Clemson vs. South Carolina: One Fan’s Perspective
By Sheryl McAlister, a writer based in South Carolina
This sentiment has been repeated so many times, but I’m pretty sure it was Maya Angelou who originally said: “People will forget what you said; people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Which is why I’m pulling for Clemson to win the annual, unofficial, South Carolina state championship of college football tomorrow on Rivalry Saturday across the country.
It has been well reported that the last time Clemson did what it’s doing right now was 1981, and the coach was Danny Ford. That team went undefeated and won the national championship. Clemson’s head coach from 1978-89, Coach Ford has been quoted a few times about this year’s team, and thinks this group stacks up with his 1981 champs.
My experience with Clemson started in college. I went to Columbia College, a women’s liberal arts college, and my friend, Lynn, and I made many a trip to Clemson on football weekends. In fact, she’s still a season-ticket holder at Death Valley. Unlike me, Lynn is not prone to hyperbole. But even she has gotten more than a little excited about the journey this team and its fans are on.
Back then, I had orange pants, shoes, hats…. ridiculous, actually. Try wearing those out to a bar in Columbia during football season in the early ‘80s and see how many drinks are thrown on you.
My fan-dom was one thing. My deep appreciation for the way Clemson football runs its business was altogether different.
I was just out of college and had accepted my first job as a sports writer for an afternoon daily called The Aiken Standard. Covering college football was heady stuff, even then. I covered USC football as well as Clemson. This was back in the day before women had equal access, and only a decade after Title IX passed.
Access to USC’s players — for a female sports reporter — constituted waiting under the stadium in the area outside where the girlfriends and parents awaited their respective player. By then, the players were ready to leave – not provide another interview.
Access to Clemson’s players and coaches was a different, and fair, experience.
The late Bob Bradley was the sports information director at Clemson back then, and he treated me as fairly as I’ve ever been treated. His young associate, Tim Bourret, followed Mr. Bradley’s lead. While at the time there were no separate interviewing facilities for women, they provided me a section of the post-game interview room to conduct my interviews. Mr. Bradley would ask me for a list of players, and I would provide them. I tried not to take advantage since there were others waiting inside the locker room. But I didn’t hold back any requests, either.
And Mr. Bradley didn’t make me wait. I could conduct my business on the same schedule as my male counterparts.
Little wonder Mr. Bradley was so widely revered. He was SID at Clemson for 45 years, received too many honors to list and holds a place in the College Sports Information Directors’ Hall of Fame. The press box at Clemson is named for Mr. Bradley. Bourret, who joined the Clemson SID team in 1978, is still a widely respected leader in Clemson sports information.
Coach Ford treated me no differently than Mr. Bradley and Bourret.
Before every football season, I would drive to Clemson to have a 1-on-1 interview with Coach Ford. The piece was for our annual football edition, and Coach Ford was always a good interview and an interesting subject. I vividly remember sitting in his office, asking him my questions. He was funny. He was kind. He was generous with his time. He was respectful of a novice reporter who knew far less about this game than most veterans covering his team.
He never rushed me through my time with him. I’m sure I amused him, so he was probably relieved I was such a lightweight compared to others.
He and Mr. Bradley didn’t have to oblige my request for an interview. Clemson was, after all, on the heels of winning a national championship and Coach Ford being named National Coach of the Year. They could have politely declined. They could have not politely declined.
They didn’t. They obliged.
Sports writers are not supposed to become fans. But in those times when I covered Clemson football and Clemson coaches, this one did. For life.
So tomorrow, I hope the Tigers leave Columbia with a 12-0 record and continue on the road to another national championship. I truly like USC’s interim coach, Shawn Elliott, who has shown tremendous grace in an untenable situation. But I’m pulling for the Tigers to win.
Incidentally, I’m a Carolina Panthers fan also.
Ohhhh! What a feeling.
Copyright © 2015 Sheryl McAlister