Gamecock student section has been rude, crude to Tigers long before Clemson begins its ‘Walk of Champions’ tradition
On Will Muschamp’s call-in show earlier this week, South Carolina play-by-play announcer Todd Ellis said Clemson’s “Walk of Champions”, when the Tigers lock arms at the 20-yard line and walk back towards the end zone as a sign of unity, provokes the South Carolina student section.
The longtime Gamecock announcer and former quarterback says Clemson should stop doing it, and though he said it does not excuse the students from throwing things on the field, it gets them amped up and causes some of the things that happened two years ago when the Tigers last visited Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia.
However, there are a lot of holes in Ellis’ theory. Clemson has been doing the walk of champions for 20 years now, which the Tigers do during warmups prior to kickoff every Saturday. Former Clemson coach Tommy Bowden started the tradition when he became head coach in 1999, an idea he actually got from his father, Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden, when he was the head coach at Florida State.
So, it is not like Clemson started it to harass the South Carolina student section.
Secondly, the South Carolina students are already amped up—perhaps due to a little liquid courage—and say things to the Clemson players when the Tigers first take the field for stretching and loosening up two hours before kickoff. This is a good hour or so before the Tigers’ do their Walk of Champions.
For instance, a couple of hours before Clemson’s 24-point win over South Carolina in Columbia two years ago, former Tiger Christian Wilkins and one of his teammates were tossing the football in the end zone.
In one instance the ball sailed and went over Wilkins’ head and into the hedges, which are located in the back of the Carolina end zone. A South Carolina student picked up the football and held it out to Wilkins as if “here you go.” As Clemson’s All-American defensive tackle went over to get the ball and thank him, the Gamecock fan threw the ball as hard as he could to about the 40-yard line and then proceeded to stare Wilkins down.
“I was like, ‘Oh! That’s what kind of night it is going to be,’” former Clemson defensive end Austin Bryant recalled. “That’s one moment that I always think about because it is really just funny that it happened to Christian.”
That was the beginning. After that, several students heckled the Tigers while stretching and later during warmups. Some of the insults were aggressive and derogatory in nature. This was all going on long before Clemson’s Walk of Champions.
Despite the students trying to get to the Clemson players, the Tigers rolled to a 34-10 victory at Williams-Bice Stadium.
However, despite Clemson dominating their team, Gamecock fans kept taunting the Tigers all night with rude gestures and comments, plus throwing water and Coke bottles at Clemson players when they scored touchdowns.
“I can go back to them giving us the finger when we scored going towards their student section, throwing trash on the field, I have never seen that before,” Bryant said. “So, yeah, it was pretty interesting.”
When Hunter Renfrow caught a 12-yard touchdown pass from Kelly Bryant that gave Clemson a 20-0 lead in the second quarter, there is a picture of a Coke bottle hitting the Clemson wide receiver in the back.
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney went nuts on the sideline of course as he pleaded with the officials to get things under control or penalize the Gamecocks before someone got hurt. Instead, Swinney was penalized when he came out of the coaches’ box for taking up for his players and their wellbeing.
It got so bad, even South Carolina players grabbed the bottles and threw them back in the crowd while pleading to their fellow students to stop throwing things onto the field.
“It was disappointing,” Swinney said after the game that year. “It is not representative of South Carolina. I got a lot of people that I know that are South Carolina fans that are great people and friends. That’s just disappointing to see that. It was dangerous… You got things being thrown out, at some point the refs have to do something about that.
“I lost my poise and they threw a flag on me because I came out of the box. I agree, I came out of the box. He did not throw a flag on me for what I said, he threw a flag on me for being out of the box. But you know, it was about the fifth time. It’s just dangerous.”
Former Clemson linebacker Shaq Smith said the students do more than just cuss and throw things at them. The South Carolina student section is located by the visiting team’s locker room.
“It’s not like this every week in college football, when you’re running into the locker room and people are spitting on you and throwing stuff on you,” Smith recalled. “There might be some hatred in their blood down there, but the feelings are mutual.”
So, who is evoking who? I don’t think Clemson needs to stop what it is doing. I think South Carolina needs to get a better grip on its student section which, after what happened against Florida last month, it is trying to do.
In the meantime, someone might want to tell Mr. Ellis what is really going on down on the field during pregame and stop blaming it on the Tigers’ “Walk of Champions” tradition.
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