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HOW IT ALL STARTED
One of the most celebrated entrances in sports is Clemson’s tradition of rubbing Howard’s Rock and running down the Hill. Described as “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football” by Brent Musburger in 1985, it all started due to basic geography with the playing of the first game on Sept. 19, 1942.
The 40 Tigers on the 1942 sophomore-dominated team (many upperclassmen had been drafted into the military in 1941) dressed in the basement of Fike Fieldhouse, which is still standing just a few yards across the street and up the Hill from the east endzone.
The team walked down Williamson Road, entered the stadium and went diagonally across the Hill to the Clemson sideline. When the team arrived, the fans in attendance stood up and cheered. The team did calisthenics and pregame warmups, and then the game started an hour later.
Little did the 1942 edition of the Tiger football team know that an insignificant run down a hill to the field established a nationally recognized tradition that September afternoon.
On gameday, work on the stadium was still ongoing.
“The thing I remember most was that we hung the gates at 1 p.m., and played at 2 p.m.,” said head coach Frank Howard. “We barely finished the stadium in time to have the game.”
Howard gave his team an inspiring mission during his pregame talk according to the late Bill Hunter, who was a freshman on that team.
“Coach Howard said, 'Boys, this is the first game in the new stadium. Clemson will be playing on this field for many years to come. I want us to form a reputation that nobody wants to play at Clemson. I want to win all of them on this field.’”
The extremely enthused Tiger squad used some geometry and unknowingly began the greatest of Clemson traditions.
“We got dressed and came out of Fike Fieldhouse,” recalled Hunter. “The closest way to the stadium was the Hill, so we came down the street and ran down the bank the closest way...not down the middle like they do now, but diagonally from the top left corner of the Hill towards our sideline.
“The first time, it was exciting to have those Clemson people there. Our fans stood up and hollered. That made you feel good.”
The determined Tigers had an easy time winning over Presbyterian College that day. Butch Butler gained 192 yards for the Tigers to lead the cause. He scored the first points at Memorial Stadium, bolting 75 yards in the first quarter for a touchdown.
The Tigers were proud after that game, according to Hunter.
“We were mighty glad about winning that first game. We talked about that tradition coach Howard had discussed. Charles Wright and Hawk Craig, who were the captains, spoke about that winning home tradition.”
WHO WAS SAM JONES?
Samuel Columbus Jones, a Clemson alumnus, picked up a rock in Death Valley, Calif., on the side of the road and gave the token to his friend, Howard, in the mid 1960s. It was a simple gesture that would have profound effects on the program within a few short months.
Little did Jones know that this small act of giving would lead to so much publicity and recognition for his beloved school. He had no idea that the rock he brought back across the United States in his little red Ford Falcon would be such a national legacy and be an object of admiration for thousands of Tiger fans.
His love for the school was obvious from the start. He graduated from Clemson in 1919 after an active career in the corps of cadets and as a student journalist. He obtained the rank of captain and was editor in chief of The Chronicle, Clemson’s literary paper. While at Clemson, he was a member of the track team, where he was called “Swifty,” a nickname that followed him throughout his life. He also had the distinction of being one of the charter members of IPTAY.
Jones taught agriculture and was a land appraiser who worked with Clemson University in the purchasing of land. His last 20 years of work were with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. He was a U.S. Army veteran of World War I and was a former president of the South Carolina Retired Federal Employees Association.
In the mid 1960s, Jones gave the rock to Howard. It was presented to Howard with Jones, saying, “Here's a rock from Death Valley, California to Death Valley, South Carolina.”
Howard used the rock as a doorstop in his office for several months. In the summer of 1966, while cleaning out his office, Howard noticed the rock and told IPTAY executive director Gene Willimon, “take this rock and throw it over the fence or out in the ditch...do something with it, but get it out of my office.”
It was also said that Howard tripped over the rock, so he wanted the rock to be removed quickly.
Luckily, Willimon thought that rock should be treated better than that, especially one from Death Valley, Calif., that was given to Howard by a loyal Tiger fan.
So Willimon had the rock placed on a concrete pedestal at the top of the Hill.
HOWARD'S ROCK DEBUT
On Sept. 24, 1966, Howard’s Rock was firmly in place for the first time as the Tigers ran down the Hill. But the team did not rub the Rock before making the run prior to the Virginia game.
Clemson was defending co-champion of the ACC, and the outlook for 1966 was bright. The Tigers had never lost to Virginia on the gridiron, so the Clemson fans and players were excited about the start of the season.
But the start of that game was not very good for the home team. Clemson lost five fumbles and gave up 429 yards of total offense to the Cavaliers, who were coming off a 4-6 season. Clemson had some early success behind quarterback Jimmy Addison, the rushing of Buddy Gore and a 68-yard punt return by Frank Liberatore, but Virginia held a 35-18 lead with 3:06 remaining in the third quarter. Virginia quarterback Bob Davis was picking the Tiger secondary apart.
Clemson mounted a comeback in the fourth quarter. Edgar McGee, Phil Rogers and Wayne Bell had key receptions to bring Clemson to a 35-33 deficit with approximately five minutes left to play.
Faced with a third down and short yardage on its own 25, Addison made the play of the day.
“We called a pass play that had resulted in several completions to our split end, Wayne Bell, in an earlier game,” explained Addison.
