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Historical Eye of the Tiger: Clemson @ Auburn

Stalking SEC Prey on the Alabama Plains

THE Big Cat on the Plains

[To the tune of "Home on the Range" by Brewster M. Higley (1873) as composed by John A. Lomax (1910)]:

"Our home-away-from-home on the plains,

some say it’s Clemson without a lake;

But that just ain’t so,

‘cause all true Tigers know,

"Allbarn" is a barren mistake!"

[To the tune of "Oh Susanna" by Stephen Foster (1848)]:

"Poor Hairy JERdan,

you’ll cry incessantly,

‘Cause we’ll be comin’ home from Alabama

with a Clemson victory!"

The ties that bind the Clemson Tigers and Auburn Tigers/War Eagle/Plainsmen stretch back to the very beginning of the Clemson athletic historical record. According to Mr. "Clemson Google" himself (Tim Bourret), each of Clemson’s first three head football coaches held degrees from Auburn.

Walter M. Riggs, Clemson HC (1896, 1899), Clemson University President (1910-1924)

The father of Clemson football and in many ways Clemson athletics at large, Walter Riggs (namesake of Historic Riggs Field and Riggs Hall) graduated from Auburn in 1893 with a degree in engineering before returning home to South Carolina (he hailed from Orangeburg) to accept a position as instructor of engineering at Clemson. According to Clemson University historian Jerome Reel, Riggs was an avid advocate of "muscular Christianity," a widely held belief in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century that physical fitness and competition were essential complements to masculine spiritual growth (the YMCA being perhaps the most poignant example of the movement). Acting on such beliefs Riggs supported the formation of the first football team at Clemson in 1896, and agreed to serve as its head coach.

Walter M. Riggs (back row, far left) with the 1895 Auburn football team

These inaugural Clemson Tigers donned red and blue uniforms rather than the now familiar orange and purple. By 1897 red and blue had been replaced with both orange and purple and purple and gold, alternating one to the other year-to-year for the better part of fifty years, when orange and purple seemingly prevailed outright. Most Tiger fans (both Auburn and Clemson) assumed that Riggs was responsible for Clemson athletics adopting the "Tigers" as mascot, but Dr. Reel counters this assertion by citing R.G. Hamilton, captain of the first gridiron Tigers, and his claim that the "Tigers" name was borrowed from Princeton instead. This falls in line with common practice among Southern institutions generally. The original buildings on the University of Georgia’s old "north campus," for example, was consciously modeled after Yale University.

Walter M. Riggs (back row, center) with the 1896 Clemson football team

The other two Auburn grads to coach the early Tiger gridders were William Williams (Auburn ’96) in 1897 and John Penton (Auburn ’98) in the fall of 1898. Another Auburn coaching connection came in the form of the legendary John Heisman, who coached the Auburn Tigers football squads from 1895-1899 before departing the Alabama plains for the Carolina foothills to take command of the Clemson Tigers from 1900-1903. Heisman compiled a 12-4-2 record as the head Plainsman before improving to 19-3-2 as the Clemson head coach, an .833 winning percentage that still ranks first all-time in Clemson coaching history. Other historical ties include sharing the Bowdens (Terry Bowden led the Auburn program from 1993-1998 while brother Tommy led Clemson’s program from 1999-2008), sharing Cliff Ellis (Clemson head basketball coach 1984-1994, Auburn head basketball coach 1994-2004), sharing defensive coordinator Bill Oliver (Clemson 1986-1988, Auburn 1998), and even going "All In" (Clemson/Auburn) together with Gene Chizik (Clemson graduate assistant coach 1988-1989, Auburn head coach 2009-2012). We’ve even got our own respective versions of "Tiger Rag," (Clemson’s (1942)/Auburn’s (???), though in this case both borrowed from LSU’s 1926 precedent, and all of them adapted the tune from the jazz standard "Tiger Rag" by the Original Dixie Jass Band (1917).

Sorry Gus Gus....

Combined with Clemson’s longstanding connections to the Alabama Crimson Tide football program previously delineated, its seems that one of Clemson University’s unofficial missions has been to alienate the entire state of Alabama, tree killers and mascot schizophrenics alike.

...but this ain’t gonna be no Cinderella story

On the field, it’s been an uphill struggle for our Tigers, even and especially on the plains (get it?). Auburn leads the overall series with a convincing 34-13-2 record, and has dominated in JERdan-Hare to the tune of 20-4-0. However, the bulk of that history took place before man walked on the moon (1969). The Apollo Space program was actually still active the last time Clemson and Auburn squared off as part of an annual home-and-home series (1971). The 2016 matchup will be just the sixth since that time, and only two of those came as part of a home-and-home series (2010 at Auburn, 2011 in Clemson). The remainder were neutral-site affairs to open (2012 in Atlanta) or cap (1998 and 2007 Peach Bowls) the season. The record in these more recent meetings is far more even, with Auburn holding slight 3-2-0 edge.

The cronies at ESPN will undoubtedly inundate their television coverage with statistics illustrating Auburn’s dominant record with little-to-none of the context herein provided. But perhaps it is fitting that the last time Clemson defeated Auburn on the plains was 1950 (a 41-0 shutout thanks to Glenn Smith’s six catches for 114 yards and Fred Cone’s 33-carry, 163-yard, four-touchdown swan-song performance). In 1950 the United States was firmly entrenched in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, the very Cold War that eventually prompted the "Space Race" responsible for launching the Apollo program. With that historic moon landing in 1969, the United States ran out in front of the Soviets once and for all, setting a break-neck pace of military-industrial development and global geo-political influence that ultimately collapsed the U.S.S.R. in 1991 (The 1970s’ "Detante" interlude be damned!). The HUHN "Clemson Offense" promises to similarly penetrate Auburn’s "Steele Curtain" defense en route to an epic rout.

"What do you mean quarterbacks are allowed to run!? When did this happen? How do we stop that!?"


P.S. Feel free to provide alternate "pro-Clemson" lyrics to any and all other "Alabama-themed" songs in the comments below. Suggestions of songs especially pertinent to Auburn football might include: "Alabama Jailhouse" by Rod Morris and "Alabama Wild Man" by Jerry Reed, among other classics ripe for revision by Neil Young, Skynyrd, and of course, Alabama.