Monday Morning Quarterback
One of the things Dabo Swinney has done in his time at Clemson is he stopped the whole uniform mess. On most game days at Death Valley, the Tigers will wear their traditional orange jersey with their white pants, while on the road it is their white jersey and their white pants combination.
Swinney does have a few exceptions to the rule. On Military Appreciation Day, which has been designated for the Duke game on Nov. 17, Clemson will wear its all-purple uniform. Then there are the famous “Orange Pants” which Swinney will only allow the Tigers to wear when a championship is on the line. They are now designated as the “Championship Pants.”
Clemson will wear its orange britches when it has an opportunity to clinch a division title, in its rivalry game against South Carolina, its bowl game and, if it makes it there, the national championship game.
So, where am I going with all of this?
Well, Swinney should make an exception to the rule this week because Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference Showdown with NC State at Memorial Stadium will be the de facto Atlantic Division Championship Game.
Both teams come into the game with undefeated records. Clemson, ranked No. 3 this week, is 6-0 and 3-0 in the ACC. The Wolfpack, ranked No. 15, is 5-0 and 2-0 in the ACC. The winner will gain control of the Atlantic Division.
I know Swinney likes to say every game is the biggest game on the schedule and I get the notion of what he is trying to with all of that, but this game, like I said, is a de facto championship game, and as such, this should be an “Orange Pants” game.
Clemson fans know the origin story of the “Orange Pants.” They were first worn against the Gamecocks in the regular-season finale in 1980. The Tigers won the game, 27-6, to salvage a winning season, which led to their unprecedented run to the 1981 National Championship.
The mystique of the orange pants was born. In those days, head coach Danny Ford only allowed his teams to wear the orange pants in big games. Usually, he left it up to his seniors to come and ask him if they could wear the special pants. The request was only honored if the team earned the right to wear them by the way they practiced during the week leading up to the game.
In almost every occasion, Ford kept Clemson fans in suspense on if it was an “Orange Pants” game. The Tigers almost always warmed up in their traditional white pants. They would then go back into the locker room, quickly change into the orange britches and emerge at the top of the hill wearing the all-orange uniforms.
At times it gave Clemson an emotional edge over its opponents. In those days, several opposing players said it felt like they were down seven points already when they saw the Tigers charging down the hill in all-orange because the Clemson crowd was so amped up all ready.
The Tigers first wore the orange pants on the road at South Carolina in 1989, when Ford surprised them by having the orange pants hanging in their lockers when they came back in the locker room from pregame warmups.
The Gamecocks did not know what hit them as Clemson steamrolled them 45-0 at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia. It’s the last time the Tigers kept South Carolina off the scoreboard.
When Ken Hatfield became the coach at Clemson the following year, he changed things up and took a little bit of the orange pants tradition away, while also introducing Clemson fans to the purple jerseys for the first time in 1991.
Tommy West, who was an assistant coach under Ford, brought back the tradition and he used them in the same way Ford did. However, when Tommy Bowden became the head coach, the uniform combinations became crazy and got out of hand. So much so, it became anyone’s guess what the Tigers were going to wear from week to week.
Things stayed that way until Swinney started to go back to the more traditional uniform ways in his third complete season at Clemson. He wanted his team to start focusing on the opponent more than what uniform they were going to wear.
Coincidentally, that’s when Clemson won its first ACC Championship in 20 years and has been a consistent powerhouse in the ACC ever since.
Swinney began the “Championship Game Britches” tradition in 2014 when the Tigers wore their orange pants in a 35-17 win against South Carolina in what he has designated as “The State Championship Game.” Since then, Clemson has only worn the orange pants when some sort of a championship has been on the line.
The Tigers are 14-3 in the orange pants since Swinney has gone to this mode.
However, Swinney should change things up just for this week’s game against NC State. Because Saturday will unofficially be a championship game. It will feel like it, that’s for sure.
Just imagine how crazy the crowd will be if the Tigers warm up in the traditional white pants and then emerge at the top of the hill wearing the “All-Orange” uniform. Clemson will already be up seven points before the Wolfpack even knows what hit them.