The real story on how Clemson’s Tiger Paw became one of college football’s biggest brands

The real story on how Clemson’s Tiger Paw became one of college football’s biggest brands


The real story on how Clemson’s Tiger Paw became one of college football’s biggest brands


It does not take too long for a visiting team to know they are in Clemson.

Whether you’re coming down Anderson Highway off of Interstate 85 at exit 19B, or you’re coming from Greenville by way of Highway 123, the orange tiger paws on the road lead the way to Clemson.

Clemson’s Tiger Paw is everywhere these days. And it’s not just in Clemson. It is one of the more recognizable brands in college athletics, especially in college football.

The Tiger Paw can be seen just about anywhere in the country and in some occasions overseas. Clemson alumni and Tiger fans love to wear their orange and they love to show off the tiger paw.

Though the tiger paw is just as much a part of Clemson’s rich traditions and history as anything else, it is still very young. The Clemson Tiger Paw turned 49-years old on July 21.

The idea of the Clemson Tiger Paw began with the retirement of legendary head coach Frank Howard following the 1969 football season. Clemson was trying to change its image. It was thinking forward and since Clemson was welcoming in a new coach and new era to Clemson Football, the school thought it should change its image as well.

The late Dr. Robert C. Edwards, then president at Clemson, was the mastermind behind this upgrade. So, he hired an advertising firm—Henderson Advertising Co. out of Greenville—to come in and assist with helping the university find a new look.

“We have asked these people to come in and help us examine and evaluate our program,” Edwards said in the book Death Valley Days, which was published in 1991. “In fact, they are helping us with a positive approach on all communication matters university-wide.”

Clemson was changing its uniform and logo and Edwards wanted something that would complement the school’s nickname…the Tigers.

John Antonio, who worked for Henderson and passed away in 2013, wrote to every school in the country that used a Tiger as its nickname and asked if they would send a picture of its logo. After most of them responded, Antonio discovered a tiger is a tiger regardless if it was a Persian Tiger, Bengal Tiger or Sumatra Tiger.

“I found 32 schools with Tigers, and every one of them used the same picture,” Antonio told The Greenville News back in 1999. “One company made the decal and it went to everyone. There was no individuality. At the time colleges just put the school name or initials on their helmets.”

Antonio came up with an idea of using a phantom tiger that left its paw prints wherever it goes. After this discovery, that is when Antonio came up with idea of getting an impression of a real tiger’s foot. However, where were they going to find one?

The Henderson Agency wrote to the museum of Natural History in Chicago and asked for a plaster of Paris cast of the imprint of the Tiger’s paw. Before it was presented to the Clemson committee that was working with Henderson, they made the imprinted paw a print and titled it to about 10 degrees to the right. The committee loved it.

On July 21, 1970, the Clemson Tiger Paw was born. The university not only put it on the football team’s helmet and jersey, they also placed it on every athletic team’s uniform, schedule cards, bumper stickers, pocket watches, the basketball court and the football field. They even took out the “O” in Clemson and replaced it with the paw.

New football coach Hootie Ingram, basketball coach Tates Locke, along with All-ACC running back Ray Yauger and Wright Bryan, Clemson’s vice president of development at the time, toured the state of South Carolina, introducing Clemson’s new look to the media and Tiger fans.

“Symbols like the tiger paw won’t help us to win football games,” Ingram was quoted as saying in Death Valley Days, “but we hope they will help retain the enthusiasm Clemson people are known for.”

According to Ingram, Edwards, Locke and legendary baseball coach Bill Wilhelm not did like the tiger paw at first. But Frank Howard was a fan from the start and that helped Ingram get everyone else on board.

Clemson fans took to the paw fast, as it was cast on every souvenir or clothing item one could find in Clemson.

By 1977, when Clemson started to make a splash on the national stage again in college football, the tiger paw was everywhere. Later that year, when Clemson fans headed to the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla., one student made a 22×24 stencil of the paw. Every five miles or so, he painted a paw on the road for all Clemson fans to see as they were traveling to Jacksonville.

When Clemson played Nebraska for the national championship in the 1982 Orange Bowl, the tiger paws were extended all the way to Miami.

These days the paw is everywhere. And every time someone sees the orange tiger paw, there is no doubt who it belongs to.

“I didn’t create the image of the of Bengal tiger, that came from the Smithsonian Institute. I created the use of it,” Antonio said to The Greenville News. “I have always liked it because of its simplicity. Anyone can draw it. You can print it on the highway or your cheek. Regardless of size, it does not lose its identity. It evokes a positive emotional response. And it has passed the test of time.”

And it symbolizes all that is Clemson University.



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