November 30, 2004
CLEMSON Tommy Bowden tried to warn them, but they didn't listen. The end result? Clemson was spared from having to spend money to send its football team to a fourth-rate bowl game.
Before the South Carolina game on Nov. 20, Bowden said he warned his team to avoid confrontations with the Gamecocks. But several South Carolina players "greeted" the Tigers at the bottom of the hill before the game at Death Valley, and the rest is history.
The SEC officiating crew did the best job it could, trying to control the game without throwing flags or ejecting players. In hindsight, the crew should have handed out personal foul penalties early in the game to calm down both teams.
Clemson dominated South Carolina for a second straight season. The Gamecocks fumbled the opening kickoff and were never a serious threat. The Tigers were physically dominant on both sides of the ball.
South Carolina's frustration finally boiled over with 5:48 remaining in the game. A scrum started near the middle of the field. Who started it is a matter of great debate and little importance. From that point, it turned into an embarrassing melee. Players squared off against each other, and there were numerous punches and kicks. There was thuggish behavior on both sides. Undoubtedly, it was one of the darkest days in the history of college football in the Palmetto State.
Sports fans throughout the country have seen the picture of Clemson tailback Yusef Kelly with his foot raised over a helmet-less South Carolina player. The Associated Press pictures even appeared in the New York Times. Insiders said Kelly's parents threatened to sue because of the photo. They claim Kelly tripped over the South Carolina player.
During the brawl, Kelly grabbed a South Carolina helmet and tossed it into the stands. After the game, he said he hoped he had given Clemson fans something to remember him by. He did provide a memory, but it's one most sensible fans are trying to erase.
Both Bowden and South Carolina coach Lou Holtz apologized for the behavior of their teams in the aftermath, but it was too late. The hooligans were out of the bag. Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips and South Carolina AD Mike McGee both knew something had to be done to address the situation. Both also knew that if they didn't do something, the ACC and SEC would hand out penalties.
Word that passing on a bowl game was a possibility started leaking out on Sunday night. Continental Tire Bowl officials were giving serious consideration to the Tigers before receiving word that they were no longer an option.
Phillips: "Extremely Difficult Decision"
Throughout the day Monday, word started circulating around the state that both schools were going to pass on bowl games. At 4:15 p.m., Clemson released a statement. At 5 p.m., South Carolina held a press conference. Clemson followed with a press conference at 6:30.
According to insiders, Phillips had asked Bowden to tell the team, but Bowden refused. So Phillips went into a team meeting and told the players there was going to be no bowl game. Several insiders said the players, who were not allowed to talk to the media, were shocked and angry. There also were reports that many of the players did not want to go back to Boise, in part because the bowl required an arrival date of Dec. 23.
Phillips, a former player at Arkansas and an assistant coach at several schools, labored during the 30-minute press conference. It was obvious that he had not had much rest and that the decision he had made was a difficult one. But it also was the right one. The bottom line may be a shock to numerous fans, but here it is: Clemson University is more important than Clemson football.
"We've got good youngsters, but sometimes good youngsters make bad decisions," Phillips said. "There's a line you can't step over. ... I really struggled with this. It's not just a football issue. It's about what Clemson stands for."
The reaction was swift and immediate. Clemson internet boards blew up. There was talk of protests and dropping out of IPTAY. Most of the orange-clad whiners wanted Phillips fired, Clemson president James Barker fired or both fired. There was whining about punishing the innocent players, the fans, the band, the cheerleaders, etc. What about extra practice time? Recruiting?
"I can't worry," Phillips said, "about what (the fans) do, say, or think."
There was talk of the decision being purely financial, meaning Clemson passed on the bowl game because it would have made just a small profit or lost money.
"This was not about money," Phillips said. "It was the right thing to do."
When asked if he would have made the same decision with a BCS bowl bid on the line, Phillips, who is an attorney, didn't bite.
"This decision," he said, "was made on the circumstances we had to deal with."
Showing that he's a stand-up guy, Phillips attended Clemson's home basketball game on Wednesday wearing an orange shirt. Good for him. There's no need to hide when you do the right thing. The fans who attacked Phillips on the radio talk shows, by e-mail, by snail mail, or on the internet boards should be ashamed of themselves.
Something Cooking For Purnell?
They probably won't be able to play this way once the "real" games start, but the Clemson basketball team is starting to show coach Oliver Purnell's style.
With more athletes on the floor, Purnell has his team playing a 94-foot game. The Tigers are using a variety of presses and are jumping into a trap once the ball passes midcourt. With more quickness up front and shotblockers Sharrod Ford and Akin Akingbala in the back, the Tigers are starting to create more offense off their defense.
In the second game of the season, Purnell started a three-guard lineup junior Shawan Robinson, sophomore Vernon Hamilton and freshman Cliff Hammonds along with Ford and Akingbala. Purnell said his goal is to keep one point guard and one big man rested at all times, then bring in freshman wing players James Mays and Cheyenne Moore to help increase the tempo.
"They're at a disadvantage this year," said UNC Asheville head coach Eddie Biedenbach, after his team lost to the Tigers 78-59 on Nov. 23. "Can they compete? Yes. Can they beat Georgia Tech or Wake Forest on a given night? Yes. But they're going to have to play better than they played against us. On the road, they're going to have a tough time, but they're a good team with a wonderful attitude. You don't see a lot of strange expressions."