As Dabo Swinney's 2015 Clemson Tigers close out the regular season against the arch-rival South Carolina Gamecocks on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the Tiger faithful have much to be thankful for: a perfect 11-0 record, a number-one national ranking, a guaranteed spot in the ACC Championship game against UNC, and an opportunity to lock up one of the four spots in the College Football Playoff and compete for a second national championship. But all would be for naught if they allow the chickens to sully their record and ruin their chance at the ultimate glory. So this Thanksgiving weekend the Tigers hold to historical tradition by following up their turkey feast on Thursday with a chicken-fry on Saturday, complete with all the fixin's, including a dominant effort by the Tigers on the field and blubbering Gamecock fans off of it. It will be a feast of epic proportions; one worthy of all those Tigers who have come before, and one that will be celebrated by all those who shall follow.
The legends of Clemson Tiger football lore are many and memorable, names indelibly ingrained in the minds of most true Tigers fans: John Heisman, Banks McFadden, Jess Neely, Frank Howard, O.K. Pressley, Phil Prince, Fred Cone, Buddy Gore, Bennie Cunningham, Steve Fuller, Perry Tuttle, Homer Jordan, Jeff Davis, Terry Kinard, William Perry, Rodney Williams, Terry Allen, Levon Kirkland, Danny Ford. More recently, new names have risen to the fore, like Chester McGlockton, Brentson Buckner, Brian Dawkins, Anthony Simmons, Antuan Edwards, Woody Dantzler, Rod Gardner, Keith Adams, James Davis, CJ Spiller, Tajh Boyd, Nuk Hopkins, Sammy Watkins. And even this list is woefully incomplete. We've all got our sentimental favorites, the handful of players who represent a formative era in our personal Clemson fandom and are symbolic of particular eras of Clemson football's evolution. Along with the hill, the rock, and the valley, these names constitute the glory of Clemson football past and the foundation upon which Clemson football's present and future have and will continue to be built.
But this rivalry week especially, one name that all-too-often is left off this list these days deserves special recognition: Frank Burditz "Gator" Farr. Hailing from central Florida, Frank B. Farr earned the moniker "Gator" during his years as a cadet at Clemson College, from whence he graduated in 1930. During his career in the campus corps from 1927-1930, Farr proved, to quote Sheriff John H. Behan of Toombstone, AZ fame, to be "a man of many parts." As Frank Mellette has written of Farr during his Clemson years, "there is no doubt in the mind of anyone at Clemson that "Gator" Farr was one of the greatest characters who ever went there." He was an accomplished bugler who could "get the softer and more beautiful tones out of it [better] than anybody at Clemson," and utilized this skill as a member of the Drum and Bugle Corps during his first two years on campus. With higher military ambitions than these corps could provide him, however, he dropped them and rose to the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major his third year, the highest rank attainable by a junior, before attaining the supreme senior rank of Cadet Colonel his fourth and final year. Despite these prestigious honors, however, Farr never lost his affinity for the bugle, and the corps of cadets never lost their appreciation for Farr's particular talents, which they displayed every time he ventured down to the guardroom to blow taps during this final two years. The readily recognizable tones only he could conjure during these frequent "taps" renditions never failed to elicit spontaneous applause from cadets across campus when he finished. (Mallette, Old Clemson College: It Was a Hell of a Place, 1981)
In addition to his bugle-blowing proficiency and military leadership, Farr also participated in the corps cheerleading squad, rising to head cheerleader during his 1929-1930 senior campaign. Farr was also instrumental in founding and directing the "Senior Platoon" in 1930, which became a prominent fixture on game days, from their founding until 1959 when the military corps was discontinued at Clemson, with their intricate on-field drill exercises. After graduating with a bachelor of science degree from Clemson in 1930, Gator Farr returned to gator country in Florida to serve on the faculty of Groveland High School, where he eventually became principal. But near or far, Clemson remained close to his heart, as he returned every year to Tigertown to preside over one of the greatest rituals ever associated with the annual in-state rivalry against the South Carolina Gamecocks: Cocky's Funeral. From 1930 until his death in 1964, Gator Farr made the annual trek from his home near Palatka, FL to Clemson, SC to administer Cocky's last rites on the eve of the rivalry game in a ceremony heavy on pomp and circumstance and light on reverence. With Cocky's pitiful "corpse" prominently displayed in an open casket, Farr would mount the "pulpit" attired in high style with tuxedo tails and top-hat, open to the lady's garment section of the Sears Robuck Catalogue for spiritual "inspiration" and deliver a "eulogy sermon" to a congregation of Tiger faithful hanging on his every mocking word. Sadly, Farr's untimely death in 1964 spelled the end of this ritualistic tradition for many a decade until it was resurrected by Colonel Sandy Edge, a 1972 Clemson graduate and former Air Force ROTC commander, in 2000 and continuing to this day.
So in honor of Clemson legend Frank "Gator" Farr, his successor Col. Sandy Edge, and all the Clemson faithful who have contributed to the Tigers' 66-42-4 all-time record against the rival Gamecocks through the ages, let us reflect upon the dismal football history of Cocky and his foul-weather, fowl-feathered fans. His is a cautionary tale, one to be heeded as protection against the vagaries attending too much success too quickly after so much depravity for so long. One five-game winning streak from 2009-2013 does not a lifetime of tragedy undo, and certainly does not more than a century of gridiron history rewrite. The "Golden Age of Gamecock Football," like Cocky and his legions' boisterous efforts to legitimize his name, has passed on, never to be resurrected now that "Saint Spurrier" too has moved on to greener pastures beyond the concrete jungle that is Columbia (namely to the links at Augusta National).
Traditionally Clemson has owned the Gamecocks at home or abroad. The Tigers' dominant all-time mark is only more impressive given that every game between the first matchup in 1896 and 1959 was dubbed "Big Thursday" and kicked off the South Carolina State Fair in Columbia. Despite this decided home-field advantage for the Gamecocks, the Tigers owned Columbia to the tune of a 33-21-3 won-loss advantage during the span. Clemson's first home game in the series didn't come until 1960 (a 12-2 Tiger victory), after legendary Tiger head coach Frank Howard had finally won his battle to transform the rivalry into an annual home-and-home series and kissed Big Thursday goodbye.
The 2015 Tigers stand on the cusp of all-time greatness. Only two other Clemson teams have ever reached the 11-0 mark (1948 & 1981) and only four teams have ever finished an entire season unbeaten (1900: 6-0 under John Heisman; 1948: 11-0 under Frank Howard; 1950: 9-0-1 under Frank Howard; and 1981: 12-0 ACC and National Champions under Danny Ford). Each one of those unbeaten squads had to win or draw in the annual rivalry game with South Carolina in Columbia to remain undefeated (1900: 51-0 Tigers; 1948: 13-7 Tigers; 1950: 14-14 tie; 1981: 29-13 Tigers). Clemson is 33-21-1 since the advent of the home-and-home series in 1960: 17-10-1 in Death Valley, 16-11-0 in Williams-Brice Stadium. But despite breaking "the streak" last year at home and its overall dominance in the series home or away, Clemson hasn't prevailed in Billy Brice since 2007. This year rent is well overdue, and with so much at stake, my money's on Deshaun Watson, Ben Boulware, and the rest of the 2015 Tigers showing up to collect it with interest.