Nobody would blame a Clemson football fan if they believed in voodoo.
New Orleans has been a hellhole for Tiger football, especially over the last four seasons.
Clemson’s dreams of its third national championship in five seasons was squashed last night when Ohio State rolled to a stunningly easy 49-28 victory in the Sugar Bowl, the second College Football Playoff semifinal.
The Buckeyes, who played only five regular season games, then defeated Northwestern in the Big Ten Conference championship game, faces Alabama in Miami Gardens for the championship a week from Monday. The Crimson Tide had no trouble in rolling over Notre Dame 31-14 in the Rose Bowl, relocated from Pasadena to Arlington due to California’s ban on spectators at sporting events in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dabo Swinney’s Tigers are 6-5 in CFP games. They have been in college football’s version of the Final Four every year since 2015, the second year of the playoff.
Tonight’s loss dropped Clemson to 0-3 in CFP games in the Superdome. The Tigers lost 24-6 to Alabama in the 2017 semifinals and 42-25 to LSU in last year’s championship.
Clemson’s cursed history in the Big Easy goes back to the Tigers’ longest-tenured coach, the man who is honored prior to every Clemson home game.
Frank Howard was already a near-deity in South Carolina, and a living legend in the college football coaching ranks, in 1958. He was in his 19th season at Clemson, and by then, he established the Tigers as a southern stalwart, highlighted by an 11-0 campaign in 1948 which saw the Carolina Tigers defeat Don Faurot’s Missouri Tigers in the Gator Bowl.
What did an 11-0 record get Clemson in 1948? The No. 11 spot in the final Associated Press poll, which was taken prior to bowl games. The AP’s first post-bowl poll was in 1965, and it did not become permanent until 1968..
The Tigers were ranked eight spots behind North Carolina, which went 9-0-1 in the regular season before losing to Bud Wilkinson’s Oklahoma Sooners in the Sugar Bowl.
In 1948, North Carolina and Clemson were toiling in the Southern Conference, which was nothing more than a loose confederation of teams most in the Carolinas and Virginia, with Maryland the northern edge of the conference. There were big names like UNC, Clemson, South Carolina, North Carolina State and Maryland in the SoCon, but lesser lights like Washington and Lee, The Citadel, Virginia Military Institute (VMI) and Furman.
UNC and Clemson didn’t play in 1948. However, the Tigers defeated SEC members Mississippi State and Auburn away from Memorial Stadium, Boston College in Massachusetts and South Carolina in Columbia.
The Tar Heels rocketed to No. 2 after wins over Texas and Georgia, the latter in Athens. UNC hit the top spot after defeating Wake Forest, but somehow dropped two spots after a win over NC State. Then UNC beat LSU and Tennessee, the latter in Knoxville, but was tied 7-7 by William & Mary, which had a fine team and finished No. 20 in the final AP poll of 1948.
Should Clemson have been higher than No. 11? Absolutely. Not ahead of the top three (Michigan, Notre Dame, North Carolina), but no lower than No. 7, where 7-2 Northwestern resided.
Two years later, Clemson went 8-0-1 in the regular season and finished 10th in the final AP poll. The Tigers won their ninth game by defeating Miami on its own field in the Orange Bowl.
In 1953, the large schools from the SoCon formed the Atlantic Coast Conference. Clemson won its first ACC title in 1956 and a trip to the Orange Bowl, where it lost 27-21 to Colorado, which was not yet in the Big Eight. The Tigers went 7-3 in 1957, but only 4-3 in the ACC, and thus did not get invited to a bowl.
Howard’s 1958 squad started 4-0 and rose to No. 10 in the AP poll, but a 26-6 loss in Columbia to the Gamecocks dropped the Tigers nine spots. Clemson lost two weeks later to then-SEC member Georgia Tech in Atlanta before winning its last three regular season games vs. NC State, Boston College and Furman.
South Carolina, which lost to North Carolina two weeks before defeating Clemson, had the inside track to a bowl bid, but blew it by losing 10-6 to Maryland in College Park.
