We are looking to feature some Clemson greats over the next few months. I could not think of a player that I would like to lead off with more than the winningest QB in Clemson history, Rodney Williams.
One word describes Clemson's quaterback from '85 through the '88 season: "Winner". That is what Rodney Williams was at Clemson, an absolute winner who found ways to lead the Tigers to 32 games, three consecutive conference championships, and three consecutive sunshine state bowl victories. When the rubber met the road, Coach Ford always knew that he could look to good old #13 for the leadership, toughness, and unselfish play necessary to win many close ballgames.
From the September 28, 1987 Sports Illustrated Article following the 21-20 victory over UGA:
Against Georgia, Ford used all three of his timeouts long before the game-winning drive. After one sideline session, junior quarterback Rodney Williams was starting out toward the huddle when Ford snatched him back by his collar and gave him a heart-to-heart while they stood nose-to-nose. "He told me to get 'em fired up, get 'em moving," said Williams.
Rodney's willingness to play within himself in such an unselfish manner was one of the main reasons for Clemson's success. Week in and week out, you would see the Clemson QB getting drilled as he was making a well placed pitch on an option play or tucking the ball to get a few extra yards for the team. Williams was a tough competitor on the field and did everything that it took to lead old CU.
Growing up in the '80's, Clemson football was what you looked forward to all year and Rodney Wiliams was the catalyst that fired up fans both young and old. I can attest to this, as I personally spent many afternoons either at Death Valley or in my backyard with my orange Clemson 13 jersey either pitching footballs with some buddies (or randoms at a pickup football game at our tailgate) or floating TD's to myself attempting to recreate the Penn State game from January of '88. I also distinctly meeting the man for the first and only time waiting for the players to emerge from the Clemson locker room following the dismantlement of the in-state rival Gamecocks in '88 and still have the autograph to prove it.
I don't want to harp too much on this game, but Williams put it all together in his revenge game in '88 (I know this is a RW article, but please notice the fantastic job Chip Davis--another unselfish and great player--did blocking downfield) as shown in the video below:
To this day, I think my most memorable game was the '87 Clemson-NC State game. This is a bit ironic for a couple reasons. As I mentioned earlier, Rodney was known as a winner, yet Clemson did not win this one. However, Williams put it all on the line and nearly helped pull off the most miraculous effort in CU football history.
The stage was set, Clemson was 6-0 including a last second victory over the rival Georgia Bulldogs earlier in the season. The Tigers had it all going their way and looked to be poised to run the table for another shot at glory. Then it happened. I am not sure why, but NC State gave Coach Ford fits. This year would be no different. I distinctly remember going into this game as a kid and bragging about how Clemson would beat up on the Pack. The folks around me prophetically cautioned otherwise, as this was a good team. In overconfident fashion, the Tigers laid an egg in the first half, getting down 30-0.
After the game, rumors were often heard about how pissed off Coach Ford was at half. I cannot confirm these, but can confirm the effort given out of that team and its quarterback in October of '87. Rodney led the Clemson offense back to score 28 unanswered points to nearly pull off the victory. On the game, Williams was 21-53 passing, attempting 46 passes in the second half (both were CU records at the time, the later being an NCAA record). This game solidified RW as a Clemson legend who was willing to do whatever it took to move his team forward (as neither Rodney nor the Tigers were known for incredible passing skills). I don't think anyone who was there that day will ever forget the piss and vinegar with which the Tigers finished that afternoon. I would like to think that this one set the stage for the Citrus Bowl blowout in which a pass-happy Tiger offense laid the wood to Joe-Pa and Penn State later in the year.
We could go on and on about the big wins in the RW era. The '86 Gator Bowl, back to back last second wins against the Dawgs, the Penn State beat down. All of which were a part of one of the best stretches in Clemson football history that featured three (3) consecutive ACC Crowns (note, the Tigers have only one championship since--1991).
What's Rodney up to now? Williams is the CEO of Budweiser of Columbia and Greenville with various interests around the South. Rodney has been active in stock car driving, still sporting the old #13. Since his graduation in '89, Rodney has been involved with Clemson in various fashions. Williams was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 2000. Rodney also served as sideline reporter and color commentator for the Clemson Radio Network (I really wish he were on the current radio staff, and would love for he and Eppley to work together a time or two) and openly campaigned for a spot on the University's Board of Trustees several years ago. I hope to see the University work to keep Rodney involved with Clemson for many years to come. He is a class act and definitely a winner.