If you are the kind of fan I am, some of the losses in Clemson history stick in the brain like glue for whatever reason. To help pass the long hot summer days between the end of baseball season and the start of football season, aka "The Dark Territory," STS brings you WTF Thursday. This is a chance for at least one of us, namely me, to rehash what went through our skulls as things unfolded. I think it can especially help grant perspective on what has been a very good run in Clemson football here the last few seasons, coot games notwithstanding. Don't worry, we will go to our happy places on Fridays with a look back at a great win.
Today's WTF game goes back to the year 1993 and is directly aimed at any Ken Hatfield apologists that might exist out there. We all heard the barbs from the outside when Hatfield was canned following the 8-3 regular season, but you could make a strong argument that the 1993 Clemson Tigers may very well have been the worst 9-3 team in major college football history. The ACC is often chided as a football conference, and 1993 was a year where it really earned that criticism. While FSU was dominant and won the MNT and UNC was a good team that went 10-3, the drop off behind those two was like a canyon. Clemson, as many will recall, lost to those two opponents by a combined score of 84-0 and was lucky to cross midfield in both contests. The only other decent team in the league was Virginia, who was very average, and Clemson took them down by totally shocking them with the immortal flexbone piloted by starting cornerback Dexter McCleon. But before that slight of hand move (or total act of desperation, which is more likely), the Tigers put up one of the biggest WTF performances in program history at home against a woeful Wake Forest team.
The first bit of irony about that October day in 1993 was that I had scored (at the time) the best seats at a Clemson game I had ever had. I went with a college buddy of mine and we were on the 45 yard line about halfway up in the lower south stands. That might have been a bigger accomplishment had it not been the smallest crowd I have ever seen and probably ever will see in Death Valley. I think the announced crowd was somewhere around 68,000, but it looked to be more like 55,000 at the most as the upper decks were nearly empty and large pockets of empty seats could be seen throughout the lower decks. To make matters worse, it rained steadily that day. That mighty Wake team managed 2 wins that year, one against Appalachian State (before they were a 1AA power) and the other against Clemson IN Death Valley that fateful day. Clemson started, farted, stumbled, and fell consistently on offense as it had most of that season. We'd gone through the Patrick Sapp at QB experiment, a little bit of Louis Solomon, and towards the end of that game the vaunted Richard Moncrief rose from the bench to lead a late touchdown drive that made it somewhat close. The best part of that late TD drive was that Moncrief ran over to the sidelines trying to hype up the remaining diehards in attendance and didn't realize Hatfield wanted to go for 2 so we had to call a freaking timeout just to try that conversion. There was just enough Danny Ford recruited talent on that defense to keep that team in games against what was largely a joke of a schedule. The team scored 198 points and gave up 192 and was out-gained for the season, yet won 9 games. Whatever existing doubt that the 1993 team was just not very good and that Hatfield was a part of a total self destruction of the once proud football program should have been laid to rest that day when an awful, and I mean awful, Wake Forest team handed Clemson a 20-16 loss.
You could chalk 1992-1993 as one big WTF moment, but the culmination of that had to have been that loss to Wake in the Valley. I have though about that one as well as 03 and 05 a good bit the last few years when we have absolutely blown Wake Forest out of the stadium. Thankfully most of the ACC and the coots sucked as badly or worse in 1993. The 2006 Clemson team would have defeated the 93 team by 3 TD's in my humble opinion. The bowl game victory was an absolute gift as Kensucky fumbled the game clinching interception back to us at the end of the game. Had Hatfield not been out already, I would have sworn the football gods had conspired to save his job that day in the Georgia Dome.
In conclusion, I recall holding up a stadium cup in the rain in a half empty Death Valley and reading the "Meeting the Challenge" moniker blazoned across it and laughing. It was the only way to not just start crying when I thought about that team compared to what I was brought up watching. I invite any of you who might have been around in those days to add your memories to this. For those of you who are younger and are might be students now, think about the streak of double digit wins against unranked opponents the current regime has going as much as you lament the losing streak to the coots. There was a time a 1 win team could beat Clemson in a home game. W-T-F.