Danny Ford: ‘I don’t think we beat them if they don’t throw those two passes’
When Clemson runs down the hill and into Death Valley wearing its orange pants against rival South Carolina on November 28, it will mark the 40th anniversary of the Tigers wearing their famed orange britches.
The first time Clemson wore orange pants came in its 1980 meeting with the Gamecocks. That’s the day Danny Ford started the tradition of wearing the orange pants in big games.
Today, Dabo Swinney has turned it into a championship tradition, allowing his team to only wear the orange pants when a division championship, state championship, conference championship, playoff game or national championship is on the line.
However, the first time the Tigers wore the orange pants is a special date in Clemson history. On November 22, 1980, the Tigers broke out the all-orange uniforms for the first time and proceeded to beat rival South Carolina, 27-6.
Willie Underwood, who did not have an interception in his previous 46 games at Clemson, picked off two passes, including one he returned 37 yards for a touchdown. His other interception set up a touchdown, as the Tigers scored 21 unanswered points to beat the 14th-ranked Gamecocks and eventual Heisman Trophy winner Georgia Rogers.
“Still today, I don’t think we beat them if they don’t throw those two passes,” Ford said to The Clemson Insider.
Underwood finished the game with 101 return yards, as he also led the Tigers with 17 tackles. He was named Sports Illustrated’s National Player of the Week for his performance in Clemson’s stunning win. The Tigers entered the game 5-5 and were coming off a 34-7 loss to Maryland the week before.
Ford’s job was in jeopardy.
Though Rogers carried the ball 28 times for 168 yards, Clemson kept him out of the end zone.
“I told Jim Carlen, who became a good friend of mine after we both got out of coaching, and I never cared for him much when he was coaching there because we coached against each other. You just don’t do it. You know? And he had the upper hand, too, and that did not make it any good,” Ford said. “But later on, I told him, and I told George Rogers this many times, but there is no telling how bad they would have beat us, orange pants or no orange pants, if they gave the ball to George Rogers on every play.”
Clemson clinched its 27-6 victory over the Gamecocks when Jeff McCall went 15 yards for a touchdown later in the fourth quarter.
The win over the Gamecocks lifted Clemson to its perfect run in 1981, which ended with a 22-15 victory over Nebraska in the 1982 Orange Bowl, sealing the Tigers’ first national championship in football.
Clemson went on to post a 16-2 record under Ford when it wore orange pants.
–File Photo courtesy of Clemson Athletic Communications
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