By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Danny Ford was anxious to see exactly how long his former Clemson quarterback was going to speak Monday night at the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony at the Metropolitan Convention Center in Columbia.
The former quarterback in question was Homer Jordan, who was one of eight members in the Class of 2013 to be inducted. Joining Jordan in the 53rd Class was former Clemson Athletic Director Bill McLellan, the late “Voice of The Tigers” Jim Phillips, longtime Bamberg-Ehrhardt high school baseball coach David Horton, former Citadel football player Travis Jervey, former Furman basketball standout Clyde Mayes, the late Hank Small, who was a baseball star at South Carolina, and current USC athletic director and former baseball coach Ray Tanner.
“I’m excited to hear Homer talk in front of this crowd because I don’t know how he called a play at Clemson because he never talked much. He always just smiled,” Ford said. “I’m sure he is going to get up there and smile a lot tonight.”
Like Ford expected, Jordan showed off his infamous smile more than he said words as he spoke to the more than 900 people on hand, including his son Darius and wife Deborah, for one minute and 10 seconds.
“It was easy to play in front of 80,000 people than speak in front of 900 people,” he joked.
Luckily for Clemson he wasn’t too shy to perform on the football field. On the gridiron, Jordan was a magician, if you will, as he worked his way in and out of situations while leading the Tigers to an undefeated season in 1981, which was capped off with a 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl, clinching the program’s first and only national championship.
“He certainly deserves this honor,” Ford said.
It’s an honor that 33 years ago Ford never would have imagined. Heading into the start of the 1980 season, Jordan was in a three-man race to see who was going to be the starting quarterback at Clemson. Battling the sophomore at the time for the job was Andy Headen and Mike Gasque.
“They were three different types of quarterbacks,” Ford said. “Andy Headen was a great athlete and we thought he was going to be the next great quarterback at Clemson. He was a big ole tall guy and ended up playing defensive end in the pros and played well there at Clemson. But he could not throw the ball so we would be one dimensional with him.
“Mike was more of a thrower and he was a good throwing quarterback, but we would have been one dimensional there. Homer could not do either one better than the other two, but he could do the two together better than the other ones did the one thing they could do. That’s how he got the job.”
When the Tigers opened the season against Rice, Ford wondered if he made the right decision. In those days, Clemson was a sprint out team which used a lot of play action in the passing game.
“We called a bootleg early in the football game,” Ford recalled. “We were backed up towards the lake so we faked to the left and Homer rolled to the right and started dribbling the ball. He looked like a basketball player.
“I said, ‘Oh Lord, we got the wrong guy in there. He thinks he is playing basketball or something.’ But he continued to get better after that first ball game.”
Jordan got really good. He went onto to post a 22-6-1 record as the Tigers’ starting quarterback, including a 12-0 mark in 1981. That season, he threw for 1,630 yards, while completing 55 percent of his passes. The All-ACC First Team quarterback also won MVP honors in the Orange Bowl despite severe dehydration late in the game due to thick humidity in the Miami air that night.
“He made a play late in the ball game when they had us stopped, a third down play, and he somehow ran, scrambled and made the first down where we could keep the football a little longer,” Ford said. “They finally got the ball back, but had to throw a Hail Mary. He ran out a lot of the clock.
“After the game, everybody was jumping up and down and celebrating and there was Homer lying on the table with an IV in his hand. All you could see was his smile. There he was just smiling. He was absolutely dehydrated, given out. He left everything out on the field.”
The play Ford was talking about was a third-and-four call from the Clemson 37. Jordan called a sprint out to his right, but when he noticed the pursuit was there, he cut back to the middle of the field and then bounced it outside for a 23-yard run to the Nebraska 40.
The Tigers ran the clock all the way down to 17 seconds before turning the ball over to the Cornhuskers.
“To be successful like he was, I don’t think the people that followed him after he left Clemson realized the pressure that he had as the quarterback that season,” Ford said. “I don’t think Homer really knew it when he was going through it, but when you look back on it, and let’s just say he did not win very many football games and they booed him out of the stadium, how would they react to the next (African-American) quarterback?
“The next guy might have been under a lot of scrutiny and all that, but they never had to face any of that because Homer won every game in ’81. I never asked him how much pressure was on him. I remember one time in a meeting I said, ‘You are going to be called everything in the world and they will look at you like your different.’ I wish was I smart of enough to say, ‘just win’ and they wouldn’t think nothing about it, but I didn’t say anything about winning.
“But ultimately, I didn’t have to because he was always winning, and he was always quiet,” Ford continued. “I don’t see how he called a play in the huddle. He never talked much. He was just a polite young man.”
He was a young man who found a way to win, a lot.
“We made plays when we had to,” Jordan said. “It wasn’t flashy and it wasn’t this or that, but whatever we had to do to get it done, we did it.”
And Jordan always did it with a smile because his smile has always been worth a thousand words.