Box 31; Clemson, SC 29633 with your return address.
On Sept. 16, 2006, some 3,654 days ago, Clemson’s Thomas Hunter heard the most wonderful sound...silence. No “War Chant.” No Seminole fight song. No hoof beats from Renegade. No spear throwing from Chief Osceola. That was the result of a 27-20 last-second win at No. 9 Florida State.
With members of the 2006 team back in Clemson for their 10-year reunion this afternoon, the game at Florida State will certainly be one that is retold more than once. A win that earned a tombstone just outside the indoor practice facility will always be a reminder of a landmark win on a late night in steamy Tallahassee.
Hunter started his career as a walk-on and later earned both a scholarship and starting spot at tight end for two of the biggest plays that would determine the first Tiger win in Tallahassee since 1989.
In what had been a back-and-forth contest, Clemson and Florida State were tied 20-20 with just 1:00 left. On a first-down play from near midfield, Clemson went on a quick count that had the Seminoles shifting all over the field. The end result was a 47-yard run by James Davis that put Clemson close to the goal line.
Then on third down from the one, Davis followed both Alex Pearson and Hunter into the endzone for a win that is still remembered by Hunter, his teammates and all Tiger fans.
Hunter, now an administrator at McLeod Health in Florence, S.C., can remember both key plays on that drive like they happened yesterday.
“Rob Spence (then Clemson offensive coordinator) had the perfect playcall on the first-down run that James Davis had for 47 yards,” said Hunter. “On film, our coaches had noticed they were slow getting their calls in and having their defense set. When Will Proctor got the snap, they were still looking to their sideline. James was in the secondary going down the sidelines before they knew what was going on.”
The third-down scoring call was also one that is still fresh in Hunter’s mind.
“It was third down and we were coming out of a timeout,” said Hunter. “As we were in the huddle, I told James to follow me and Alex Pearson. I told him he was going to score and we’re going back to Clemson happy.”
Brad Scott, who was the offensive line coach in 2006, knows how difficult it is for an opponent to win in Tallahassee. Scott was the offensive coordinator for Bobby Bowden from 1990-93. In 1993, the Seminoles won a national title.
“Winning in Tallahassee for an opponent is not an easy thing to do, just as it is here at Clemson,” said Scott. “The win that night meant a lot to so many Clemson people. I remember how happy that locker room was.”
Later in the year, Hunter and his teammates were a part of another first for Clemson. The win in Tallahassee propelled the Tigers to four consecutive wins leading up a top-15 showdown with Georgia Tech. Clemson was ranked No. 12 going into the contest, while the Yellow Jackets were No. 13. A game of this magnitude was big. But on the Sunday morning prior to the game, it grew in stature, as ESPN announced College GameDay would make its first-ever trip to Clemson.
Hunter and the other members of the team did not take part in all the activity on campus that Saturday morning, when 7,000 Tiger fans flooded sun-splashed Bowman Field for the largest on-campus ESPN College GameDay crowd at that point. When Lee Corso donned the Tiger headgear for his pick, Hunter and his teammates were going into meetings.
“I remember how much excitement there was on campus for the 8 p.m., kickoff,” recalled Hunter. “We wore all purple and it was a night game. That and having GameDay really had the crowd as loud as I had ever heard it.
“That night was a coming-out party for ‘Thunder’ (James Davis, who had 216 rushing yards) and ‘Lightning’ (C.J. Spiller, who had 116 rushing yards). Clemson was the center of the college football world that night.”
On October 29, there is a good chance Hunter and several other members of the 2006 team will be in the stands at Doak Campbell Stadium when Clemson and Florida State battle in a game with both conference and national implications. Some 10 years later, all will be hoping for the same sound of silence.