Clemson Traditions

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Death Valley, Orange Tiger Paws, and Howard’s Rock. No doubt about it…we’re on the campus of Clemson University. In another installment of college traditions, we’ll explore the origins of the Tiger nickname, Death Valley, and Howard’s Rock.

Clemson fielded its first football team in 1896. Coach Walter Merritt Riggs brought the Tiger nickname and purple and orange colors from his alma mater Agricultural and Mechanical College of Alabama, now known as Auburn University. Riggs began the Clemson program with old equipment from Auburn. The nickname and colors stuck and the first Tiger mascot began entertaining fans in 1954 when a student dressed in a costume tiger suit began parading around the sidelines and mocking the opposition and referees while sitting in a lawn chair in the end zone.

The Tiger mascot began a tradition in 1978 that takes place all around the nation today. After each score at a football game, the mascot performed push ups equal to the total points Clemson had scored during the game. The game record is 465 push ups completed in a 1981 contest against Wake Forest. During a particularly explosive day for the Clemson offense, the mascot wearing a 45 pound Tiger costume can lose 10 to 12 pounds a game!

Clemson Memorial Stadium became known as Death Valley in 1948 after the football coach from Presbyterian College told sports writers that his team had to go play Clemson in Death Valley where his teams rarely scored. The name took off in the 1950s when Clemson coach Frank Howard repeatedly referred to the stadium as Death Valley.

In the early 1960s, Howard received a rock from Death Valley, California from a Clemson alumnus. Howard used it as a doorstop until 1966 when a Clemson employee placed the rock on a pedestal at the top of the east end zone hill that the team ran down to get to the field. The players ran by the rock for the first time on September 24, 1966 before beating Virginia, but the tradition of players rubbing the rock before each game began on September 23, 1967 before a victory against Wake Forest. Howard realized the motivational aspect of the rock and told his players that if they gave 110 percent they could receive the privilege of rubbing the rock. Now, every Tiger player rubs the rock on his way down the hill before thousands of screaming Clemson fans.

The rock receives special attention the 24 hours before the South Carolina game. ROTC cadets stand guard over it and maintain a steady drum cadence that can be heard across campus. Just goes to show that you can never trust your arch rivals!

From the Death Valley mystique, to Howard’ s Rock, to the Tiger mascot, Clemson boasts several timeless traditions that help make college football the exciting sport that it is.  Go Tigers!

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