I moved to South Carolina from North Carolina about thirty years ago. Now there are a lot of differences between the North and the South Carolina’s, a whole lot of differences, but none are bigger than which ball is most important. In North Carolina the ball is a basketball end of story. Think about it, when you have three universities, NC State, UNC and Duke, that have won the NCAA National Championship a combined twelve times you understand what’s important to NC sports fans. And when a state has pro basketball alumni such as Jerry Stackhouse, David Thompson, James Worthy and some guy named Michael Jordan what do you think the ten-year old me is playing in his backyard? Basketball.
Now, all of these North Carolina, ACC schools have football teams but a quick stroll around their campuses will tell you which sport is most important by comparing the size of their football stadium to their basketball arena. Honestly, in South Carolina, some of our high school football stadiums are bigger than many of the NC university stadiums. So thirty years ago that was my vantage point. I was a basketball guy moving to a football state and it was a hard transition.
We have two football colleges here, Clemson and South Carolina and you have to support one and hate the other. No fence-sitting, no if’s or buts, you support one team and pull for whoever is playing against the other that week. It can get pretty chippy during the season between fans of each school which ends with both teams playing each other. So I had to pick a team thirty years ago. It didn’t matter that I didn’t attend either one, I had to pick one, or better yet, I was forced to pick one.
In the early 90’s my alma mater, Appalachian State, yes the same ASU that won three consecutive Division I National Championships and beat Michigan, at home in The Big House, opened their football season against Clemson. Clemson killed us 34-0. I went dressed head to toe as an ASU fan that day but left a Clemson fan. I was hooked. My wife was hooked, the two-year old daughter who sweated in her dad’s lap on that hot September day didn’t know it then but she would be hooked as a freshman sixteen years later.
No, I didn’t attend Clemson, I did something better, I paid for someone to get their undergrad and masters degree from Clemson University. I didn’t get the ring but I paid for one. I am more than just a fan, I am a vested and invested fan of a school that just won its second national championship. Today I wear orange, because today, through all the ups and downs and heart breaks, it’s a good day to be a Tiger!
“I want to be there so I can hear all them people cheering my Tigers on Saturdays. Then I won’t have to go to heaven. I’ll already be there.” – Legendary Clemson football coach Frank Howard on why he wanted to be buried on Cemetery Hill just above the football stadium