Tiger Traditions
by BRETT MILLS
This article originally appeared in The Tiger on August 28, 2009 | PRINT

Well, we’re finally here. After nine long months, National Signing Day, spring practice, summer workouts and several weeks of fall camp, it’s finally that time of year. It’s the eve of the college football season – a time of optimism and hope. Every team has a shot at the title. For Clemson fans, this is a year of new beginnings. Heading into our first full year with Dabo Swinney as head coach, we will encounter not only a new coaching staff but also a new starting quarterback, new starting safeties, a new attitude and even new (er…well, really they’re old) uniforms.

But it is always in times like this – times of changes and new beginnings – that I can actually sit back and fully appreciate the few things about Clemson that never change: our traditions. Those simple little rituals, like Cadence Count, Tiger Rag, waving our hands in the air at the end of the alma mater, building floats on Bowman Field, Tigerama, First Friday and so many more are deeply ingrained within the hearts and minds of every person who has ever called Clemson home.

Many, like myself, were born into it. We learned about The Hill and Howard’s Rock on our parents’ knees. Before we could walk and talk, we were clad from head to toe in orange, clapping along with the rest of the crowd to Tiger Rag. The first word we learned to spell was not “mom” or “dog” but rather “Clemson,” simply because we’d been doing it all along.

But the wonderful thing about Clemson and our traditions is that someone doesn’t have to be a third generation Clemson fan to love and appreciate everything we do. Whether Sept. 5 is your first game or your fiftieth game, it doesn’t matter in the least so long as you have a basic knowledge of all the traditions. And that’s what I’m here to do. Huge history nerd that I am, I fully believe that in order to truly appreciate a tradition, one must learn its story, its origins. So here now are four of Clemson football’s finest and recognizable traditions. Bear in mind though, these are only the beginning.

Tiger Pushups

I mention this one first not necessarily because it is the most famous or longest standing of Clemson’s traditions, but purely because I honestly think my dad might disown me if I don’t shamelessly plug the practice, he started when he suited up as The Tiger in the late ’70s.

Zack Mills, who Clemson legend Bob Bradley once called, “perhaps the most innovative and fun-loving Tiger of all” (where would we be without shameless plugging!), started the tradition in 1978 by doing pushups after each Clemson score. The pushup total corresponded to the number of points Clemson had after that particular score. So theoretically, if Clemson scored a touchdown to give it 35 points, Mills did 35 pushups. If they scored again to give Clemson 42 points, Mills did 42 pushups.

As the Tiger mascot suit weighed more than 45 pounds (the head alone weighed 20), this was no easy task. In fact, when Clemson defeated Wake Forest 82-24 on October 31, 1981, then-Tiger mascot Ricky Capps was so dog-tired he couldn’t even finish. Even the Demon Deacon threw his hat in the ring on that legendary Halloween afternoon, completing 76 of the required pushups in order to give the exhausted Tiger a brief respite. Capps ended the day with 465 pushups, the most in Clemson history.

$2 Bills

The story behind Clemson fans’ use of $2 bills on road trips is quite honestly probably my favorite one. Legend takes us back to the fall of 1977, when Georgia Tech was threatening to end annual series with Clemson. Tech, who was not yet a member of the ACC, was a national powerhouse, and their officials fully believed that they stood to gain absolutely nothing from squaring off with that “cow college” up I-85. In fact, one of them went as far to say that if they stopped playing Clemson, it would have no effect whatsoever on Atlanta’s economy.

Clemson, of course, took this slight as a challenge, and then-IPTAY director George Bennett came up with a brilliant idea that would show Tech’s snooty officials just how much money 10 or twelve thousand orange-clad fans brought to the city that one weekend every fall. That idea came in the form of $2 bills – thousands of them – stamped with Tiger paws.

“In those days people weren’t using credit cards as much as they do now. So people got the $2 bills and stamped them,” Bennett said. Since $2 bills had long been out of circulation (cash registers didn’t even have places to store them), this Clemson money stood out like a sore thumb and proved to Georgia Tech and Atlanta merchants just how big of an impact they had on the local economy that one single weekend.

Despite the success of that weekend, however, Tech still dropped the annual rivalry with Clemson until they joined the ACC, but the idea went over well with IPTAY members and Clemson fans in general, so Bennett opted to repeat the idea later that year in Jacksonville. “That was the first year we went to the Gator Bowl, so we decided we’d do it at the Gator Bowl down in Jacksonville, and it became a tradition to carry them wherever we go.”

Running Down the Hill

Like so many other cherished traditions at Clemson, the tradition of “running down the hill” rose from humble beginnings. It actually started out in 1942 as a matter-of-fact entrance, mainly because of necessity. The shortest entry into the stadium was a walk down Williamson Road from Fike Field House’s dressing rooms to a gate at the top of the hill behind the east end zone. There were no dressing facilities in the west end zone, only a big clock where the hands turned, and a scoreboard, which was operated by hand. The team would dress at Fike, walk down Williamson Road, come in the gate underneath where the big scoreboard now stands and jog down the hill for its warm-up exercises.

There was no fanfare, no cannon shot fired, no tiger paw flag, no Tiger Rag played... just the team making its entrance and lining up to do the side straddle hop. And things pretty much stayed that way for a quarter of a century. It wasn’t until that fateful Wake Forest game in 1967 when Frank Howard had his players rub Howard’s Rock that the practice of running down the hill took on a whole new meaning.

When Hootie Ingram succeeded Howard as head coach prior to the 1970 season, Ingram decided that the team would make its final entrance on the field out of the dressing room in the west end zone. In all home games in 1970 and 1971 and the first four of 1972 when the Tigers did not run down the hill, their record was 6-9. The team decided it wanted to come down the hill once prior to the South Carolina game in 1972. The result, in a cold, freezing rain, was a 7-6 victory, and from then on the Tigers decided to go back to the entrance that had served them so well for so many years.

Nowadays at games, Tiger players leave the field after the final warm-up and go back into their dressing room under the west stands for final game instructions. About 10 minutes before kickoff, the team boards two buses rides around behind the north stands to the east end zone and disembarks to the top of The Hill behind Howard’s Rock. At the appointed time, the cannon booms and led by a high-flying tiger paw flag, the band forms two lines for the team to run between and strikes up ‘Tiger Rag’ and the frenzy starts in all sincerity... and usually lasts two and a half to three hours.

It is a tradition that has inspired not only Clemson players for many years, but people around the country as well. As legendary broadcaster Brent Musberger once so famously said: “When Clemson players rub that rock and run down the hill, it’s the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”

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