Clemson Tigers' Football History: The Villains
It's part of any major college football program. With heroes, there must be villains. For every school's Danny Ford, there exists a Bobby Bowden. In short, everyone has a foil.
Clemson is no different. There have been titles. There have also been seasons that came just a bit short. There have been gut-wrenching turns in the path of the programs.
Let's take a list at the worst of them all. Here are ten figures who impacted the Tigers in a less-than-positive fashion.
10) Kerry Watkins
It was the second year of the Tommy Bowden era. Clemson was undefeated heading into the Georgia Tech game in 2000.
Despite battling injuries, quarterback Woody Dantzler was a Heisman candidate. The Tigers were ranked as high as third in the polls.
Clemson football was back, in a big way. Or so we thought.
The lightly regarded Yellow Jackets hung around until the end. Quarterback George Godsey led Tech on an unlikely drive late in the fourth quarter.
Tech receiver Kerry Watkins stumbled on the final offensive play of the game, then recovered to make a circus catch in the back of the end zone.
Final score: Georgia Tech 31, Clemson 28.
That was as good as the rankings got in the Tommy Bowden era.
9) The University of Florida
It was the Florida Gators who pried coach Charley Pell away from the upstate and the resurgent Tigers. Under Pell, Clemson had made it to the 1977 Gator Bowl and was headed to Jacksonville again in 1978.
While this was certainly a blow at the time, things worked out well for the Tigers. Their next coach was hired from within, and we all know the dizzying heights Coach Danny Ford took the program to shortly thereafter.
Pell (probably because the higher brass in Gainesville reinforced it in their recruitment of him) was convinced that Clemson was not a place where a national football championship could be won.
1981 must have really stung the Gators and Pell. Florida may have three titles, but Clemson got theirs first.
8) Billy Cannon
The 1959 Sugar Bowl was the first chance for the Clemson Tigers to prove that they were a national powerhouse and not just a regional force.
The two loss Tigers met up with Heisman Trophy winner Billy Cannon and his LSU Tigers in the Sugar Bowl on New Years Day.
The hard-fought game was decided by a score of 7-0. Clemson botched a punt from deep inside their territory. On the next possession, it was Cannon throwing to Mickey Mangham for the only score of the game.
National recognition would have to wait just about two decades.
7) Joe Montana
Well before the days of San Francisco Super Bowl glory, the Golden Boy did a number on the Tigers, in front of a sold-out Death Valley crowd in 1977.
Clemson led most of the game, and was up 17-7 when they fumbled late in the third quarter. Montana scored on the first play of the fourth to cut the lead. Notre Dame recovered another fumble and again it was Montana sneaking in to take the lead.
The loss was painful for Pell's Tigers, but redemption wasn't far off. The Ford-led team headed to South Bend in 1979 and became the first visiting team to ever win at Notre Dame Stadium on homecoming.
6) Steve Taneyhill
No South Carolina Gamecock has ever been a bigger pain than Steve Taneyhill. He became the starter at South Carolina during the 1992 season and promptly began bothering Tiger Nation.
Taneyhill came one Tim Jones interception-and-return away from playing the perfect game at Death Valley in 1992. His Gamecocks won handily on a dismal, rain-soaked day. Following the game he stood at midfield, pretending to hit home runs. Ouch.
Somehow, Taneyhill and the Cocks were able to do it again in 1994.
A South Carolina quarterback winning two starts at Death Valley? It's regrettable, but it has happened.
5) Demaryius Thomas
The Denver Broncos can have him!
There wasn't a Clemson fan on the planet who complained when Thomas declared for the NFL draft after his junior season. He had become quite adept at scorching the Tiger secondary.
In 2008 it was him ruining new head coach Dabo Swinney's first game when he burned Chris Chancellor for a late touchdown. He ate Chancellor up when the two teams met in September of 2009 as well.
Determined to stop this guy, Crezdon Butler covered Thomas in the ACC Championship. Yet again Demaryius went for a late score and it was the Georgia Tech Yellow jackets who took the conference title.
Good luck in the NFL, Demaryius. No Clemson fan will miss you at all.
4) The Officials on November 16, 1985
There is no angle, no hidden rule anywhere in the book, no possible set of circumstances that made this play a catch. Watch the video:
The referees huddled, talked about it, and got it wrong. In return for standing up for his team, coach Ford was banned from the sidelines for 1986's Maryland game, in Baltimore.
As poor as the call was, the melee on the sidelines between the fans and players that followed the game was equally bad. A set of events that spun out of control, leaving a nasty scar for both the Tigers and Terps.
3) Deion Sanders
Did anyone really think the punter was going to catch him?
Sanders was an outstanding corner for the Seminoles, but it was his 76 yard punt return against the Tigers in 1988 that really put him on the map.
He probably ran closer to 150 yards on that play to evade a whole host of orange-clad defenders. Chris Gardocki had him in his sights inside the 15, but it wasn't to be.
Clemson entered 1988 as one of the favorites to contend for a national title. Between "Neon Deion" and the "Puntrooski" that later won the game for the Seminoles, they had to settle for an ACC title and beating Oklahoma in the Citrus Bowl.
2) Woody Hayes
Here we see Woody Hayes manhandling one of his own players. That's okay. However, hit a player from another team and there might be a problem.
Just ask Charlie Bauman, the noseguard who intercepted Art Schlicter's pass and ran out of bounds in the 1978 Gator Bowl. Hayes tried to uppercut Bauman on the sidelines, and chaos ensued.
More than a physical threat, Hayes' action were really just insulting. Bauman was twice his size and wearing a helmet. Prior to the game, Hayes had spent weeks calling the Clemson team and region "backwards," "racist," and "inferior" in an attempt to motivate his team.
Thankfully, the ego-manical Hayes was removed following that Gator Bowl, which ended 17-15, in Clemson's favor. New coach Danny Ford was undefeated and had beaten the typically-strong Buckeyes in his first game. The balance of power had shifted. Greater things were to come.
Come to think of it, the punch might have been a good thing...
1) Max Lennon (Pictured Here Is Ken Hatfield)
It really wasn't Ken Hatfield's fault. Really. It's just tough to find a picture of Max Lennon, the former president of Clemson University.
Here's an idea. When you replace the most storied coach in a program's history, you should at least consider hiring from within. Lennon looked to Arkansas and ended up with Hatfield, who was never accepted at Clemson as part of the school.
Of course, the rumor at the time was that Clemson had the prospect of NCAA probation in its future were Ford not ousted. Ford was later cleared of any wrongdoing and in good enough standing with the NCAA to take the Arkansas job, so it couldn't have been that bad.
Maybe the problem was Lennon's personal background, at (you guessed it) Ohio State. Perhaps he saw himself as setting the record straight by removing Ford, who many in the Midwest saw as responsible for having their beloved Woody Hayes terminated.
A conspiracy theory? Perhaps. Whatever the case, the program was sent into a tailspin when Danny Ford left. That spin has only recently shown signs of ending. Max Lennon stands alone as the worst villain in Clemson football history.