By Ed McGranahan.
By Ed McGranahan
Arriving in South Carolina 40 years ago this month, it never entered my mind that this place would become – for at least one week if not the entire season – the center of the college football universe.
Back then we relied on newspapers for coverage. Shifts in the landscape were glacial. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, Southern Cal, Tennessee and Texas were as perennial as holly berries. Clemson had rarely been in the national conversation and in 1973 the Tigers had a new coach who would plant seeds that continue to bear fruit.
Yet, that year it had been 14 seasons since Clemson’s last bowl game, and it would be four more until the next. South Carolina had played in two bowl games ever and would not win its first until the ninth nearly 21 seasons later.
That state was in the infancy of a huge social and political transformation, so it hadn’t occured to me what lie ahead. In my hometown in Ohio everybody attended the same schools. There were pockets of segregation, but blacks and whites had been teammates for more than half a century before I entered Steubenville High in 1963. Calvin Jones, who at Iowa became the first African-American to win the Outland Trophy, preceded me by 15 years.
The first Clemson game I saw was at Georgia the second week of the 1973 season. It was a payday for Clemson. Nobody mentioned that the first black scholarship players were on the roster. S.C. State was not on the schedule that season, which was wise. In 1973 the Bulldogs probably had a better defense.
Things began to move swiftly over the next decade as schools in the South began to harvest “homegrown” talent. Red Parker and Charley Pell finished the foundation for Danny Ford. When Clemson won a national championship with Homer Jordan and Jeff Davis, football in the state would never be the same. Long-suffering South Carolina fans wondered, “if Clemson, why not us?”
The game’s landscape shifted several times over the last 20 years but neither school lost its vision or the fans’ passion. Many coaches, new and expanded conferences, blue ribbon facilities and billion dollar TV deals later, we come to this crossroad.
Clemson and South Carolina begin this season with challenges, but optimism is through the roof.
Though they must negotiate the minefields in their schedules before meeting, imagine if in November nothing has changed with two top 10 national teams with three of this season’s foremost players and the state becomes the center of the college football universe.
Could you truly have imagined this?