“Wayne found an open spot between the linebackers, and the Virginia cornerback came from his deep position to cover him. Jacky Jackson, who had run from his tailback position down the left sideline, was open and made a beautiful catch behind that cornerback and outran the safety to the endzone.”
That 75-yard scoring play gave the Tigers a 40-35 lead with 3:49 left, and it proved to be the winning touchdown.
“I thought I had overthrown Jackson, but he put it in second gear and ran underneath the pass,” added Addison.
However, the Cavaliers had one more chance and Davis marched Virginia down the field. With 1:49 left in the game, he had a second-and-10 on the Tiger 14. But his pass was intercepted by Phil Marion, and the Tigers ran out the clock.
How amazing was the performance of the respective quarterbacks? Addison was the AP Back-of-the-Week, while Davis was named Sports Illustrated Back-of-the-Week. It is probably the only time two opposing players in the same game have been named national players-of-the-week in college football history.
Davis set the ACC record for pass attempts and completions in the game, records that have since been broken. He was 26-48 passing for 312 yards, while Addison was 12-19 passing for 283 yards and three touchdowns.
“As someone suggested on the sideline during the fourth quarter, the university should have run everyone out of the stadium before the fourth quarter and made them pay to re-enter,” laughed Addison.
It was truly a game worth two admissions. It was a great way to christen Howard’s Rock.
RUBBING THE ROCK
At some point during the 1966 season, Howard referred to the Rock as Howard’s Rock. The tradition really took off the next season.
On the Friday before the 1967 home opener against Wake Forest, Howard told his players that if they touched the Rock before running down the Hill, they would receive supernatural powers.
Howard also told the Tigers, “If you give me 110-percent effort, you can touch the Rock, but if you don’t, keep your filthy hands off of my Rock.”
The next day, Howard told the story on his weekly television show, and the media picked up on it. Thanks to the genius of sports information director Bob Bradley, that story spread nationally. He told it to anyone who would listen. It helped that Howard coached Clemson to its third straight ACC title that year.
How many games have been won because of the Rock? We may never know. Jones’ gift was one-of-a-kind and has withstood the test of time.
“He would have never thought the Rock he gave to coach Howard would have become so famous,” said Jones’ daughter, Celana Massey.
“He always said Clemson was special and meant so much to him. He told me that when he picked up the Rock in Death Valley, Calif., it was very hot and he had to use two handkerchiefs to pick it up and put it in the car.”
Jones’ grandson, Gary Massey, who played football at Clemson in the mid 1980s, remembers his grandfather as a special gentleman.
“I’m really proud of my grandfather,” said Massey. “When I was in school, he lived at the Clemson House and I enjoyed visiting him. He was a special man and did so many interesting things in his life.”
It would be safe to say that pulling off the side of the road in the desert that day in the mid 1960s and picking up a few rocks was one of the events that Jones never knew would be so important to Clemson.
Jones died on July 16, 1990 and is buried in the cemetery at Old Stone Church in nearby Pendleton. In his life, he accomplished many things, and one of the most famous was giving the gift of a rock to Howard.
BEN ANDERSON'S IDEA
The history of Clemson’s famous entrance is well documented, and the names Frank Howard and Gene Willimon have been prominently mentioned earlier in this story. But one former Tiger deserves much of the credit for the tradition as it exists today.
Ben Anderson came to Clemson as a student in 1969 and walked on to the football team. He impressed the coaches immediately and started all 33 games in his Tiger career (freshmen were ineligible), one of the few walk-ons in program history to start every game in his career.
In 1970, Clemson opened a new dressing room in the west endzone. Because it was now inside the stadium, running down the Hill was no longer the most efficient way to get to the field. So that year, the team began entering the field from that new locker room door. So for the home games of 1970, 1971 and the first four of 1972, that is how Clemson got to the field.
Prior to his final game as a senior in 1972, Anderson, a three-time Academic All-ACC selection and second-team Academic All-American, led a small group of seniors to head coach Hootie Ingram’s office the week of the South Carolina game, the final contest of Anderson’s career. One of the players who attended the meeting was teammate Bobby Johnson, who went on to a long coaching career and is now a member of the College Football Playoff committee.
Anderson died of lung cancer at the age of 63 on May 16, 2015 after a five-year battle, and Johnson, his close friend for 46 years, gave a memorable eulogy at Anderson’s funeral.
“I want to set the record straight,” said Johnson. “It was Ben Anderson who said we should run down the Hill for our final game. I went along to the meeting as support, but this was all Ben’s idea. He had it all planned out. It was like he was trying his first law case in front of a judge.”
Ingram liked the idea and then worked with administrators on the plan to bring the team around the stadium on buses to the top of the Hill just before kickoff.
When Clemson had run down the Hill from 1942-69, it was not quite as celebrated, because the team did that entrance for pregame warmups, over an hour prior to the game.
The pregame tradition did not occur just minutes before kickoff until that 1972 South Carolina contest, and that important aspect of the tradition was Anderson’s idea. The Tigers went on to defeat South Carolina 7-6 that rainy afternoon.
In the spring of 1973, Anderson received the ACC’s Jim Weaver Award as the outstanding student-athlete in any sport. He was also the recipient of Clemson’s Norris Award, given to the top all-around student in the school, and Frank Howard Award, given to a student-athlete for bringing honor to Clemson. He was inducted into the Clemson Hall of Fame in 1997.
Towards the end of his eulogy, Johnson said this to the congregation gathered at Tillman Hall.
“Every time you experience that tradition, think of Ben Anderson.”