Bowing to three Clemson legends

Bowing to three Clemson legends

Baseball

Bowing to three Clemson legends

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By Ed McGranahan.

By Ed McGranahan

After more than 30 years as an observer on the fringe of Clemson athletics it would be nearly impossible to remain totally detached, so
pardon the bubbling nostalgia.

Danny Ford, Jim Phillips and Bill Wilhelm are without a doubt among the most fascinating characters I have encountered in a 40-year career as a reporter and editor, and the decisions by the school to further cement their legacies are applauded.

As Ohio expats in a foreign land, Phillips and I developed a kinship. As sports director at Channel 4 in Greenville as well as “The Voice of The Tigers” when newspapers and local TV were relevant, Phillips was a star, but he treated me as an equal. There was never any pretense with that gap-tooth grin under the bad hairpiece, and trusting my discretion he often told me things about Clemson that were never reported.

Two of my favorite Phillips stories are the bear wrestling incident during halftime of a Furman basketball game at Memorial Auditorium when the hairpiece became detached, and a meltdown on the school plane during a flight to Chapel Hill for a football game. He hated to fly and typically “lubricated” before leaving the ground. As the plane approached the runway for landing, a crosswind caused it to sway slightly and the cabin door flew open. When he saw the pilot and co-pilot chatting as if they weren’t paying attention he screamed, “We’re going to die!” Coach Red Parker, sitting directly in front of him, turned and calmed Phillips with a stare.

Ford and I didn’t become acquainted until after his unparalleled tenure at Clemson. My job at The Greenville News during those years rarely afforded me time out of the office, so it wasn’t until I later returned to reporting that we had opportunities to talk periodically. My favorite was an afternoon under a tree in front of the main house at the Pendleton farm. He could not have been more gracious or honest. Unfortunately, the story I wrote was killed because an editor at the newspaper disliked Ford because of how he was perceived.

Few people were apathetic about him. The hardcore fans loved Ford for elevating the program to national prominence. While purists were embarrassed by the NCAA investigations and probations, for most fans those were small prices for 1981 and the subsequent decade. Given the evolution of the facilities race in college football, the decision to fire him for his defiant campaign for a dorm seems more absurd than ever.

It has taken awhile for Ford to accede being named to the Ring of Honor, so this is special.

Similarly Wilhelm and I became better acquainted after he retired. Frankly, for a good while, I did not appreciate the job he was doing, but after hearing so many stories about his tough façade and salty language he became an acquired taste.

A few years later I began to regret missing the chance to cover Wilhelm’s teams while gathering anecdotes from his former players for an anniversary story.

When I began covering the baseball program under Jack Leggett, I frequently called him for perspective. He was generous with his time and point of view. When I called one morning while he was cutting the grass, his wife summoned him. I apologized for taking him away from his chores, but he thanked me for the chance to escape and we talked for an hour.

As long as it didn’t interrupt his favorite pastimes, I could call most any day — preferably before lunch – and have an entertaining
conversation. Like those who knew him much better, I miss those opportunities.

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