Former Clemson and College Football Hall of Fame head coach Danny Ford turned 72 years old Thursday.
In his 11 years as Clemson’s head coach, Ford posted a 96-29-4 record at Clemson. He guided the program to its first national championship in 1981 and won five ACC Championships.
Ford’s Clemson’s teams also posted a 6-2 record in bowl games, including wins over Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State and Oklahoma. He also battled it out for ACC supremacy in those days with some of the best teams North Carolina and Maryland had to offer.
The Tigers also had a fierce rivalry with Vince Dooley’s Georgia Bulldogs in those days.
But more times than not, Clemson came out on top as the decade of the 1980s is considered the second-best decade in Clemson history, only behind what the Tigers did under Dabo Swinney in the 2010s.
So, in honor of Coach Ford, here are his 10 best wins at Clemson.
Clemson’s top 10 wins under Danny Ford:
- 1982 Orange Bowl vs. No. 4 Nebraska: Is there any doubt this would be No. 1. The Tigers’ 22-15 win over No. 4 Nebraska clinched the program’s first national championship. Though the score seems close, Clemson controlled the game throughout and had a 22-7 lead going into the fourth quarter. Quarterback Homer Jordan was named the Offensive MVP, while All-American linebacker Jeff Davis won Defensive MVP honors. Nebraska was coached by Hall of Fame and three-time national champion head coach Tom Osborne. At 33 years old at the time, Ford became the youngest coach to ever win a national championship. He still holds that distinction today.
- 1978 Gator Bowl vs. No. 20 Ohio State: This was Ford’s first win as head coach. He admitted later he was way over his head in this game as his Tigers went up against Hall of Fame and national champion head coach Woody Hayes. It was a tight game throughout, but middle guard Charlie Bauman sealed the win with an interception in the final minutes of the game. As Bauman got up on the Ohio State sideline, Hayes decked him and a brawl broke out. The next day Hayes was fired from Ohio State. Clemson won the game 17-15.
- 1981 at No. 8 North Carolina: A lot of people will say the Georgia win was the biggest win of the 1981 regular season for the Tigers, but Ford has gone on record and said this was the biggest win of the season because of what was at stake when the two teams met in late November. It was the first ever meeting between two ACC teams in the top 10 of the AP Poll. The ACC Championship was on the line and for Clemson, who was sitting at No. 2 in the polls, a national championship was at stake, too. UNC, No. 8 in the poll, was led by a bruising running game and a dominating defense. Jeff Davis called it the most physical game he played in as the two defenses dominated the game. Jeff Bryant recovered a lateral pass in the closing minutes to seal the Tigers’ 10-8 victory at North Carolina.
- 1981 vs. 4 Georgia: Georgia was the defending national champions and was riding a 16-game winning streak. They also had arguably the best running back in the history of college football in Herschel Walker. However, Clemson got couple of Donald Igwebuike field goals and a Homer Jordan-to-Perry Tuttle touchdown pass in a 13-3 victory at Death Valley. Walker still got his yards, but Clemson forced him into five fumbles, and he did not cross the Clemson goal line. The Clemson defense forced a school record nine turnovers that afternoon, still a Clemson record for turnovers in a game.
- 1980 vs. No. 14 South Carolina: Without this win, 1981 maybe does not happen and Ford is not in the Hall of Fame. Ford’s job was on the line when the Tigers came down the hill wearing their famous orange pants for the first time. Though South Carolina had eventual Heisman Trophy winner Georgia Rogers, Clemson’s defense dominated the Gamecocks, forcing three turnovers, including two interceptions by safety Willie Underwood. Playing his last game in a Clemson uniform, Underwood snagged two second-half interceptions, one to set up the go-ahead touchdown and another he returned for a score to seal the 27-6 victory. The win gave Clemson a 6-5 record in 1980, saved Ford’s job and propelled the Tigers to their magical run to a national championship in 1981.
- 1979 at Notre Dame: Clemson did something few teams did back in those days, go to Notre Dame and win on Senior Day. Behind the play of quarterback Billy Lott and three interceptions from safety Terry Kinard, Clemson rallied for a 16-10 victory over the Irish, who were wearing green jerseys on that sunny afternoon in South Bend, Ind. The win avenged Clemson’s loss to the Irish a few years earlier at Death Valley when Joe Montana rallied them from 10-points down in the second half to win. Notre Dame led 10-0 at halftime, but Obed Ariri kicked three field goals to pull the Tigers within a point and then Lott ran down the sideline in the fourth quarter for a long touchdown in what turned out to be the game winner for the Tigers.
- 1982 at No. 18 Maryland: The Tigers hung on for a 24-22 win at Maryland when safety Terry Kinard forced a fumble late in the game, which was recovered by Reggie Pleasant to seal the victory. The win clinched Clemson’s second straight ACC Championship. The Tigers led 24-7 in the second half before Boomer Esiason rallied the Terps. He had his team moving in position to kick a game-winning field goal when Kinard forced the fumble to win the game.
- 1989 Citrus Bowl vs. 10 Oklahoma: This was another physical contest where Ford’s team proved they were just better than one of college football’s best programs. Dexter Davis knocked down a last second pass in the end zone on the last play of the game to seal Clemson’s 13-6 win over the Sooners. Clemson held Oklahoma’s powerful wishbone rushing attack to a season-low 116 yards. The Sooners had just 254 total yards of offense. Running back Terry Allen, the game’s MVP, scored the winning touchdown with over 10 minutes to play. From there, the Clemson defense did the rest.
- 1988 Citrus Bowl vs. 20 Penn State: Rodney Williams stunned everyone when he came out throwing the football. The junior quarterback at the time threw for 214 yards, mostly to wide receiver Keith Jennings, while Terry Allen went over 100 yards and the Clemson running game crushed the Nittany Lions. Clemson’s defense held Penn State to 305 yards and forced three turnovers and had one stand on fourth-and-short, as well. Clemson’s 35-10 victory was the worst bowl defeat in Joe Paterno’s Hall of Fame career.
- 1986 at No. 14 Georgia: Clemson had only one win at Georgia once since 1914. That came in 1977. The Tigers were coming off a disappointing loss to Virginia Tech at home the week before and were underdogs against a Georgia team expected to contend for another SEC Championship. The game went back and forth as both teams made one big play after another. In the end, it came down to a skinny kid from Atlanta who lined up for a 46-yard field on the last play of the game. David Treadwell, who became known as Mr. Clutch at Clemson, drilled the game-winning kick as the Tigers stunned the 14th-ranked Bulldogs, 31-28, in Athens. Clemson has not won at Athens since.
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