The Girls on the Hill
By Sheryl McAlister
There are those time-honored traditions of college football Saturday. At least in these parts. Tailgating. Laughter. Wings. Pigs in a blanket. Cocktails. Friends.
I recently made my first trip back to Clemson’s Death Valley in a long, long time. And it was everything I hoped it would be. Fun. Good football. Laughter. And my friend, Lynn.
Lynn and I started attending Clemson football Saturdays when we were in college. We didn’t attend Clemson; we just loved the place and its traditions. So we adopted them as our own, orange pants and all. Over the years, I covered Clemson as a sports writer and attended a few games here and there. And then there was that great Rolling Stones concert in 1989. Smile.
Lynn, on the other hand, has gone all in. Tailgating, for the uninformed or not-so-inclined, is a ritual. A serious one. Packing the car on Friday. Checking the weather to determine if rain tents are needed. Checking the temperature to determine if heaters or fans are needed. Having enough ice to keep the beer cold and enough clean ice to mix other beverages. Chairs. Television. (That’s for watching the other college football games until the one you paid to see started 7 hours later.)
HDMI cords. (She forgot that one.) It was funny, but you had to be there.
Loved her friends — the Girls on Cemetery Hill. And loved her Clemson tailgate friends that make up this family of fans who gather together because of their love for Clemson football. They share food, fellowship, football and cocktails. There isn’t a good F-word to describe that particular tradition of college football Saturday.
There was Christine who greeted us at 1 pm with her version of a Bushwacker. (Google it and then get creative with additional ingredients.) Day-um. Christine didn’t go to Clemson either. Just fell in love with the place like the rest of us.
There was Deborah who blew the whistle every 45 minutes. That was the signal for all over the age of 21 to gather in the center of the lot on Cemetery Hill, grab a shot glass and hold steady. No premature drinking, someone in the crowd shouted. Only after Deborah led us through the Clemson fight song was it clear that everyone could drink. I was uninformed of this ritual and was nearly kicked off the hill for chugging too soon.
For the girls on Cemetery Hill, the walk to the game was a short one. The lines to get into the stadium were shorter and hassle-free. The band was terrific. Free water stations were set up inside the stadium so fans didn’t have to shell out five bucks for a bottle of water. The coaches played a bunch of kids in a game that was sure to be a blowout. Veterans were applauded. Howard’s Rock… well, that’s a story all by itself. The traditions of excellence were everywhere on display.
The winning tradition that is Clemson football is special. Built over decades of inclusiveness and an inability to settle for anything less than excellence. The fans know it in their bones. Even if they had no other connection to Clemson than a tailgate party they kept showing up for year after year. All-In.
I met more people who didn’t attend Clemson than did. It didn’t surprise me really. I fell in love with the place in college and again during the 1980s when I covered the sport for a South Carolina newspaper. The folks there, including former coach Danny Ford, were incredibly kind to a young sports writer who had more to learn than they had time to teach. Clemson has held a special place in my heart ever since.
Funny thing, traditions and old friends. As the years pass, they become non-negotiable. We rely on them. Cherish them more, somehow. If we are lucky enough to have a friend for 40 years, we are lucky enough. A chance meeting with Lynn in college led to a lifetime of friendship, that’s included a passion for Clemson football.
All-in, my friend. All-in.
Copyright 2019. © Sheryl McAlister.