Y’all know me and most of you know me well. My blood isn’t your typical red, my blood runneth orange. If you’ve read my blog in the past, then you should know this. I’ve even had a couple of nurses tell me my blood has an orange tint to it! Ok, perhaps, I’m pushing it just a bit, but for most people who’ve met me, it’s pretty obvious I’m a diehard Clemson fan.
Yesterday, my husband and I took our boys to Clemson, SC to visit the illustrious and intimidating Memorial Stadium, better known as Death Valley where the Tigers play. It was Fan Day, an opportunity that allowed for the chance to meet the football team and to get their autographs. It was also a time for mama here to reminisce about her so-called “glory days” and to get my boys drawn into that wonderful culture with seas of orange and purple.
We’ve been to Clemson before with the boys, even taking them to a couple of football games last year. Davey and I have been to see the Homecoming floats on Bowman Field well before the days of Henry. Davey’s even been to a basketball game in Littlejohn, all be it, still in the womb. It’s something I’ve dreamt about since I first became pregnant, getting my boys inundated with Clemson early, and getting them to love it as much as I do. Yesterday was just the key to that!
When we arrived in Clemson, I giddily navigated my husband around town, pointing out various structures, in total awe at the number of new buildings being constructed and even shedding a tear for Clemson House, which will soon be demolished for more student housing. My boys were anxious to get out of the car, to be on that sacred Clemson ground to explore, so we had to find a parking space quickly. We managed to arrive three hours early, but that didn’t seem to be good enough as most people had been there two or three hours more! We walked around the stadium, pulling out our map before making our way to the West End zone, where we’d hoped to get in line and get an autograph from Deshaun Watson, our star quarterback and I’m convinced Heisman winner for this season. Unfortunately for us, it was apparent that you needed to arrive by 5 AM if you wanted to get Deshaun’s autograph. The line snaked from the gate at the top of the hill, winding is way down the hill, beneath the occulus, towards the police station, before looping back up the hill and towards the cemetery. My husband and I dutifully waited in line, in the ravaging heat, while our boys made friends and played soccer. A little side note, it makes me extremely happy and proud to see my boys able to go up to children who they don’t even know and start playing. It makes me feel as if I’ve done something right.
Checking out Howard’s Rock and Death Valley.
Asweat drenched hour later, a member of the football staff began walking the line and at a cutoff, literally five people in front of us, he informed us that it was highly unlikely we’d get Deshaun’s autograph. My husband, appearing a bit dejected as he had hoped for that signature on the boys’ footballs most of all, began to reevaluate our situation. We walked around the stadium again, enjoying for the first time what felt like a nice Fall breeze, and surveyed the lines at the other gates before deciding to stay in the shade and wait to meet the linebackers. So for an hour and a half, while our kids ran up and down the steps of Gate 9, and played Angry Birds, we waited.
Finally, at 2:30 precisely, the gates swung up and the wave of fan crashed and spilled through, like water rushing through broken levees. Dave took Davey and immediately got in line, while I threw Henry on my shoulders and surged forward towards the free autograph books and the posters. A few moments later, after finding Dave we got in line and waited once more to finally meet some of the players.
Dave give each of our boys their footballs and we explained what they needed to do. Henry took to the task at hand, quickly placing his football in front of each player before moving on. He made me smile. He had been given a job and he was doing it with much perseverance, even at times trying to usher those in front of us along, my efficient little boy. Davey; however, was a bit more meticulous and careful with his job, gently placing his football in front of the players and at times showing where he wanted each signature. He’s a bit OCD like his mother.
We only had the opportunity to make it through one line, as the lines were atrociously long. The sky has also begun clouding up, with dark gray clouds coming in off of the lake. We knew our time was limited and I’d promised my boys they could do something.
Since the first days of Davey watching Clemson play, he’s been enamored with the hill. For those of you who are unaware, there is something called The 25 Most Exciting Seconds in College Football. Our players get off a bus at the top of the hill in the East Endzone. They then rub Howard’s Rock, a rock given to Coach Frank Howard from Death Valley, California by one of his former players. It’s a bit of a good luck piece and a reminder from Coach Howard, “If you’re going to give 110 percent, you can rub that rock. If you’re not,keep your filthy hands off of it.” After rubbing the rock, the players then run down the hill into Death Valley to the Tiger’s fight song, Tiger Rag, the song that shakes the southland. Any and every time, Davey gets the opportunity to see this, he stops and watches. At two, he told me, “mama, I run down that hill one day.” I’m not going to lie, it brought a tear to my eye.
So, yesterday, with the breeze kicking up and the thunder rumbling in the back ground, I took the boys to the top of the hill and let them run down it, not once, but twice. For Davey, I think it was truly the greatest. For Henry? Well,right now, whatever big brother does, he feels he must do as well.
With that little treat out of the way, we began to leave the stadium just as the announcer came on and told people to get inside the stadium concourses, lightning had been detected only a few miles away. We made it to our car just as the rain started coming down. Not eager to leave this place I love so much, I told my husband I would take over the driving, and I used the opportunity to drive us through portions of campus, allowing waves of nostalgia to crash upon my heart’s shore.
As we drove by various buildings, I would call them out to the kids. “Look that is Fernow Street Café. Mommy used to eat lunch there, and that building over there, well it was my favorite, it’s Cooper Library. And that building, why it’s Hardin Hall, where mommy had all of her history classes and the one right next to it? That’s Brackett Hall, where I took all of my political science classes. And look at that big clock tower, that’s Tillman’s Hall. Do you know they have something like a huge piano inside where you can play Tiger Rag for all of Clemson to hear? We then made our way downtown, where I pointed out Judge Kellar’s General Merchandise store, that’s been around way longer than I have, and Tiger Town Tavern where I spent most Friday afternoons. I showed them where I used to live and how you could get a pizza and PBR at Backstreets on Monday nights for a $1. There was the old movie theater, where I first saw U571 for $1. While I enjoyed Fan Fest, this was truly more exciting for me, showing all 3 of my boys about the few years of my life, that rank as some of the greatest.
Our day in Tiger Town complete, we decided to make our way back home, the giddiness starting to wear down and wear on me. Truth be told, I was like a kid at Christmas all morning, much like I am every time we are going to Clemson. It’s a magical place, full of wonder and excitement, adventures and memories to be made. Joe Sherman was right when he penned “There’s Something in These Hills.”