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Danny Ford put Clemson on the map againstNebraska

This article by Doug Nye caught our attention.

WHEN CLEMSON AND Nebraska square off in the Gator Bowl on Thursday, the game will mark the second meeting on the football field between the schools. But it will not be — as some have suggested — deja vu.

The stakes were much higher the first time the Tigers and the Cornhuskers met, in the Jan. 1, 1982, Orange Bowl. Because second-ranked Georgia and third-ranked Alabama had lost earlier in the day, the winner of the Orange Bowl would claim the national championship.

Clemson defeated Nebraska 22-15, launching an era of excellence in which the Tigers finished ranked in the top 20 in nine of the next 10 years. The accomplishment was remarkable considering no one expected the team to win its conference.

However, the Tigers rolled through their ACC slate and finished the regular season 11-0. They entered the Orange Bowl ranked No. 1 in both polls, but plenty of skeptics didn’t believe the Tigers were for real. Clemson was a 4½-point underdog to Nebraska, which started the season 1-2 but rolled over their final eight opponents.

Danny Ford, the coach of the Tigers at the time, wasn’t surprised his team hadn’t earned the oddsmakers’ respect.

"A lot of people didn’t even know where Clemson was," Ford said earlier this month after spending several hours riding a tractor on his 170-acre farm in Pendleton. "Some people thought we were in Georgia or North Carolina or somewhere else."

That the Tigers had made 10 previous bowl appearances, including a 17-15 victory against Ohio State in the 1978 Gator Bowl, had done little to educate many of the nation’s geography-challenged football fans and sportswriters. During NBC’s telecast of the game, analyst John Brodie, with the help of play-by-play announcer Don Criqui, held up a map to show the audience where Clemson is located.

"Where is Clemson?" Brodie said, and then added with a grin, "I can tell you that a lot of NFL scouts know where Clemson is."

Ford chuckled at that.

"I kind of like to think that what we did help put Clemson on the map for some people," he said.

Ford would be the first to tell you the thought of a national championship never entered his mind when the team gathered in August for preseason drills.

"We just wanted to try and win the Atlantic Coast Conference," he said. "Clemson had won maybe one conference championship in the past 12 years or so. I knew that’s what the Clemson people wanted."

The Tigers didn’t impress anyone when they had to come from behind to beat Wofford in the opener and defeated Tulane 13-5. Pollsters took notice the following week when Clemson downed Georgia and Herschel Walker 13-3.

"That’s when I thought we might have a pretty good team," Ford said.

The Tigers continued to roll and were undefeated when they faced rival South Carolina in Columbia. Ford, ever the worrier, was concerned about the Gamecocks.

"They had some pretty good players," Ford said. "The more time has passed, the more I appreciate what (coaches) Jim Carlen and Joe Morrison were able to do down there (at USC)."

Ford’s fear seemed justified when the Gamecocks took a 7-0 lead. Minutes later, however, Clemson’s Rod McSwain blocked a USC punt and teammate Johnny Rembert recovered in the end zone. After that, it was all Tigers as they closed the regular season with a 29-13 victory.

Next stop: Orange Bowl.


The Tigers’ march to Florida was something of a surreal experience for me. As a kid, I watched Clemson play Colorado in the Orange Bowl on television on Jan. 1, 1957. Twenty-five later, I was in Miami sitting in the press box covering the game for The Columbia Record, which was the city’s afternoon newspaper at the time.

I tried to drink in the sights and sounds. It was truly an Orange Bowl because thousands of orange-clad Tiger fans sat in the stadium.

"It was an awesome setting," said Perry Tuttle, Clemson’s star wide receiver. "I remember it was hot and it was loud. And we were playing Nebraska with all that great tradition.

"I know a lot of people didn’t give us a chance. I really thought we could win because, with all due respect to (Nebraska) coach (Tom) Osborne, I thought we had a better coaching staff."

Clemson, decked out in all orange, went up 3-0 on a 39-yard field goal by Donald Igwebuike. Minutes later, Nebraska’s Mike Rozier tossed a 25-yard halfback pass to Anthony Steels for a touchdown to put the Cornhuskers up 7-3. Igwebuike added a field goal at the end of the first quarter to make it 7-6.

"They kind of fooled us with that halfback pass, but I thought we held them pretty good the rest of the way," Ford said.

Clemson took a 12-7 lead into halftime after Cliff Austin scored on a 2-yard run. That was hardly a comfortable lead.

Jim Phillips knew. Up in the press box, the late Tigers radio play-by-play announcer, paced nervously. What made it doubly tough for Phillips was that he could not call the game because the Orange Bowl had its own national radio network.

"This is insane," Phillips said as he sat down and then got back up again. "I should be on the radio right now."

Phillips was better off than Tim Bourret, Clemson’s assistant sports information director at the time.

"I wasn’t even at the Orange Bowl," said Bourret who is now the Tigers’ SID. "Clemson had a basketball game that night, and that’s where I was. I was constantly trying to get updates from Miami."


Tuttle felt good about the game as the Tigers took the field for the second half.

"We had some really good players," said Tuttle, reeling off the names of defensive back Terry Kinard, linebacker Jeff Davis, defensive end Bill Smith, quarterback Homer Jordan and others.

"Of course, we had the ‘Fridge’(freshman William Perry)," Tuttle said with a laugh. "He was pig-headed and didn’t know any better, didn’t know we weren’t suppose to win."

The 295-pound Perry played middle guard and spent much of the night squaring off with Nebraska All-American 283-pound center Dave Rimington. Perry more than held his own.

In the third quarter, Jordan directed the Tigers on a 75-yard, 12-play drive that culminated with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Tuttle. The extra point and another field goal by Igwebuike gave Clemson a 22-7 advantage as the final quarter began.That’s when Nebraska put together its best drive of the game, which concluded with Roger Craig thundering around left end on a 26-yard scoring run. The two-point conversion made it 22-15 with nine minutes to play. When Clemson got the ball back, Ford had Jordan try to move the team by passing. It didn’t work, and the Tigers had to punt.

"Homer had been running the ball good all night, so I had him passing there," Ford said. "That was pretty stupid of me."

With Nebraska hoping to move in for the kill, the Clemson defense rose. Tackle Jeff Bryant, end Andy Headen and Perry each made individual plays, forcing the Cornhuskers to give up the ball.

The clock showed 5:24 when the Tigers took over. This time, Ford played it smart; Jordan stuck to the running game and the Tigers ran out clock. The noise already was deafening in the Orange Bowl, but once the final second ticked off, a mammoth roar rocked the stadium.

Clemson players jumped around, hugged one another and gave a salute to their fans.

In the locker room afterward, Ford managed a slight smile.

"It was sort of relief, but it was fun when you look back on it," Ford said. Asked when he thought the Tigers had a chance to win the national championship, Ford quickly replied, "When the game was over."

Ford paused a moment and added: "I’ll tell you something; (what) I really remember about that night is how classy coach Osborne and the Nebraska team were. It was a clean, well-played football game.

"Oh, Perry and Rimington might have had a few words with each other, but it was mostly two teams playing football in a good, hard way. Nebraska showed class before and after the game. I’ll never forget that."

When the next issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands, there was Tuttle on the cover, arms in the air, celebrating what turned out to be the winning touchdown. Next to him were the words, "No. 1: Orange Bowl Hero Perry Tuttle of Clemson."

Everyone knew who Clemson was then.