By Will Vandervort
Let me start off that I’m not going to lump all the Clemson fans into one idea, but there is a good minority of the Clemson population that likes to discount Clemson more than it wants to brag about or support it and I don’t understand why.
So what does fanaticism mean? The Webster Dictionary says, “a fanatic outlook or behavior especially as exhibited by excessive enthusiasm, unreasoning zeal, or wild and extravagant notions on some subject.”
I’m a fanatic when it comes to my Pittsburgh Steelers. I always express excessive enthusiasm. I have unreasoning zeal and I have wild and extravagant notions on the subject. I am the true definition of a sports fan when it comes to my Steelers.
No one can tell me or change my mind on why I think the Steelers are the best organization in football, even when they are 6-8 and more than likely are not going to the playoffs.
Do you know why I’m this way? Because I’m a fan and I support them no matter what.
So I ask all of you, are you a Clemson fan? Or are you just a casual observer who happens to like Clemson?
I hear this a lot, “Well, I’m a fan of Clemson, but I’m a realist too.”
What does that mean, “I’m a realist?” We are talking about sports, not about the economy or something that is happening in the real world. We are talking about sports. That is the beauty of sports. We don’t have to be realists here because none of this matters.
That’s why you are a fan. You want to get away from the real world for three hours a day on a Saturday in the fall. Does it hurt if your Tigers lose? Yes, of course it does. Does it hurt when things are not going right? Yes!
That’s why you are a fan. You live and die with your team and you support them unconditionally. Yes, you can get angry at a coach and you can want change at the top, but support whoever the coach is and his players at the time no matter what. That is your team. That’s your Tigers, you need to support them.
When he is no longer the coach, then you support the next guy and his team. Why? Because you are a fan, you are not a realist. You can’t be both. That’s why you have administrators, an athletic director and a board of trustees in place. They are the ones that have to be the realists and make those decisions that are in the best interest of the school and the athletic department.
I’m not a realist when it comes to my Steelers and nothing you say is going to change that. I think the Steelers are going to win the Super Bowl every year and I hold onto that hope until we are eliminated from the playoff picture or the playoffs. When the off-season comes, I follow all the off-season moves and support what moves have been made.
Following the Steelers allows me to get away—if just for a little while—from the things that are going on in the real world.
I remember when I was a little kid and I saw the best of Clemson fans everywhere. People back then were fans of Clemson football. They weren’t realists. They were fans. They would bleed orange. They did not question every little move the coaches or the administration made. They supported their Tigers no matter what.
In 1977, on the way to Jacksonville, Fla., to play Pittsburgh in the Gator Bowl, fans would stop every so many miles and paint Tiger paws on 1-95 to let other traffic goers know that Clemson was on its way to Florida.
Clemson took over the city of Jacksonville. Orange was everywhere and the Gator Bowl’s 80,000 seat stadium was filled with Clemson Orange.
And when the Tigers got drilled that night, 34-3, the entire stadium was full all the way to the end. Were those fans angry and disappointed by the outcome? Of course they were, but they stayed and supported their Tigers to the end because that’s what fans do.
The next year, despite being blown out the year before, the Clemson faithful followed their Tigers back to the Gator Bowl, again selling it out and supporting their Tigers.
The 1979 Peach Bowl in Atlanta was the same way as more than 57,000 Clemson fans showed up on a cold and wet day at old Fulton County Stadium to watch their Tigers lose to Baylor. And that was coming off a loss to the Gamecocks, too.
A couple of years later, when Clemson was making its run to the Orange Bowl, I remember how crazy life was in the Upstate. All everyone could talk about was the Tigers’ unbelievable run to the national championship. No one saw it coming. They were 6-5 the year before and no one expected anything out of them in 1981.
But each week, even though it was not pretty at times, the Tigers found a way to win all of their 11 games and eventually ended up in the Orange Bowl playing for a national title. The place was sold out with about 80 percent of the stadium wearing Clemson Orange. It was a great scene.
The same following followed the Tigers to the Independence Bowl, back to the Gator Bowl a couple of more times and then to the Citrus and Hall of Fame Bowls as well. Clemson fans were known as some of the more “fanatical” fan bases in the country that would follow and support their team no matter what.
But something happened on the way to mediocrity in the 1990s and 2000s. Clemson’s fanatical fans turned into a bunch of realists.
Clemson’s reputation of having one of the best followings in college football is no longer there. Look at last year’s Chick-fil-A Bowl for example. There were a lot of empty seats in the Clemson section and don’t tell me it was because the tickets were too high. Somebody could have bought those seats.
Two years ago, Clemson went to the Orange Bowl for the first time in 30 years and there were nearly 10,000 empty seats. Why? And don’t blame it on the economy or the day of the week the game was played on. That’s just an excuse.
The economy was not great in the 1970s either, yet those Clemson fans sold out the Gator Bowl in back-to-back years.
As of Monday, Clemson still had about 9,000 tickets left in its 17,500 allotment. Odds are they will not sell all of those remaining tickets and that is a shame. Some will say, the tickets are too high up and cost too much and that is all good. And though some might buy tickets through a third party like Stub Hub or something like that, what they don’t realize is that the Clemson section will once again not be sold, and those empty seats is what the television cameras will see.
Clemson’s once proud reputation of having a great fan following no longer exists, and that might hurt the Tigers in the future as bowl games outside the four-team playoff and major bowls go back to selecting teams based on money and politics more than actually who deserves to be there.
Somewhere along the line Clemson lost its fanatical fan base and replaced them with a bunch of realists, and being a realist has no place in sports.