I would be remiss if I didn't touch on the Clemson-UGA rivalry as we approach the end of this recent renewal of the rivalry (which should be every year, IMHO). There was a time in my youth, in the 1980s, when playing the leg humpers far surpassed the game with the coots at the end of the season. Unless it was a year like '84 or '87, when the coots actually put a pretty good team on the field, most of us pointed to the UGA match-up as the game that determined if the Tigers had a real shot at an undefeated season--win that game and the chances were good that the season would be a special one. When the Ford regime faced the Vince Dooley led Bulldogs, you were looking at programs that were nearly mirror images of one another. After a long stretch of dominance from UGA, the rivalry became extremely heated once Clemson was able to match UGA's talent of the late 1970s. As we have learned facing the coots, all it takes is a few losses to get the blood really boiling and to send the rivalry to a new level. UGA's national championship run in 1980 really should have been derailed by the Tigers early on, but, similar to 2002, the Tigers made a few critical mistakes that allowed UGA to escape that day in Athens. The next season featured the epic matchup in the Valley when the defending national champions came to Death Valley.
I'm not going to pretend that I was at this game and even if I had been it would have been when I was in first grade. However, I grew up with Clemson stuff everywhere in my room. I would cut the "photo of the week" out of game programs and paste them to my door, wall, wherever. My prized possession was the iconic poster that simply said DEFENSE across the top and showed William Perry leading a host of Tiger defenders swarming Hershel Walker from the 1981 game. The pic was similar to this one:
Clemson had emerged as UGA's primary threat in recruiting in the wild west days of the late 70s and early 80s, when the money really started to take off in college football. The stories behind the recruitment of Hershel Walker are really entertaining--Dooley and crew won the day with a Smokey and the Bandit Pontiac Trans-Am. Death Valley had already been expanded, with the addition of the first upper deck, to accommodate the growing fever around Tiger football. It wouldn't be long before the second deck was added to take the capacity to over 78,000 (official). Now the Tigers were on the national forefront with a chance to make a serious statement. 1980 had been a difficult year and it took that upset of the coots in the orange pants to somewhat salvage things. I often wonder how things would have been had the internet been around then. Without a doubt, Coach Ford would have caught a lot of heat. That team's junior class, led by the iconic Jeff Davis, vowed to take things up a notch their senior year. They went through a grueling 2 a day regimen in August (back when the coaches could really put the team through hell). They went into the season unranked and two rather uninspiring wins against Wofford (who wasn't even 1AA in 81) and Tulane didn't chance the national view of the team.
UGA's 81 team returned much of the power from the previous season, most notably the physical phenom Hershel Walker. However, the Tigers had landed a physical phenom of their own, Aiken's William Perry. "The Refrigerator" was like nothing the world had really seen in those days. Typical O-linemen ranged from 250-280, with 300 pound guys being extremely rare. If you did find one that big, the guy usually couldn't move. Then came Perry, who stood at 6'1", weighed at least 320 (who really knows the actual numbers on him at the time?), could run the 40 in under 5, and could dunk a basketball from a flat footed standstill. Perry added an X factor to an already stout front seven that had the likes of Jeff Bryant and William Devane. Teams soon discovered that trying to run the ball, especially up the middle, was nearly impossible. Jeff Davis was left to roam sideline to sideline cleaning up what managed to get to his level. In the back was a man described as the best football player on the team, safety Terry Kinard.
As an aside, I spent 3 long years living and working in Athens. The years were 2001-2004, so not only did I have to deal with the usually insufferable attitudes of the leg humper fans, I had to deal with it when they were going through a Renaissance with Mark Richt. The 2002 team had failed to spring a major upset (with about five epic WTF moments to blame) and then our 2003 team got pummeled 30-0 to begin the next year. It was so bad I actually pulled for the coots to beat them...it still boggles my mind to even type that statement. Those of you who may live in Georgia now can relate, I'm sure. My sports radio options were limited to Atlanta stations, namely one that featured Buck Belue, the QB of the 81 UGA squad. They had great fun dismissing the Tigers and, in hindsight, what had we done to earn any real recognition? One day, a caller brought up the 81 Clemson game to Belue and he had to recall his horrendous performance when he might have been Clemson's MVP for the game. (Shout out to Brian who had an interesting take on this game you can find HERE where he says something similar.) Long story short, I enjoyed hearing Belue have to swallow the ego some on that memory.
Back to the game, UGA had to feel a lot like we felt after this past loss to the coots. They actually ran the ball better than we did, with Walker going over 100. However, they turned the ball over a TON and the legs of Homer Jordan were enough to keep things moving. We were able to find a little success with Perry Tuttle, including the only touchdown of the day. This was a very different game than what we saw in the Valley last year, when both offenses were able to hit for several big plays and scores. In 1981, both teams were coming downhill and playing in a crowded box on both sides of the ball. That led to several bone rattling hits on both sides that made you thankful there wasn't the 85 scholarship limit in those days. One thing is for sure, there is no substitute for an opportunistic defense that can create turnovers. That is really what separated the 81 defense from some of the other top defenses in Clemson history, like the 1989-90-91 units. If the 2014 season is going to be something special, it is paramount that the defense can change the game the way that unit did.
In conclusion, it was tough to pick between this game and the 86 triumph in Athens, when David Treadwell hit that field goal. 1986 is also the last time the team won in Athens, though it has played there occasionally since 86--the 1991 team infamously got worked over by Eric Zeier, the 2002 team pissed away a great chance (as noted earlier), and the poor 1994 team got beat down. This 2014 team has the chance to correct several disturbing streaks this season. It can post a win in Athens after a 28 year drought, a win in Atlanta after an 11 year drought, and a win against the coots after a 5 year drought.