The Terrapins did the Tigers a huge favor. Clemson was then home free after winning in Raleigh. North Carolina took itself out of the running with losses to NC State and the Tigers in the first two weeks, and Duke lost its first two conference games to South Carolina and Virginia, the Cavaliers’ lone win of 1958.
Howard’s club climbed back into the rankings at No. 16 after the NC State game. His coaching cachet and Clemson’s rabid fan base was mighty appealing to the New Orleans Mid-Winter Sports Carnival, which was under pressure from Mayor deLesseps “Chep” Morrison, the City Council and the Louisiana Legislature to invite only all-white teams to Tulane Stadium.
The Sugar Bowl had to look only 80 miles west to find Clemson’s opponent.
One week after inviting LSU, the Bayou Bengals wrapped up the 1958 national championship by stomping Tulane 62-0 in New Orleans. Paul Dietzel’s White Team, Go Team and Chinese Bandits pillaged the Green Wave for 56 second half points, one record which survived Joe Burrow’s passing frenzy of 2019.
This was not Howard’s first rodeo in New Orleans. He took Clemson to Tulane Stadium to play the Green Wave four times between 1940 and 1946, coming away a loser three times. The lone Tiger win was 47-20 in 1945. Tulane was also 2-1 vs. Clemson prior to Howard’s arrival, leaving the Tigers 2-5 in the Crescent City prior to playing the Bayou Bengals.
Clemson was a decided underdog, facing the national champions in what amounted to a road game. Yet Howard, much like Swinney, had the Carolina Tigers loose and ready to roar. What did they have to lose?
It took a trick play, a halfback option pass from Billy Cannon to Mickey Mangham, for LSU to overcome its stubborn foe 7-0. The Bayou Bengals cemented their national championship without much complaint from the peanut gallery, even though Iowa was voted No. 1 in the Football Writers Association of America poll after the Hawkeyes crushed California 38-12 in the Rose Bowl. The Golden Bears haven’t returned to the Granddaddy of Them All, much as Chuck Munice and Aaron Rodgers tried.
Two years after the loss to LSU, a rock found in the real Death Valley was given to Howard by Clemson booster Samuel Jones. Howard used the rock as a door stop until 1966, when another booster, Gene Willimon, told the coach to do something with the rock or get rid of it. Howard took Willimon’s advice and placed it on the pedestal in the east end of Memorial Stadium.
Clemson did not rub the rock during the 1966 season, although in its first home game of that season, it rallied from an 18 point deficit vs. Virginia with 17 minutes left to win 40-35.
The next season, the tradition of rubbing the rock began. It actually ended in 1970 when Hootie Ingram succeeded Howard and continued through most of 1972. Ingram chose to have Clemson enter the stadium from the west end instead of the east.
Bad idea, Hootie.
Prior to the 1972 season finale vs. South Carolina, Ingram realized the Tigers were a putrid 6-9 at home under his leadership. He decided to have the team enter from the east end before facing Paul Dietzel’s Gamecocks.
Clemson won 7-6. The tradition carries on.
Back to Clemson and New Orleans.
After losing the Sugar Bowl to LSU, Clemson did not return to the Big Easy until 1981 to play Tulane in the Superdome. The Tigers won 13-5 (not a typo) en route to their first national championship, claimed with a 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the Orange Bowl.
Clemson left the Superdome last night with a humbling 3-8 lifetime mark in the Big Easy.
Two silver linings:
–The Superdome will have a new sponsor when Clemson returns. Mercedes-Benz’ naming rights deal expires later this year, and the German automaker will not renew the contract, due to its sponsorship of Atlanta’s stadium. Clemson’s three CFP losses came during this naming rights deal.
–Trevor Lawrence will only have to play in New Orleans once every eight years, since the Jaguars and Saints are in opposite conferences. If you think the Jaguars have a chance of playing in Super Bowl LIX following the 2024 season, I’ve got a beachfront condo in Russell to sell.
A rambling post about Clemson football. Foots Prints at its finest. Goodbye for now.
