sit, you are assigned a letter to yell. So, when the student section starts the whole stadium Clemson cheer with "C," the "L" section counter-clockwise to the left better get ready and the "E" section is on deck. This continues until the 4 sections that are left spell out the rest of the word and then we do it all over again until the "C" section (ie, having nothing to do with childbirth) stops. Oh, and it was good that their star player has two initials as his first name because they loved spelling that, too.

6) Happy Birthday!: Dabo Swinney turned 40 the week prior to the game. Sometime in the 4th quarter, the band started playing the happy birthday song and 75,000+ fans joined in. THAT was amazing, and everyone was in the right key! The largest number of people I’ve ever had sing "happy birthday" to me was seven, and a few of those people didn’t know my name. Well, what a birthday present for Swinney: an entire stadium full of Clemson fans singing to you AND a ACC Division Title? Damn. If he went home and had sex with his wife after the game…I’m not sure a day like that could ever be topped.

7) The game: Oh yeah, the game. TopFan called it "boring," but I thought it was a good game. Lots of offense and back and forth in the first half, and I liked that Virginia got creative with their play calling. Virginia ran a zone-read option which confused Clemson at first, but then they got away from that in the second half and started throwing the ball more. Clemson’s defense eventually caught on and held strong for the win. Parker threw a sick off-balanced, falling-down frozen rope for a touchdown in the end zone to Jacoby Ford in the 2nd quarter, which was probably the best play of the game. Bottom line, the got the W, and Clemson fans had been waiting a long time for that. So, congrats to the Tigers and good luck in Tampa against Georgia Tech, but wait…I think they’ve got a game before that? For God’s sake, don’t start looking ahead to Tampa without thinking about the Gamecocks because you’ll never hear the end of it if this is the year the Cocks finally win.

Overall, it was a really fun weekend. Thanks, Dana, for showing me a great time and re-introducing me to Clemson and Tiger football. The food was good, the beer was great, and the people I met were even better. If they’ll have me back, I’d love to do it again next year. And although I still bleed gold and blue, I think I look pretty good in bright orange.

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