Woody McCorvey, an assistant coach at the time, was in shock when he and the rest of the Clemson football team walked into the locker room and saw the famed orange pants sitting in each of the players’ lockers.
The Tigers had just returned from pregame warm ups as they prepared to play South Carolina at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia that night on November 18, 1989.
“That was something that was very uncharacteristic of what Coach (Danny) Ford did because it was always a tradition that we wore them at home,” said McCorvey, who is now an Associate Athletic Director for Football Administration at Clemson. “The only other time they wore them on the road was when they won the national championship in 1981.”
Clemson had not worn orange pants since losing to Florida State in 1988, a game that is known as “Puntrooski.” Ford would only allow them to be pulled out for what were deemed special games. He used them as motivation, and it worked.
Clemson was 15-2 at the time in the orange pants, which first debuted in a 27-6 victory over South Carolina in 1980. The two losses were a one-point defeat by the Gamecocks in 1984 and the three-point loss to the Seminoles in 1988.
The Tigers would have to earn the right to wear orange pants by the way they practiced. The seniors would request to wear the special britches the Monday before a big game, but players never knew if they would get to wear them until they came in from pregame warm ups.
McCorvey remembers the emotions in the locker room that night in Columbia when the players saw the pants.
“When we went back into the locker room and saw that they were out, it went crazy in there,” he said. “You could not believe the sense of the locker room when those kids saw those pants. We went back out there and played with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of emotion.
“It was pretty much a complete ballgame by us that night.”
The Tigers rushed for 335 yards and finished the night with 446 total yards in a 45-0 victory. The defense held the Gamecocks to 155 total yards, while forcing five turnovers in the series’ last shutout.
“Clemson played a perfect game,” then South Carolina head coach Sparky Woods said. “I think the turning point took place when we kicked off. We just got beat throughout the entire game.”
The 15th-ranked Tigers scored on their first four possessions, while totaling 302 yards before halftime. Running back Terry Allen scored on two first-quarter runs and had 89 yards before reinjuring his knee late in the second quarter. That was the last time he played in a Clemson uniform.
But Allen’s injury was a sidebar to the kind of night it was for Clemson. The Tigers physically dominated the game on offense, defense and special teams.
Some say, the 1989 game is still the best game a Clemson team has ever played against the Gamecocks.
“I was not here for the 63-17 game (in 2003), but during my seven years (as an assistant coach), that night in 1989 might have been our most complete ballgame that we played,” McCorvey said. “We had a lot of good ballgames in those years, but I can’t remember a one from the beginning to the end where our players played that way the entire game.
“You talk about playing four quarters on offense, defense and special teams – that was a four-quarter football game.”
And it all started because of a change in pants, special orange pants that is.
“We had no idea, and still to this day, I have never asked or talked to Coach Ford about it,” McCorvey said. “I don’t know what made him do it. A lot of times he would meet with the seniors and they would talk about things in there.
“Whether they talked about it that week, I don’t know. We did it, though, and it was something I will always remember and I know those players will remember it too.”