My first college football game as a fan in 25 years was unlike any college or professional sporting event I’ve attended.
I parked to the southeast of the stadium behind the Hearnes Center, Mizzou’s former basketball arena and current home for wrestling, gymnastics and many volleyball matches. The walk was not bad. My dad and I had longer walks when we went to LSU games in the 1990s.
Mobile ticketing has made life so much easier. I no longer have to worry about misplacing tickets. It also is much easier to guard against counterfeits tickets. I didn’t carry a bag, even though I bought a clear bag just in case. No metal detectors, which was surprising; they have been a way of life at big sporting events since the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.
I made the mistake of attempting to walk up stairs to the upper deck. Of course, a fat ass like me is in no shape to be walking all those stairs. I needed to sit down for a few minutes near the top. Once I ascended the last flight and into the seating area, I was fine.
I had no trouble with my seats being at the very top of the upper deck. I had a little shade because of a light canopy which arched over the back row, although I could feel the sun on my neck starting late in the first half.
I hated sitting in upper levels of outdoor stadiums when I was younger. My dad bought tickets in the upper deck for a 1992 Cardinals game at the old Busch Stadium, and it scared me. I couldn’t sit in the stands. I just wandered the concourse the whole game while my brother sat in the seats. That fear of heights left my dad and brother sitting in the ridiculously hot bleachers for two games at the Rangers’ home stadium instead of the upper deck behind home plate.
I was okay in domed stadiums, sitting near the top of the Astrodome and Superdome. I also recall a 2003 Pelicans (then known as the Hornets) game where my dad and I were at the very top of what is now the Smoothie King Center. Talk about a steep climb. But with a roof over my head, I was okay.
I have been to the top of Kauffman Stadium a couple of times, although my seats were in the lower level. I might try sitting up there for a game if fans are allowed in 2021.
In the row and section where my seats were, there were blocks of two seats which were labeled “allowed”, with four empty seats between. Previously, 22 people could be seated on that row; now, it was eight.
As it turned out, row 16 of section of 305 had one occupant. That’s right, your blogger. It was a weird experience being alone in a large stadium, but I didn’t mind. Nobody walking in front of me trying to get to the stairs. No conversation distracting me. No crying babies. No drunks. I could get used to this.
I remembered all the Royals games I’ve been to by myself. I should not have worried about going alone today. I enjoyed it. I kept myself busy by taking photos and texting my dad, Bill and Larry, with occasional shoutouts to Frank, Gordy Rush and Brenda. I also did the most posting on social media I have in awhile.
The game itself was quite exciting, although I would have preferred to see more defense. Those who made it to Faurot Field won’t soon forget this one.
LSU fans might WANT to forget it.
Mizzou, which was a 14 1/2-point underdog when the game kicked off at 11:07, won 45-41. That line was over 20 points when the game was scheduled for Baton Rouge, which tells me LSU would have been a 17 or 18 point favorite on a neutral field, as the home team usually has a three-point advantage in the sports books.
It turned into the coming out party for Mizzou quarterback Connor Bazelak. Making his second start, the redshirt freshman completed 29 of 34 for 406 yards and four touchdowns. Mizzou gained 586 yards two weeks after Mississippi State’s K.J. Costello, a Stanford expatriate, threw for an SEC-record 623 in Baton Rouge.
LSU’s Myles Brennan had to carry his team with 430 yards passing. The Bayou Bengals gained a meager 49 yards rushing on 20 carries. The yardage was bad, but to attempt to run only 20 times is unacceptable. LSU would never have dared to run that little under Nick Saban and Les Miles, or even the earlier years of Ed Orgeron’s tenure.
Frankly, Mizzou was the better team today. LSU was only this close because Mizzou lost three fumbles, one on a punt and another at its own 5-yard line. Those led to 17 points. Take those out, and LSU fans would have been out of Columbia much earlier.
