Fan Fest Has Arrived

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.

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The Clemson Occulus.

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.

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They loved seeing all of the huge tiger paws everywhere.

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!

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Davey in front of the Tiger at Gate 1.

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.

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The line for Deshaun.
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Davey making friends.

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.

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Checking out Howard’s Rock and Death Valley.

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.

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Getting autographs.

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.

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A future NFLer, Christian Wilkins.

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.

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More autographs.

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.

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I’ve waited to have a picture like this for a long time. Me in my happy place, with one of my favorites.

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.

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Henry waiting his turn.

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.

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Carlos Watkins was a favorite of both boys.

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.

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Our task complete.

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.”


There’s Something in These Hills

And so goes the words of Joe Sherman, Clemson class of ’34.   If you’re a Clemson grad, then you know those words.  They echo with a soft, but firm voice through your head when you cross paths with tiger paw prints on your way into campus.  When Mr. Sherman wrote those words, he embodied the true feeling of Clemson, the city, the University and the mountainous valleys of the Blue Ridge Mountains that seem to protect Clemson in its own little shell.

Tillman Hall, welcoming everyone back.
Tillman Hall, welcoming everyone back.

I grew up a Clemson fan.  No one in my family ever graduated from there, but my grandfather did attend.   Unfortunately, he had to leave when the Great Depression hit and he never returned to finished his education.  My blood has runneth orange for as long as I can remember.   There is no better place in my eyes than Clemson University.

Henry enjoying the last days of summer on Bowman Field.
Henry enjoying the last days of summer on Bowman Field.

When I drive into the City, I find myself reminiscing over days at Pixie and Bill’s and Calhoun Corners, the parties at Golden Woods and my apartments off campus.   I think with great fondness to the nights of eating gravy fries at The Huddle House or devouring some of the greatest sandwiches I’ve ever had at The Pot Belly Deli.   As I drive through Main Street, I look back with affection on the year I lived downtown, how convenient it was to hit up any of the local spots.   The Thursday night dance parties at TD’s, and the Monday night $1 Coronas at the Esso.   I made wonderful friends and created lasting memories.

Davey playing soccer on Bowman Field.
Davey playing soccer on Bowman Field.

As I continue to stroll through, I come across Bowman Field, with the beautifully bricked structure of Tillman Hall behind it.  The bells chime a wonderful tune and I’m immediately transported back to Fall afternoons walking through campus, the leaves blowing around my feet, playing peek a boo with the list of names of graduates from years past that are imprinted in the sidewalks.   I can smell the hot humidity of the summers, the juicy crispness of the falls, the heaviness of the winters, and the awakening vibrance of Spring.

Henry's new kicks.  Fitting for our adventure.
Henry’s new kicks. Fitting for our adventure.

I can remember all of my classes, my professors, walking to class with roommates, eating at the Student Union, waiting in lines forever with heavy books to purchase, and my all time favorite place…the library.   When I remember all of this, I have a sense of longing, of sadness, and happiness all bundled together.   Those years, at this wonderful University, were some of the best years of my life.

Getting his first ever tiger paw painted on his face.
Getting his first ever tiger paw painted on his face.

When my husband moved South from NY, I didn’t give him a choice of college teams to pull for.  If he wanted to date me, then he was a Clemson fan.   No questions, no debates.   That was the stipulation.   He didn’t argue.   Naturally, I’ve made sure my boys are Clemson fans as well.   I bought them Clemson gowns, hats, and booties to wear home from the hospital.   Their first stuffed animals were Clemson tigers.   They’ve had overalls, t-shirts, socks, jerseys, and hats.   I’ve even stood in line to get an autograph from C.J. Spiller for Davey.   My boys are Clemson all the way around.

Davey and Daddy enjoying the day.
Davey and Daddy enjoying the day.

This past Friday, my husband and I took them on an adventure.   We decided to go to the First Friday Parade.   We arrived two hours early, but traffic was still horrendous.   We parked down town, which allowed me the opportunity to visit some of my haunts, even if only through the windows.   From the moment we left the car, I listened to the bells of Tillman Hall chime a tune.   Louder and louder they rang as we walked closer until finally the beautiful tower was within my view, peering around overgrown oak trees.  I felt as if it were smiling down at me and saying, “Welcome home.”   Resting comfortable at its feet was Bowman Field, the original field for the football team, but a place now for sunbathers, Frisbee throwers, and picnickers.

Our future defensive line man.   Coach Swinney needs to check him out.
Our future defensive line man. Coach Swinney needs to check him out.

We set up our picnic in the shade of the trees right in front of Holtzendorff Hall.   I sat back on the blanket, camera in hand, and smiled as I watched my husband and sons, all decked out in orange, run and play on the field.  I clicked away, documenting the memories on my camera.   I took a brief respite from the picture taking to just really take things in, to tilt my head back and breath in that beautiful mountain air.   I was home again, well my second home, and it felt good.

Three of the most beautiful flags I've ever seen.
Three of the most beautiful flags I’ve ever seen.

I watched the new students walking around, briefly thinking that technically I’m old enough now to be their mother.   Yikes!   But really, I just smiled with happiness over being able to share this wonderfully magical place with not only my husband, but also our sons.   When I was a college student at Clemson, I NEVER wanted to have kids, so I never could imagine being back with two potential future Clemson students who shared my blood.

First Friday 2015.
First Friday 2015.

The parade was everything I remembered.  It was oozing orange, inflated with the spirit of Clemson University.   Tiger Rag and Clemson Cadence abounded everywhere.   Davey even managed to start his own cadence which everyone followed.   I could never put into words my overwhelming happiness from Friday.   Those of you who don’t know this university, or even those of you who hate it, will never understand how something like this can create such a sense of pride, happiness, respect, and fun.

Henry loved the band.
Henry loved the band.

Yes, Mr. Sherman, you were right…There IS something in these hills.  And I’m so glad to experience it.