Following an All-American career at Clemson, Chris Gardocki went on to play 16 seasons in the NFL, more than any other former Tiger.
The former placekicker/punter attributes his success and longevity to two things – hard work, and fear.
“I played out of fear, probably,” Gardocki told The Clemson Insider. “Because when you get in the NFL, you sort of pinch yourself like, ‘I made it.’ But then it becomes, ‘All right, I don’t want somebody to take my job.’ So, I probably played more out of fear than anything else, worried that somebody else was working harder than me somewhere else and was going to take my job. So, that’s the way I sort of approached it, and I guess it worked out OK.”
To say it worked out OK is certainly an understatement.
On Monday, Gardocki was formally inducted into the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in Columbia as a member of the Class of 2019 thanks to his many accomplishments during his Clemson and professional career.
“It’s hard to believe, honestly,” he said. “Growing up in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and coming from where I came from, I’m just extremely excited and honored. Honestly, it’s hard to believe, really.”
Clemson’s placekicker during the 1989 and 1990 seasons, Gardocki was a second-team All-American as a junior and third-team All-American as a sophomore. He earned honorable mention All-America recognition as a punter by UPI as a freshman, sophomore and junior.
Gardocki was fourth in punting and tied for fourth in placekicking in the nation as a junior, becoming the second player in NCAA history to finish in the top 10 in both categories in the same season and the first to do it twice.
A third-round pick of the Bears in 1991, the Stone Mountain (Ga.) Redan standout left Clemson after his junior year, and punted for Chicago (1991-94), Indianapolis (1995-98), Cleveland (1999-03) and Pittsburgh (2004-06). He was an All-Pro selection as a member of the Colts in 1996 and won a Super Bowl with the Steelers in 2005.
Gardocki made a lot of headlines during his long football career but did his best to block out what was written about him and tried to never pay attention to the statistics or accolades.
“I remember my high school coach, Bill Cloer, said, ‘Don’t read about yourself,’” Gardocki recalled. “And so that was one thing I never did. I didn’t read about myself. I just tried to keep my feet planted on the ground. But things like that now, I look back on because I’ve got a son and he enjoys looking at it, and it’s a thrill for me to show him stuff like that. So, it’s exciting. It’s fun to look at now.”
Reflecting on his career before Monday’s SC Athletic Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Gardocki made sure to give Clemson its due as the best decision he has ever made in his life.
He knows he wouldn’t be where he is today had he not donned the orange and white uniform and been surrounded by certain impactful people at Clemson, such as former coaches Danny Ford and Tommy West, former athletics director Bobby Robinson and former athletics administrator Bill D’Andrea.
“Just from the start, getting into school was going to be a hard time because my SATs weren’t good enough, and I always had Clemson by my side,” Gardocki said. “If I had to go JUCO, they were going to stand by me. Coach Ford, Tommy West, Bobby Robinson and Bill D’Andrea, all those guys, always encouraged me. And fortunately, I did what I needed to do to get in.
“And when my father died, they all went to the funeral. I met my wife because of Clemson University … That was the best decision I ever made.”