It was Eli Drinkwitz’ first victory as Mizzou coach. Drinkwitz has gone from Appalachian State assistant to Appalachian State head coach to Mizzou coach in three seasons. Drinkwitz succeeded Scott Satterfield after he went to Louisville in early 2019. Some thought Mizzou should hire Tulane’s Willie Fritz, but athletic director Jim Sterk went fishing in Boone, N.C., figuring if it worked for Louisville it would for Mizzou.
Drinkwitz faces an uphill climb having to play Georgia and Florida every year, but the SEC is no cakewalk, even for Nick Saban. He’s got to have some coaching chops to be one of the elite 14 leading SEC programs. Unless something catastrophic happens, I would expect him to be leading Mizzou when LSU returns to Faurot Field in three years.
That’s right, LSU isn’t back in CoMo for three years. That sucks. I’ll explain in another post very soon, but let me get back to Russell first.
This had to be the first sporting event where I did not leave the seating area. I admit I moved down a few seats on the row to get out of the sun on my back, but once I arrived at my seat at 10:10, did not leave the area until the game ended at 14:45. No concession run, no restroom run. Two 900 ml bottles of water was enough hydration.
I’m overjoyed the game started at 11:00, not at 20:00 as originally planned. If it had started at 20:00, it would have ended at 23:45, and I wouldn’t have been back at the hotel until after midnight. I would have had little chance to make it back to Russell before late afternoon.
I hate to disagree with most LSU fans, but I prefer morning kickoffs. Get the game done and have time to either enjoy the evening or get a good night’s sleep.
Other than the result, it was an enjoyable day. In less than 16 hours, I’ll be back in Russell barring something unforeseen.
Going out of town today allowed my parents to be alone for their 50th anniversary. They weren’t able to do much due to the pandemic. They married only three months after their first (blind) date.
Time to get ready for bed. 0500 will come quickly. I’ve got salmon waiting for me in Russell.
In 16 hours, your lazy blogger will be in attendance at his first LSU football game in almost 17 years.
It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.
LSU and Missouri were not originally scheduled to play each other in 2020. The schools are in opposite divisions of the Southeastern Conference (which is stupid; I’ll get into that in another post), which means they play once every five years, as is the case with every school in the opposite division except one.
LSU’s designated permanent Eastern opponent is Florida, something which has pissed off every LSU coach and administrator since the SEC expanded in 1992 and split into divisions. LSU played Kentucky every year from 1992 through 2001, but in 2002, the SEC elected to cut the number of permanent cross-division rivalries from two to one. That meant Florida and Auburn had to end their yearly series which had been played every year since the 1940s, while LSU and Kentucky played every year from 1949 through 2001.
Missouri and Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012 from the Big 12. At first, the Tigers and Aggies were paired as permanent foes, but in 2014, the SEC saw the opportunity for a border war, and made Arkansas Mizzou’s permanent opponent from the West. South Carolina, which played the Razorbacks every year since the two joined the SEC, got Texas A&M.
LSU and Mizzou first played 1 October 2016 in Baton Rouge. It turned out to be Ed Orgeron’s first game as Bayou Bengal coach after Les Miles was fired six days earlier, four games into Miles’ 12th season. Mizzou also had a new coach, Barry Odom, who succeeded Gary Pinkel, who resigned after the 2015 season due to a cancer diagnosis. Pinkel coached Mizzou for 15 years, rebuilding the Tigers from a bottom feeder in the Big 12 back into a respectable program, not quite what it was under Dan Devine in the 1960s, but certainly not as wretched as it was under Woody Wiedenhofer, Bob Stull and Larry Smith from the mid-1980s through 2000.
The Bayou Bengals won 42-7 in a game most notable for a melee as the teams were leaving the field for halftime. Every person in uniform was charged wtih a fighting penalty, meaning if they received another unsportsmanlike conduct/personal foul penalty, they would be ejected and suspended for the next game.
The new rotation began in 2017 with LSU playing Tennessee in Knoxville, followed by Georgia at home, at Vanderbilt, and this year, vs. South Carolina in Baton Rouge. It was scheduled to be Kentucky in Lexington, Tennessee at home, and then Mizzou in Columbia in 2023.
