Once in a Generation | Clemson vs. Notre Dame | by Drew Carlisle

Hill_run_ND_CU{Photo Credit: Lauren Cop}

In the week leading up to Saturday’s titanic clash between Notre Dame and Clemson, there was a sense that the magnitude and atmosphere were too great for any of us to understand. Several variables were converging perfectly to make this an unprecedented event: the return of one of college football’s most storied and celebrated programs for the first time in nearly four decades; the skepticism from national pundits and fans across the country of Clemson’s legitimacy as one of college football’s elite; the swirling excitement generated through the selection from ESPN’s College GameDay and SportsCenter On the Road; the sixteen days of dormancy for Clemson’s squad with a bye-week that followed a Thursday night road trip to Louisville; and of course, the inexplicable, apocalyptic weather conditions that would ultimately reach their precipice during the course of the competition. The anticipation of this game was a once-a-generation type of scenario for the orange-clad faithful.

Drew_Jeff_Back{Photo Credit: Lauren Cop}

The excitement of this matchup was evident throughout the offseason – ticket prices ballooned from the onset, reaching their height at an average prices northward of $300 before a recession shortly before the game when it became apparent that the abysmal weather was inevitable. When Notre Dame and Clemson had last faced off, the two programs were both vying for national attention. Notre Dame was seeking to add to their illustrious hardware collection, having won the national title less than two years prior following the 1977 season – which also hosted the first-ever matchup between these two squads. Clemson was a program aspiring to rise to the top under the guidance of a young new coach named Danny Ford. Many parallels can be made to the present-day matchup – a youthful coach, Dabo Swinney, trying to elevate Clemson’s national perception and legitimize Clemson as one of the nation’s elite; a Notre Dame squad who’d competed in the Championship, albeit unsuccessfully, just three years prior; and a general sense that this presented one of the most exciting and implicating matchups of the young season.


{ Photo Credit: Tyler Smith | Getty Images}

While there were prognostications from both perspectives throughout the country, the general consensus seemed to slightly favor the Fighting Irish. Those who expected Clemson to win undermined that prediction by citing all of the injuries that Notre Dame had suffered this season, seemingly disregarding the rash of attrition Clemson had also suffered simply because it wasn’t at the “sexier” positions. Nevertheless, Clemson had arguably suffered equitable losses at key positions, most notably the offensive line, linebacker and defensive end. Predictions of a Notre Dame victory declared Clemson as over-matched pretenders that would be posterized by Notre Dame’s superiority in the trenches. With a few exceptions, most didn’t seem to give Clemson a chance, and those who did provided preconceived excuses for Notre Dame’s underperformance.

This would only be the fourth time that Clemson had played host to the College GameDay crew in the history of the show, so that in and of itself had elevated the excitement and anticipation beyond the notoriety of the opponent. Through two occasions in 2013, Clemson had proven to be an exceptional and memorable host, and they would once again exceed expectations. Despite treacherous weather and nearly twelve hours between the start of GameDay and the primetime kickoff, fans provided an excellent showing, prompting the admiration and commendation from ESPN’s Kirk Herbstreit on air:

“Can I just turn around and mention these guys for being out here? I don’t know how many inches of rain we’ve had here… I thought we might have five people out here, but we’ve got thousands and it just speaks volumes about this fan base and how great they are.”

ESPN’s Samantha Ponder was also highly complimentary of the Clemson hospitality as she reflected on her visit on Twitter:

“Most fun I’ve had at (College GameDay) in 4 years despite the terrible weather! This place should be on every (college football) fan’s #bucketlist.”

The impressive turnout would set the tone for the course of the day.

Tiger_Onesie{Photo Credit: Lauren Cop}

Truth be told, this team, the fanbase, and everyone surrounding this program feels slighted about the perception of this program outside of the Upstate. Despite impressive consistency against inferior opponents in recent years, the “Clemsoning” moniker has continued to taint the program’s reputation and color the program as an under-performer. A sober review of the program disproves that misnomer: 30 straight wins over unranked opponents; multiple consecutive seasons accomplishing a higher final ranking than their preseason assessment; recent victories over national powerhouses like Auburn, Georgia, LSU, Ohio State, and Oklahoma; and four straight years tallying double-digit win totals. Nevertheless, Clemson continued to be labeled a paper champion, unworthy of being considered among the premier programs in the country – a misconception that creates great unrest and frustration within the passionate and devoted fanbase, who are beyond ready to retire the term – and the belief – alike.


{Photo Credit: Lauren James}

So with all the hoopla, with all the excitement and anticipation and pageantry and national discussion, with the national doubt and skepticism and with the nation’s attention honed in on the Upstate of South Carolina, Clemson Nation seized its opportunity. No amount of weather – even a once-a-millennium storm that incessantly pounded the entire state with unimaginable quantities of precipitation – would dissuade the fanbase from showing out for their team. They congregated for GameDay, romping through the mud and braving the weather; they tailgated through the wind and rain, despite ruthless gusts that repeatedly sent tents toppling through parking lots; they endured and persevered, and when game time arrived, they filled the stadium despite the driving, unforgiving downpour. Following the example of their coach and team, they refused to validate the outside expectations. They demonstrated mental toughness, determination and teamwork and contributed in whatever way possible to fulfill their duty. They filled the stadium. They cheered. They disrupted. They celebrated. They showed out.

CUvND1{Photo taken through the safety of a ziploc bag – pardon the slight blur | Lauren James}

And they were rewarded with a gutsy, resolute performance from their Tigers. Although Clemson’s grip slipped in the final quarter and the game became much closer than the orange-clad audience would have liked, the team did not give in. A decade before, when Clemsoning was a reality, this team would have likely fallen victim of their previous reputation. But those days are gone, and a new mentality – a new expectation – has been instilled. This team has vanquished the skeletons of its predecessors. And through all of the adversity they faced on this apocalyptic Saturday, the entire Clemson populous willed the obliteration of the aforementioned reputation. In a seemingly endless sequence of opportunities for Clemsoning to materialize, this Clemson team consistently – inexplicably – quashed each instance. For every “Clemsoning” in their history, they seemingly offset them by overcoming adversities amid the deluge against the Golden Domers under the lights in Death Valley.

The truth is, what unfolded on Saturday will be immortalized in Clemson lore regardless of how this season unfolds. If luck falls Clemson’s way and some fortune continues to land in Clemson’s favor, this could prove to be a magical season and this may be viewed, in retrospect, as the catalyst that inspired the team to greater heights. Only time will tell if that’s the case, and Clemson certainly still has much improvement to be done before they are ready to reach the precipice of the College Football world. Nevertheless, expectations as of now are pretty high in Tiger Town, and justifiably so. No matter how this season transpires, those that were in attendance this weekend will tell the story for decades about the driving wind, the relentless rain, a rabid, rowdy fanbase, and a team of young men who would not be refused.

This was a once-in-a-generation game. If you were there, soak up the memory, because you’ll be telling your grandchildren about it decades from now.


{Photo Credit: Lauren Cop}

Drew Carlisle is the  Mid-Atlantic Regional Field Manager of GradImages, Clemson Alumni (’07) and fan, creative writer and father to two adorable girls. He is husband to Lauren Cop, featured writer, and brother to Lauren James.

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{Photo Credit: Lauren Cop}

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