Like it had been for a better part of the 1980s, the Clemson-North Carolina game in 1987 had a little bit of everything.
Clemson entered the game 7-1 and ranked No. 10 in the country. Under Danny Ford, the Tigers had become the dominant team in the ACC. Despite a shocking home loss to NC State a few weeks before, they were still in contention to win a second straight conference championship thanks to their 4-1 mark heading to Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill on November 7, 1987.
The Tar Heels were 5-3 and were in position to make a run at an ACC title themselves. They were coming off back-to-back wins over NC State and Maryland and were 3-1 in the ACC.
Clemson and North Carolina routinely had played for ACC Championships in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, but the UNC program had fallen off a bit in the mid-80s and some wondered if this meeting was their opportunity to knock off the Tigers and gain control of the conference.
It did not hurt the Tar Heels’ cause when someone—presumably Clemson supporters—broke into Kenan Stadium the week of the game and painted almost everything orange. They painted the field, the scoreboard, the press box and even the Tar Heel bell.
The incident got the students in Chapel Hill fired up and subsequently, the team, as well. The next day, the Durham newspaper had orange tiger paw tracks going across the sports page as it reported the incident. The athletic department and school officials at UNC were mad and called it an immature act.
North Carolina played up the orange caper and used it to its advantage. The team came out in their traditional baby-blue jerseys and white paints for warmups. However, when they rolled out of their tunnel and onto the field just prior to kickoff, they changed their pants to baby blue. They then ran across the field to the student section where it was described as a “Blue Heaven.”
But Clemson was not intimidated by all the Carolina Blue at Kenan Stadium. Ford got his team fired up by leaving a message written in baby-blue ink inside their locker. The message said for them to hate the Carolina Blue color and most importantly go beat it.
Thanks to an 18-play drive that covered 67 yards and ate more than seven minutes off the clock, Clemson did just that. David Treadwell once again kicked a game-winning field goal, this time from 30 yards out with 32 seconds to play.
The Tigers’ 13-10 win was their sixth over UNC in seven years and clinched at least a share of the ACC Championship. For the Tar Heels, it was the first of three straight losses to close the year, which also closed the chapter on head coach Dick Crum’s career in Chapel Hill.
Clemson beat Maryland, 45-16, the following week to wrap up its second consecutive outright ACC Championship, while earning an automatic bid to play Penn State in the Citrus Bowl on New Year’s Day.