Mizzou’s scheduled Western road game this year was Mississippi State; the Tigers were going to move their home game vs. Arkansas from Columbia to Kansas City. The game is back in Columbia due to COVID.
In August, the SEC decided to have its team play a 10-game, conference-only schedule. Most believed the league would simply take the next two cross-division opponents in rotation and place them on the schedule. For LSU, that would have meant Kentucky in Lexington and Tennessee in Baton Rouge; for Mizzou, it would have been Ole Miss in Columbia and Texas A&M in College Station.
SEC commissioner Greg Sankey and his administrative team, which includes my mentor, Herb Vincent, didn’t take that route, instead trying to balance out the schedules.
LSU, which obviously won the national championship in 2019, thus got the sixth- and seventh-placed teams from the SEC, Mizzou and Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, Mizzou, sixth in the East, got the #1 and #3 (Alabama) from the West (Auburn was second).
Mizzou lost its opener to Alabama at home, 38-19. LSU won 41-7 at Vanderbilt last week.
When LSU’s plane landed in Baton Rouge after midnight Sunday, plans were already in place for Mizzou’s second visit to Death Valley in five seasons. It was going to kick off at 20:00, which was the regular start time for LSU home games from the late 1940s through 1965.
Meanwhile, Mother Nature had a cauldron brewing in the far southern Gulf of Mexico which would throw everything into chaos.
Tropical Storm Delta formed Sunday, and havenby Monday afternoon, the storm was upgraded to a hurricane.
Tuesday morning, the National Hurricane Center in Miami released a sobering forecast for Louisiana.
The “cone of error” for Delta encompassed the entire Louisiana, with landfall between Morgan City and Grand Isle.
On that track, it would be next to impossible to fly into Baton Rouge after Thursday evening, and by Friday morning, LSU’s campus would be facing winds of upwards of 170 km/h and flooding rain. Mizzou might be able to get into town Thursday, but would they be stranded until Sunday and not be able to play?
Wednesday morning, the game was moved to Columbia. I decided I would go.
I made it to Columbia yesterday. Yet i’ve spent a lot of time burning up Interstate 70 between here and western St. Charles County.
I was dismayed to discover Columbia’s White Castle was closed yesterday and today. I would have to find something else to eat.
No way Jose.
I blew past Columbia and kept on trucking 130 km (80 miles) to Wentzville, the western edge of the St. Louis metro, to get my White Castle fix. It wasn’t until 20:30 that I got to the hotel.
Today, more of the same. Not only did I get my White Castle fixes, but I found a lot of goodies I haven’t been able to find in Russell, Hays, Salina or Kansas City.
I have not witnessed LSU play football since the evening of 4 January 2004. On that ridiculously warm and humid Sunday, the Bayou Bengals defeated Oklahoma 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl, giving LSU the Bowl Championship Series national championship, its first since 1958. The Bayou Bengals had to share the title with Southern California, which won the AP poll, but finished third in the final BCS poll after the regular season behind Oklahoma, which was destroyed by Kansas State in the Big 12 championship game, and LSU.
Since moving to Kansas, I’ve attended two forgettable college football games: Kansas 62, Southeastern Louisiana in Lawrence (8 September 2007) and Kansas State 45, North Texas 6 in Manhattan (30 August 2008). My dad and I went to the Jayhawk game; I was on assignment at the Wildcat game for the Smith County Pioneer, since former K-State All-American Mark Simoneau, a Smith Center native, was inducted into the Ring of Honor at Bill Snyder Family Stadium.
It will be a very interesting experience attending a college football game during the COVID-19 pandemic. There will be no more than 17,000 fans allowed into Memorial Stadium aka Faurot Field, masks must be worn, social distancing will be enforced, and LSU will not have its band, cheerleaders or radio broadcasters in attendance.
Lucky for me, I have plenty of yellow in my closet. I can wear something good and be completely neutral. It will be warm tomorrow, with an expected high of 29 Celsius (84 F), which will be close to the record for Columbia on 10 October.
I’ll report from CoMo in less than 24 hours. I promise. Have a good night and a better tomorrow.